After Richard Hannay (Donat) takes a mysterious woman back to his apartment, she claims to be a spy who’s being chased by assassins after uncovering a plot to steal British intelligence. When she’s killed, however, Hannay is blamed for her murder and is forced to go on the run in order to clear his name…
Often viewed as the first true Hitchcock movie, The 39 Steps (loosely adapted from John Buchan’s espionage novel) gave birth to many of the themes and recurring traits which would go on to inform his most popular works. Sure, it’s lighter and jauntier than his best, but we’ve got an innocent man on the run, a perilous train ride, a MacGuffin (the titular 39 Steps) and the first Hitchcock blonde. Behind the scenes, it also included one of his infamous unorthodox working methods, with the filmmaker reportedly handcuffing stars Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll together (they spend much of the movie’s later stages cuffed together) after introducing them and ‘losing’ the key until they got to know one another. Donat has a dashing star quality (he’s arguably the Cary Grant archetype), while Hitch provides a few memorable moments (Hannay’s escape from a train on the Forth Rail Bridge, the Professor revealing a missing finger, the famous wet-tights-removal sequence). Undoubtedly, the whole thing is very dated, but so many chase thrillers have pinched from it over the years that this is inevitable.
Often viewed as the first true Hitchcock movie, The 39 Steps gave birth to many of the themes and recurring traits which would go on to inform his most popular works.