Monday, January 05, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The 39 Steps (1935)

Tuesday evening our oldest daughter, who is spending this semester in London, will be seeing the popular West End spoof of Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS at the Criterion Theatre at Piccadilly Circus. Lucky girl! (You can read a bit more about this show in last year's post about the Broadway production.) Today she found out that she'll be taking a class on Hitchcock, along with her history and geology courses, which makes seeing the show right now extra-perfect.

Since I can't see the stage show, I did the next best thing tonight and watched the original 1935 film starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. THE 39 STEPS is one of the films Hitchcock made in Britain before starting his U.S. career. Like Hitchcock's later films such as SABOTEUR (1942) and NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959), it's about a man on the run for his life (Donat) with a beautiful blonde (Carroll) by his side.

I enjoyed the film very much, although I'm not sure, at least on the first viewing, that it quite reached the level of the four-star classic I was expecting -- the main reason being that Donat and Carroll aren't thrown together more than momentarily until just about 2/3 of the way into the 86-minute movie. Once they're on the run together the film really takes off, but it took far too long to get to that point. Donat and Carroll are charming and their interplay is the best part of the movie.

I also appreciated the film's fast-paced editing. Missy has previously mentioned to me the ingenious use of sound, such as a woman's scream edited to meld in with a train whistle.

The supporting cast includes Peggy Ashcroft (memorable as a farmer's wife who aids Donat), John Laurie, Godfrey Tearle, and Lucie Mannheim. Helen Haye was also notable as the dignified wife of a murderous man who doesn't seem to find his odd behavior the least bit strange.

Robert Donat only made 20 films, but they include classics such as THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII, THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, VACATION FROM MARRIAGE, and GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS, for which he won the Oscar. (Whether he should have won out over Clark Gable in GWTW -- or, for that matter, Laurence Olivier or James Stewart -- is a question for the ages. The fifth nominee was Mickey Rooney in BABES IN ARMS.) Madeleine Carroll appeared in over 40 films, including the first sound version of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, THE GENERAL DIED AT DAWN, LLOYDS OF LONDON, and MY FAVORITE BLONDE.

THE 39 STEPS is available on DVD as part of the Criterion Collection. Extras include a Lux Radio production starring Robert Montgomery and Ida Lupino. Although I watched a copy of the movie recorded from TCM, I'll be borrowing the DVD from my father so I can hear the radio version with two of my favorite actors.

THE 39 STEPS can also be seen on cable on Turner Classic Movies.


Blogger Classic Maiden said...

I rather enjoy the films Hitchcock did in England, and I think 39 STEPS is one of the best, together with THE LADY VANISHES.

Regarding Donat's Oscar; I do feel he deserved it. Clark Gable had already won an Oscar at that point and eventually Laurence Olivier and Jimmy Stewart won too. But 1939 was a tough year, because Hollywood produced some of its greatest films and performances.

In any regard Robert Donat was a marvelous actor, and I'm glad he received an Oscar before it would be too late.

6:36 AM  
Blogger Irene said...

Another one the library has, but it is checked out so I'm on hold.

Interestingly they also have a DVD with this on it along with 3 other Hitchcock movies from his England days including a silent movie called Easy Virtue with subtitles. It's from Digiview Entertainment and has a copyright date of 2006. Besides 39 Steps and Easy Virtue it has Jamaican Inn and Sabotage. I'll probably go for that one after the Criterion one. I also want to hear the radio broadcast.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

The radio broadcast should be fun!

There is a list online of the Lux Radio shows -- there are so many I'd like to hear, such as I'd absolutely love to hear JANE EYRE with Robert Montgomery and Ingrid Bergman (who costarred in the film RAGE IN HEAVEN). I really need to look into exploring more of what's available. Jacqueline did a great post on stars on the radio yesterday at Another Old Movie Blog.

Irene, I continue to be very honored that my movie watching is inspiring many of your own viewing choices!

The Maiden, I'm hoping to see THE LADY VANISHES this year as I continue to fill in the gaps in my Hitchcock viewing. I made great progress last year seeing films such as SABOTEUR and SHADOW OF A DOUBT for the first time, but I have many more still to watch!

Irene, speaking of JAMAICA INN, that reminds me, in a roundabout way -- since the star is Maureen O'Hara -- that I just learned yesterday the young actress who played Bridie in I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! is Maureen O'Hara's sister!

Best wishes,

2:35 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

"Irene, speaking of JAMAICA INN, that reminds me, in a roundabout way -- since the star is Maureen O'Hara -- that I just learned yesterday the young actress who played Bridie in I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! is Maureen O'Hara's sister!"

Really??!! That is neat. Guess I'll have to watch that one again, just to see her :) Funny, as soon as I read I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING I could hear the music in my head!

2:52 PM  
Blogger Ms.Daisy said...

Laura, You have sparked my interest in watching Saboteur and Jamaica Inn since I really enjoyed Shadow of a Doubt.


7:19 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you enjoy them, Jean! I'm so glad to know you enjoyed SHADOW OF A DOUBT as well.

Best wishes,

7:35 PM  

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