Love The 39 Steps?

24 Nov

Robert Donat with Madeleine Carroll, The 39 Steps

If you love Alfred Hitchcock’s masterly and enduring 1935 film, which starred Robert Donat, not only are you in possession of excellent taste, but you are also in good company. In today’s Guardian, Saptarshi Ray writes about his favourite film:

The 39 Steps was my first Hitchcock film. I saw it when I was about 13, with a movie-buff uncle on a battered old black-and-white TV set, on a trip to India. Sitting in the clammy heat and darkness that night, praying there wouldn’t be a power cut as we were transported from West Bengal to the Scottish moors, it was the first time I grasped the full extent of cinema’s escapist power …

… Then, of course, there’s the chemistry between the leads. According to Donat’s biography, Hitchcock “accidentally” lost the key after handcuffing him to Carroll at their first rehearsal. After a few hours, during which the director was said to have become mawkishly obsessed with how the pair would deal with bathroom visits, Hitchcock “found” the key. As a result, the leads became more relaxed in each other’s presence. Their heat may not quite match Bogie and Bacall, but they’re a fine pair on-screen, and so engaging that they are doomed to fall in love.

Watching The 39 Steps is a bit like entering a vintage jewel-encrusted lift once built for a maharajah: what will you admire first? The ornate ivory buttons, the solid gold doors edged with marble, the engineering that makes it capable of such speed – or will you simply enjoy the ride? For every breathless plot twist there’s a camera shot or angle to appreciate. Just like the Forth Bridge and its dramatic Scottish surroundings, this film proves ingenuity and beauty can make easy bedfellows – whether handcuffed together or not.

To read the full article, click here.

And if you happen to be spending Hogmanay (aka New Year) in Edinburgh this year, The 39 Steps is included in the Filmhouse Cinema’s An Edinburgh New Year season, and is showing on Friday 30 and Saturday 31 December. Tickets can be booked online or by calling 0131 228 2688, and discounts are available (if you see any three (or more) films in this season, get 15% off . See all six films in this season and get 25% off ).

10 Responses to “Love The 39 Steps?”

  1. ShipRat November 26, 2011 at 5:46 am #

    I just rewatched 39 Steps after many years. Delicious. Mr. Donat was one of the most attractive men ever to appear on film. The combination of virility, gentleness and humor is irresistible.
    Currently experiencing mysterious urge to watch all his films.
    Are there any clinkers that I shouldn’t bother with? I mean, even Claude Rains had his off days.

    • Gill Fraser Lee November 26, 2011 at 8:50 am #

      Thanks for your comment, ShipRat. Which to avoid … well, as RD only made 20 films in total, and some of those are not available or lost, then I’d say watch them all as he certainly never had an off-day. Beyond that, it really depends what sort of films you enjoy, as RD liked to vary his roles. If you like 39 Steps, perhaps try The Count of Monte Cristo, Knight Without Armour and The Adventures of Tartu, and if you enjoy RD’s comedic touch, definitely try The Ghost Goes West. And then of course, there’s RD’s academy award-winning performance in Goodbye Mr Chips, and Andrew Manson in The Citadel, for which he was Oscar-nominated. But really, watch them all!

      • ShipRat November 27, 2011 at 6:24 am #

        All films it is, then.
        Funnily enough I’d like to see The Young Mr Pitt first!
        I’ll see if I can get my hands on it.

        Which ones are truly lost?

        (off to investigate your handsome website now… arrivederci)

        • ShipRat November 27, 2011 at 7:19 am #

          Well bust my buttons, “Young Pitt” is on Youtube!

          • Gill Fraser Lee November 27, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

            Yes, you’re in luck with Pitt! Check out our ‘Watch’ tab and you can see there the films currently available on YouTube (we do check and update regularly but if you see one we’ve missed, do let us know). ‘Men of Tomorrow’, a very early film, is lost completely, as is the wartime propaganda short ‘This New Lot’, and currently ‘Lease of Life’ is not available either at YouTube or on DVD.
            If you decide to watch Tartu, make sure you watch the uncut version we have here. Both versions are floating about both on DVD and at YouTube.
            Have fun!

  2. Yvette November 27, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    I love The 39 Steps as well. It’s definitely on my list of Best Movies of All Time. (A list I’m currently working on. Stay tuned for 2012,) Donat is super sexy without even trying. LOVE the shot in the early part of the film where he’s wearing a gorgeous coat with the collar turned up….sigh! Madeleine Carroll is rather annoying in the beginning when she doesn’t believe Hannay isn’t up to no good – I mean, how could she turn away such a dashing, obviously innocent man? But then later, she grows on one. 🙂

    This is one instance when the film is much better than the book.

    • Gill Fraser Lee November 27, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

      We’ll certainly be looking forward to your list, Yvette 🙂

    • ShipRat November 30, 2011 at 3:24 am #

      *echoing the sigh*
      What IS it about turned-up coat collars?

  3. LauraP November 29, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    Yes, I certainly DO love The 39 Steps! Hitchcock and Donat together = magic! This is a great review of it, too. The author’s favorite scene–the spur of the moment political speech–is my favorite too.



  1. Love The 39 Steps? | Fenêtre sur...Alfred Hitchcock | - November 28, 2011

    […] Love The 39 Steps? If you love Alfred Hitchcock's masterly and enduring 1935 film, which starred Robert Donat, not only are you in possession of excellent taste, but you are also in good company. In today's Guardian,… Source: […]

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