First of all apologies for my absence from the blogosphere – my stupid Mac died on me (I was most bereft) but my daddy came to the rescue and it is now all fixed and everything is shiny!
“In traditional Hitchcock fashion, the revelation of what “the 39 Steps” actually are – and indeed the entire spy plot – is almost peripheral to the flirtatious interplay between the two leads.” (122, Joshua Klein, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Almost immediately Hannay gets entangled up with a mysterious and high maintenance woman, Annabella, and yet he takes it all in his stride, acquiescing to all her strange requests with minimal questions. Annabella, a rather chatty spy, introduces the idea of “the 39 Steps” early on before her untimely yet predictable death. And what a melodramatic death it is!
The flashbacks to information she gave Hannay take on a robotic tone, as though a recording, with her face a shadow superimposed over the other shots. Gorgeous art deco decorations in Hannay’s building. Shot artistically in black and white, however there is a very contained feel to the film which comes from being shot in a studio. Pamela is often lit with the soft diffuse lighting that is so common of the films shot during the 1930s.
It’s actually a pretty quiet film with no soundtrack to speak of. The only sound is that captured in the camera. I found it quite uncomfortable as I’m so used to having some sort of sound in every second of a film now-a-days. And yet literally just after writing about the lack of soundtrack, music is introduced during a chase scene. It’s a long time before the main female character, Pamela, appears which ultimately “morphs [the film] from an espionage thriller into the unlikeliest of love stories.” (122) Hannay bumbles from one episode to another even inadvertently speaking at a political meeting.
“After several tentative early steps and a few small breakthroughs, The 39 Steps was the first clear creative peak in Alfred Hitchcock’s British period and arguably marked the first fully successful film in the director’s rapidly deepening oeuvre.” (122) The 39 Steps is not as polished as Hitchcock’s later work. I found it a tad anticlimactic and not nearly as thrilling as the few Hitchcock’s I have actually seen. Although at least you do find out what “the 39 Steps” actually are.