Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The 39 Steps!

I was doing some reading the other day about the vintage TV show The Invaders. It mentioned that premise of that story had a lot in common with classic Hitchcock movies like North by Northwest and The 39 Steps. The former I've seen, but the latter I'd never taken the time to watch. This connection intrigued me, and I found out I owned it a few times on some Mills Creek collections.

The movie is a crackerjack in pacing. A young Canadian named Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) finds himself embroiled in a spy plot. Without giving away too much of the story, Hannay rescues a woman attending a performance of a memory expert when a fight breaks out. He takes her to his apartment where she behaves increasingly suspicious. Her murder begins the plot properly and he must get to Scotland to find the secret of the mysterious "39 Steps", but he turns out to run smack dab into the villains and police think he's the murderer of the woman. So he had cops and spies chasing him all over Scotland and elsewhere. He meets up with a young beauty named Pamela (Madelaine Carroll), and the two of them reluctantly must share the adventure until its resolution.

The plot requires some mildly illogical behavior early on, but once it's running the pace rarely slackens. Donat as Hannay is wonderful, his banter making the rather dangerous affair seem less glum and more a lark. He keeps a neat balance between the serious and the flighty, adding real charm to the proceedings. Carrol is beautiful and she comes along at just the right time to keep the story from bogging down.

This British production is rich with clever character actors who speak briskly and behave by and large according to form. It's the pacing that makes this one work, as Hitchcock never really allows the action to get below a strong simmer. Just as you think it might, a new event erupts and the flick is off running again. This is a very diverting and entertaining movie. And why it's taken this long for me to actually see it is anyone's guess.

Highly recommended, as if you needed me to tell you that.

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