Friday, September 20, 2013

The 39 Steps (1935)


Beefing on Hitchcock
The 39 Steps

Whenever Alfred Hitchcock adapted a book into a movie, they frequently tended to stray far from the original source material. For those unaware, this was always a conscious effort on Hitchcock's part to make something more unique and merely "inspired" by someone else's story than to attempt a mere re-telling that would undoubtedly fail to live up to the original. What happened many times though was that Hitchcock's film, loosely based on a story, would end up overshadowing the book.

The 39 Steps is an example of a film overshadowing the book it was based on. It helps that the budget was exceptional (for the time) and it had some terrific publicity and internationally known actors as leads. In a bold attempt to bridge the Atlantic in film, Gaumont-British decided Hitchcock would be the one to bring British movies to the United States. Little did they know, the director would eventually bring his British film-making as well as himself to the States.

One thing I couldn't help but notice while watching was how Robert Donat, as the lead character Richard Hannay, seemed almost a prototype for the future roles Cary Grant would play in later Hitchcock films. His mere self-assurance and attitude of disregard in spite of the fact that he was handcuffed to a beautiful woman... The way he just brushed off her hatred for their situation by flaunting that, for all she knew, he might very well be a dangerous killer... it was pure Cary Grant through and through.

Many elements of future Hitchcock films appear very strongly in this one, and it could actually very easily be seen as an early British North By Northwest, due to the entire story of an innocent man on the run from the law over a continent, across sweeping landscapes, boldly standing up to the face of danger along the way.

Another element I found most interesting about the story is that only one person in the entire film believed him on face value alone. Nearly every person Hannay met, especially those he thought he could trust the most, turned out to be lying to his face and against him... except for the farmer's wife, who never asked for proof, protected him even when her husband would undoubtedly be angry with her, and even seemed to long to be on the run with him.

In the end, of course, the "wrong man" proved his innocence at the very last minute, because that's what we want from a movie filled with misunderstandings and suspense. I'd definitely place this in the "must see" category of Hitchcock films, along with the most famous and best regarded.