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BFI Monthly Film Bulletin (Jun/1935) - The 39 Steps

(c) BFI Monthly Film Bulletin (Jun/1935 - Volume 2, Number 17)

The 39 Steps (1935)

An exciting film of espionage in London and Scotland very freely adapted, with complete success, from John Buchan's novel. The atmosphere of adventure and mystery created at once in the opening sequence in an East End music hall is excellently maintained throughout the dual man-hunt until at the London Palladium Richard Hannay unmasks the spy organisation and clears himself of the murder for which the police have been chasing him. Like all melodramas in which the hero must win the story contains a number of very lucky accidents, but Hitchcock's direction, the speed at which the film moves, and Donat's high-spirited acting get away with them and the suspense never slackens. Apart from the laboured heckling from the East End music hall audience the comedy arises naturally even from the most dramatic sequences, and the romance between Hannay and Pamela, played by Madeleine Carroll, is kept well in its place. Perhaps the high spot in the film is the political meeting where Hannay, taking refuge from persons who join the audience, mistaken for a political speaker from London and faced with an audience about whom he knows nothing, improvises a speech which suits the political occasion and is a commentary both on his own misfortunes and the international political situation to-day. This, like the success of the film as a whole, is in large part due to Donat's vigorous and fullblooded acting. Madeleine Carroll, no longer dignified and austerely beautiful, fits in well, and the supporting cast especially Godfrey Tearle and Peggy Ashcroft, are good. The photography throughout is excellent and there are some beautiful scenes in Scotland which greatly contribute to the film, but some of the studio outdoor sets are bad because patently studio sets. First class entertainment.