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Motion Picture Daily (24/Jun/1935) - The Thirty-Nine Steps




"The Thirty-Nine Steps"

(Gaumont British)

London, June 14. — This has the speed, suspense and imagination in detail characteristic of a director with an American sense of box-office values and the humorous values, emphasized, nicely balance the melodrama.

It's a spy story, opening with a mysterious girl seeking the protection, during a riot in a music hall, of a young Canadian. She tells him she is in danger of her life from a gang trying to get details of a new aeroplane engine, a secret of the British Government. Later, staggering wounded into his room, she dies before she can do more than show him a map of Scotland, with a small village marked.

Hannay makes for Scotland, but the police are after him for murder and board the train. He pretends to make love to Pamela, a girl travelling along, but she denounces him. He gets out of the moving train and swarms down a bridge and reaches the Highlands only to encounter Professor Jordan, the chief of the enemy gang. Follow a series of rapid escapes, police pursuits and finally Hannay's capture after he is recognized by Pamela and handed over to "detectives" who are really members of the gang.

Realizing Pamela to be a danger, they handcuff her to Hannay. In a mountain mist the couple make a getaway and, still manacled, spend the night together in a country hotel. This situation is handled with tact and a sense of fun. In the morning the girl, who has wriggled out of her handcuff, learns Hannay is not a murderer. Allies, they make a dash for London, where with the London Palladium as background, comes the exposure of the gang's plans, which have been to teach "Mr. Memory," a stage act of the "human encyclopaedia" variety the formula of the British invention so that it can be taken out of England without being committed to paper. Hannay tricks the performer into reciting it from the stage; the "professor," from a box, shoots his accomplice but is captured.

The selling angles are Robert Donat's debonair performance, the speed of the pursuit scenes, the attractiveness of Scottish backgrounds and the effective climax. Madeleine Carroll's role is definitely secondary but she plays the comedy, especially, excellently. Comparatively small parts are played by such good players as Godfrey Tearle, Helen Haye, Frank Cellier, Peggy Ashcroft and John Laurie.

Running time, 85 minutes. "G."