In 2012 I read two novels (The Thirty-Nine Steps and Jamaica Inn) that Alfred Hitchcock made into films during the 1930s. The 39 Steps movie, based on the novel by John Buchan, was released in 1935. Three other film versions have been based on Buchan’s novel, but most agree that this one is the best. I haven’t seen the other three so I can’t weigh in on the debate.
The film stars Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. While the film is based on the novel, I should mention that it’s loosely based on the novel. It’s still a spy thriller, but Hitchcock took many liberties and introduced two female characters. Normally I prefer a movie based on a novel should attempt to stick to the story in the book. However, I enjoyed this film. It’s almost so different that you really can’t compare it to the novel at all. Also, I believe that the movie and novel are both equally good in their own right.
Richard Hannay (Donat) is in attendance at a London music hall theatre when shots are fired. Everyone panics in the theater. During the confusion, Hannay protects a scared woman (Lucie Mannheim). They end up going to Hannay’s flat. That’s when Richard finds out that there’s more to the woman than he assumed. She’s a spy! Two men have followed Hannay and the woman and they want to kill her. Imagine bringing a woman back to your flat and then she tells you that two killers are standing right outside. She says she has uncovered a plot and that evildoers are attempting to steal crucial British military secrets. Hannay at first doesn’t know what to think. Later in the night when the female spy has been fatally stabbed she tells him to run right before she dies.
Hannay doesn’t know all the details about the evil plot, but he has clues. And he doesn’t want the military secrets to leave the country. Also, he rather not be arrested by the police since now he is the number one suspect in the murder of the woman. He knows he needs to head to Scotland. He boards a train and meets Pamela (Carroll). Hannay tries to enlist her help to stay hidden from the police. She doesn’t take the bait and turns him in. He jumps off the train onto a bridge and escapes. But not for long. And as luck would have it, he runs into Pamela again. Will she eventually believe in his innocence? More importantly, can he save Britain and its military secrets?
This is an exciting movie and a classic Hitchcock take on an innocent man on the run. As I said, it doesn’t follow the book’s plot, but the changes that Hitchcock made in the film work beautifully. I don’t want to say he improved the story since I like the novel. However, I am leaning towards saying that. If you love Hitchcock then this is a must see. He hadn’t mastered his craft yet, but you can see that he was well on his way with this film. The twists and turns will keep you on the edge of your seat. It has a 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Unfortunately, the other movie I watched, Jamaica Inn (released in 1939 and based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier), wasn’t as good. In fact, it only has a 44% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I haven’t decided if I will review it yet. I admire Hitchcock and his movies. This movie didn’t work. Mistakes happen. And I think he learned from it and moved on. I rather not harp on the bad.
Hitchcock made both of these films in Britain. I think Jamaica Inn was the last film he made before he headed to Hollywood. Since they were made in the United Kingdom, I’m including them in my quest to see movies from every country. Caroline is hosting The World Cinema Series adventure. If you would like to join please visit her site.
Alfred Hitchcock.., love his books and movies! I just watched a HBO movie about him. I always knew he was intense and edgy but I never knew how much. He was brilliant, however obsessive. What a thrill to see where he lived! Love it! I have so many favorites of his that I wouldn’t be able to name them within this post! The 39 Steps being one of them 🙂
I hope you don’t mind if I reblog your link on my reblog page?
I think he would be an interesting person to study: passionate, obsessive, and he just comes across as odd. I haven’t seen the new movie on him or the HBO version–are they the same? And thanks for the reblog!
I like The 39 Steps a lot as well. It’s typical Hitchcock. Too bad the secodn movie didn’t match your expectations. I haven’t seen it but I didn’t like the book, so might stay away from it.
It would be a first though…I have never seen a Hitchcock movie I didn’t like but when I review Notorious a week or so ago I noticed that I haven’t seen most people’s favourites which are Strangers on a Train, Frenzy and North by Northwest. Something to look forward to.
Thanks so much for the contribution.
I enjoyed the novel Jamaica Inn and I had high hopes for the movie. Unfortunately, due to the time period he had to change some main aspects of the novel to get approval to make it and to show it in theaters–I won’t say too much more since I don’t want to ruin the book for those who haven’t read it. And the star of the film interfered quite a bit since he also co-produced. It really shows. Haven’t seen Strangers on a Train or Frenzy. North by Northwest is one of my favorites. Recently I saw Vertigo in a theater in Notting Hill. That was a fun afternoon.
Nice review, TBM! I have read ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ but when I tried getting Hitchcock’s movie version, I could only get a 1970s movie version. It was not bad, but I would love to see Hitchcock’s version some day. Glad to know that you liked it so much. Can’t believe that it has an approval rating of 98% in Rotten Tomatoes – it must be one of the highest approval ratings ever! Sorry to know that you didn’t like Hitchcock’s version of ‘Jamaica Inn’ as much as you had expected to. Maybe his ‘Rebecca’ is better. Looking forward to reading more of your film reviews.
That’s a shame you couldn’t get the ’35 version. I have a collection of some of his old movies, which is how I tracked down this one. Even Hitchcock didn’t like his version of Jamaica Inn. I hear Rebecca is much better, but I don’t own a copy of it. I’ll request it though. It’s rainy here today so too bad I don’t have it now–perfect atmosphere to watch a Hitchcock flick.
i love robert donat! and the 39 steps is a wonderful film. i don’t remember jamaica inn, so i may not have seen that one. i’ll have to look for it.
thx for pointing me to the world cinema series. i subscribe to that feed but had missed the film series somehow.
I’m curious what you’ll think of Jamaica Inn. If you watch please let me know. And I hope you join the world cinema series. I enjoy watching the films and reading the reviews. It’s a great way to travel.
Hitchcock was the MAN!
The HBO film about Hitchcock, The Girl, is very unflattering: Hitchcock comes off looking like a sadistic mysogynist. That said, I have never seen The 39 Steps, but it sounds very good. My favorites are Rear Window and North by Northwest. I’ve seen Rear Window at least three times, and am on the edge of my seat the whole movie, even though I know how it ends. Jimmy Stewart and Raymond Burr are perfect in it.
I have a poster of Rear Window in my office–such a creepy film. And Grant in North by Northwest–a true classic.
Love Hitchcock! How much fun to be able to see where he used to live, I’ll bet his creative presence can still be felt everywhere in the house.
I wasn’t able to go inside. I wonder who lives there now. It would be odd having people like me standing outside just staring and snapping photos
thank you for the review 🙂
I havent watched many of his movies even though I have heard so much about him.
I think you would like some of them. He’s the master of suspense.
It’s been ages since I’ve seen a Hitchcock film, but I watched several. I haven’t read any of the books, though. Thanks for the great summary.
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