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.