Back in 1915, John Buchan published his gripping adventure novel The Thirty-Nine Steps (find free ebook here). Two decades later, in 1935, Alfred Hitchcock directed the first of four film adaptations based on the book, and it’s by far the best. We won’t revisit the plot. But we will tell you that Hitchcock’s classic, starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll, ranks fourth on The British Film Institute’s list of the greatest British films of the 20th century. And, if you’re wondering why critics give Hitchcock’s film such high praise, simply turn to Marian Keane’s essay on Criterion’s website, which ends with these words:
The director’s deepest subjects—theater and its relation to film, the abandonment of human beings in vacant and foreboding landscapes, the complex human quest for knowledge, and the nature of accidents—abound in The 39 Steps. Hitchcock’s perception of the precariousness of human existence, and his belief in film’s capacity to reveal and reflect on it, lie at the heart of his achievement as a master of the art of film.
Thanks to YouTube and the Internet Archive, you can sit back and enjoy The 39 Steps online. It’s perfect for the upcoming weekend, and it’s one of 15 Hitchcock films available on the web. See our list of Free Hitchcock Films and our larger list of 800 Free Movies Online.