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 1000+ Free Movies Online.
Alfred Hitchcock Recalls Working with Salvador Dali on Spellbound
Truffaut’s Big Interview with Hitchcock (MP3s)
Hitchcock’s manipulation of the novel’s plot (the introduction of a love story, etc.) is deft, clever, and believable. Carroll as the female lead is strong and, within her parameters, as forthright a portrayal as one might expect in a Hitchcock film. Donat is incredibly likable as the lead: threatening when he needs to be, but also quick-witted, amiable, and vulnerable. The social subtext within the film just screams to be examined, yet Hitchcock’s glossing over it simply whets the appetite rather than leaves one furiously demanding more.
The volume was impossibly low….sadly I turned off the film.
Links are broken.
I love Hitch and really like this film. The foundation, for the 39 Steps is rather sketchy, however. We start in the theater. Mass exit. No sign of the killers when they hop on the bus. Magically they know just where the bus goes and where the two stop off. They don’t know his name, but sure they know which apartment is his. In the 1930s they instantly know which number to call their phone. They are locked out but an open window puts a knife in the woman’s back. Why the hell don’t they go after him too, while they are in the apartment? Cause sure as hell, the phone keeps ringing and they don’t leave the area. The more I watch the more agitated I get about the beginning.
That was actually a good movie! A classic Hitchcock movie with the plot twist!