A high point of Hitchcock's pre-Hollywood career, 1935's The Thirty-Nine Steps
is the first and best of three film versions of John Buchan's rather stiff novel
. Robert Donat plays Richard Hannay, who becomes embroiled in a plot to steal military secrets. He finds himself on the run; falsely accused of murder, while also pursuing the dastardly web of spies alluded to in the title. With a plot whose twists and turns match the hilly Scottish terrain in which much of the film is set, The Thirty-Nine Steps
combines a breezy suavity with a palpable psychological tension. Hitchcock was already a master at conveying such tension through his cinematic methods, rather than relying just on situation or dialogue. Sometimes his ways of bringing the best out of his actors brought the worst out in himself. If the scene in which Donat is handcuffed to co-star Madeline Carroll has a certain edge, for instance, that's perhaps because the director mischievously cuffed them together in a rehearsal, then left them attached for a whole afternoon, pretending to have lost the key. The movie also introduces Hitchcock's favoured plot device, the "McGuffin" (here, the military secret), the unexplained device or "non-point" on which the movie turns. --David Stubbs
Alfred Hitchcock's most celebrated British thriller, adapted from John Buchan's novel. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) becomes the victim of mistaken identity when a female corpse is dumped in his flat by a spy ring. He tries to track down the true murderers whilst being pursued by the police, and hooks up with an unwilling accomplice (Madeleine Carroll). Their adventure eventually leads them to a music hall, where the secret of the 39 steps is revealed. Also included is the documentary 'Hitchcock - The Early Years'.