Without a doubt, this is the best Hitchcock chase movie, and certainly one of his most enjoyable. Many may be put of by the somewhat shaky production values and the age (I was), which makes the film seem tremendously old. Coupled to this, Robert Donat's hair and moustache does the film no favours. However those who turn a blind eye to this gem will kick themselves. The film IS better than North By Northwest. Now I have watched the latter film 3-4 times since, but I cannot shake the feeling it is somewhat overrated but by just. It is still an excellent film, but by no means up there with his best. The 39 Steps is better. The story has better pacing, a wittier interchange between the 2 leads (and from the supporting characters - i.e. the 2 gentlemen in the train) and some subtler comedy substances. Plus the fact the locations are moodier - London, and dark, misty Scotland! The chemistry between the two leads is phenomenal much better than in North by Northwest, and yet, is based purely on the their mental and verbal interactions rather than their physical. There are also some great touches such as that famous sound cut to the roaring train when the first murder is discovered, and just the small, finer creative flourishes littered throughout the film (including an early great continous cut in the car, somehting he would try later in Rope). These touches add so much to the enjoyment value if you can appreciate them. The set pieces, although more brief and low key compared to his later films, they complement the story to no end. They all fit in with the natural flow of the film as opposed to being flamboyant showpieces. For me North by Northwest is a more glossier affair and is a great example of the stereotypical Hollywood romance including the long gazes, passionate kisses, and reliance on star charisma to give charisma. The 39 Steps is something special and deserves to be in the BFi's greatest list. Certainly at LEAST as good as the THIRD MAN - okay I lie, its better. Thats how good this is. While not as deep or psychologically complex as some of his other works - for pure entertainment, atmosphere and storytelling its hard to beat. What I like about Hitchcock, is the fact that he was always in it for good, intelligent entertainment (fused with creative art) - and certainly the amount of interest and exhaustive examination into who Mr Hitchcock was, is utterly pointless - people need to spend more time watching his films, rather than partaking in pointless exercises. The 39 Steps is the most entertaining, fun and thrilling film I have ever witnessed. A masterpiece in every sense of the word. PS the similarities of this film to 1942s Saboteur (an underrated Hitchcock movie) are extraordinary, if it were not for the fact that both films are made by him it would be plagiarism. Similarities extend to the device with the handcuffs, the somewhat feisty and hysterical blonde, journeys to the middle of nowhere to confront the mastermind, and the way the main protagonist is helped by locals who are all too quick to place faith in believing him.
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