If you have a free evening or afternoon, spending 90 or so minutes watching any Hitchcock film is a valuable expenditure of one’s time, more so if one in is actively interested in the moving image in any form. If you haven’t seen much Hitchcock, The 39 Steps is a pretty good place to start, not least because the whole thing is on Youtube at decent quality.
Centred around one man’s quest to prove his innocence to the world after a spy is murdered inside his own home, Hitchcock carries you on the run up the length of the country, starting in the busy metropolis of London to the Scottish wilderness. Every scene is tense, for example, one in which he shares a train compartment with salesmen reading the news story of the very murder he is accused of committing, as the police close in on his position. Its engaging stuff that matches the energy of a film like Bourne, with a fraction of the action.
Though filmmaking and the spy storyline is fairly timeless, it comes as no surprise that the gender relations in his film are very… of the time. The leading lady can’t really be described as proactive, is often threatened with violence and is consistently demeaned by the Hero. This doesn’t necessarily affect the enjoyment of the film, dynamics such as these are part and parcel of watching many films from the past, but if you’re looking for a hidden progressive nugget from the past, this ain’t it.
The 39 Steps is damn good story, brought to life by a legendary director who tells a tense and focused story. It’s no wonder the film is often included in ‘Top British Film’ lists. Buy a cheap projector from Amazon, grab some popcorn, light a cigarette and let this film transport you to a 30s picture house.
Words by Ed Heap