39 Steps, The

416. THE 39 STEPS (1935-England). With ROBERT DONAT, MADELEINE CARROLL. Directed by ALFRED HITCHCOCK. One of the all-time classics, this thrilling espionage adventure was the first film to establish Hitchcock as the Master of Suspense. What are the ’39 Steps,” and where do they lead? Which vital secrets are in the mind of a performer named Mr. Memory? Can the British Empire be saved from imminent destruction? These are only some of the baffling questions faced by Richard Hannay, a happy-go-lucky Canadian tourist who innocently visits a London music hall and ends up in a terrifying chase across the country. After the music hall show is abruptly interrupted by a gunshot, a strange woman asks Hannay for his protection from deadly secret agents. Later, she appears in his room-with a knife in her back! Pursued by the police for the murder. Hannay sets out to find the spy organization’s sinister leader, who can be identified only by the fact that part of his finger is missing. Like many later Hitchcock heroes, Hannay is an ordinary man suddenly caught up in a chaotic world where nothing is certain and all appearances are deceptive. In Scotland, he attempts to enlist the aid of one of the country’s most respected citizens, only to discover that the man is missing part of a finger! HannayÕs many colorful adventures include an unusual liaison with a sexy (but, in the Hitchcock tradition, icy) blonde, who loathes him at first sight, but who finds herself handcuffed to him. (In a scene often cited for its eroticism, the two try to bed down for the night, and as she takes off her stockings, HannayÕs hand rubs along her leg.) The film is a tour-de-force of visual style-with its unusual angles, expressive lighting and dazzling montages-and is also important for its creative experiments with the still-young sound medium. Watch-or listen – for the famous transition between a woman screaming and the sound of a train whistle.) Deftly blending intrigue, romance, murder arid humor, this prototype for many spy movies to follow (it has been remade twice) but there will never be anything quite like it, half a century, it remains as exciting as ever-a true gem from Hitchcock’s Golden Age. 86 minutes Hitchcock