Thursday, April 02, 2009

"The 39 Steps" (1935) - Movie Review

It is an interesting thought to see a film of a classic nature today seventy four years later. How will the people would have thought of their art be at this point in time and how will it be perceived of this old piece of antique? Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” is that time with the thriller having a lot of unharmed adventure, a little bit of hard romance and a lot of comic tone. The characters have a way of saying things of the simplest expression. They do not ask the name of a lady, rather they say “Am I allowed to know your name?”. What a line and what kind of gentlemanly tone with an air of sarcasm and respect it poises the tension between them.

A man from Canada, Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) attends a special show of a man with brain as a sea of information readily accessible. He can tell the exact distance from Montreal to Winnipeg and he is sensible enough to not reveal a woman’s age. In the midst of that a chaos followed with gunshots and our young lead is exits with an encounter with a mysterious woman (Lucie Mannheim). Mystical and diabolically beautiful, he does not question when she asks to cling on to him to his apartment. The night is young is what resides in his mind but paranoid is following him as a woman. She carefully hides herself in his apartment before he switches on the light. Some one is watching. Why are they watching and when she tells that she was the one who fired those shot to distract from the killers pursuing her, things seem to be far from reality. Of course it is a thriller and things happen. She tells a little bit but enough for the film to take the suspense on before she dies on his lap in the middle of the night with a knife on her back.

With a dead woman and a clue of 39 Steps, spies and a man to meet in Scotland, Hannay has nothing left to do than catch a train. The whole Scotland Yard is behind him and he is jumping trains. It is truly unrealistic but it is a classic of unusual imagination with characters shifting themselves from seriousness to wit remarks in a jiffy. Hannay a man searching for nothing but an arrow to point to Scotland uses his common sense in every aspect through by standers. Some help others come as Pamela (Madeleine Carroll). She is kissed by him in the train for another try to escape from the police only to be told dutifully by this stunning beauty. He is irritated as the classic heroes were towards a strong and bold woman and their fight forms an uproariously funny and romantic scene later in the film.

How these works are immortalized by the technology to provide a pristine images of those early works is comforting. When seventy four years have passed, what will be state of the current world of cinema? Whatever it is, there always needs to be a story with words that make sense, emotions and a hell a lot of imagination and there always will be the duty of able actors to speak out those dialogues being faithful to the writer, director and an element of their own conviction. More importantly will be the existing technicians and added future invented field of art labourers to make this medium work as they intended to. That will always be the same.

This is the film when the idea of moving images itself was a great feat to watch. In it Hitchcock tries to surpass the best. A brilliant in car shot which comes out of the characters as they speak and swings by to follow it outside and steps out to see it going into the long winding road immersing and disappearing into the shady nights. Definitely a trick shot but put in out of the love towards that scene requiring that particular view to complete it.

It is an adventurous film with various locales and characters of doubtful eyes and helpful hands. Hannay comes across an old crofter (John Laurie) and identifies his subtle greediness immediately and the softness and fear in his young wife (Peggy Ashcroft). When he is assisted by her to escape, he kisses her and it is a kiss of friendship, acknowledgement and love all delivered in that one act in an effective hurry. Bits like that make me to revisit to notice the missed scenes of such execution.

“The 39 Steps” has one of the more sensible and plausible suspense. It connects the end to the start with a tune which does not gets out of the head of our hero. And when he does, it all comes to place. And they finish with a dying man and holding hands of one with a handcuff and other with a velvet glove. While I might not know the status the current best films would carry in the distant future but “The 39 Steps” will always be the entertainer, thriller and a witty comedy it is at that time of technological excellence.

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