The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps is one of the most satisfying of the British Hitchcocks, a thriller filled with wry humor and sophisticated romance-and some of the disturbing elements of Hitchcock's dark silents, as well. Robert Donat's Richard Hannay may be an innocent abroad (he is Canadian), but he is drawn along in a dangerous intrigue in part by his own desire to know too much. (The stage freak Mr. Memory shows the extremes and limitations of such a passion.) Hannay's journey is away from innocence toward a broader humanity-toward becoming, like a spy, a man without a country. Locale, from music hall to moors, is bathed in mystery; a landscape of fog and sheep is by turns vampirish and serene. Hannay's pursuit of that which makes him “lonely and helpless with the whole world against me” is a trial run for Saboteur, North by Northwest, and even Vertigo: it has to end where it began.

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