The “39 Steps”: A Review

Watching one of Hitchcock’s earliest thrillers is a real treat.


By Aaron M.

Few people watch old movies. This is, in my opinion, a huge mistake. Old films can be easily as thrilling as new ones, and they can give the viewer an idea, although usually quite vague, of what life was like in the past. Old movies also don’t use nearly the technology that new ones do. While technology can make films seem more polished, working without it can spark creativity and make an altogether more interesting product.

When one is talking about creativity in film, it would be difficult to avoid mention of Alfred Hitchcock. Everything in his films from the dialogue to the camera angles makes watching a more involving experience. For this reason, Hitchcock is my favorite movie director and screenplay writer. His movies are thrilling in a way few others manage to be. Films such as The 39 Steps, The Birds, and North by Northwest made him famous.

As a classic Hitchcock thriller, The 39 Steps has a riveting plot to match. The movie begins in a London music hall where a vaudeville show is taking place. There is a riot, and chaos envelopes the crowds watching. As people spill out onto the street, a woman asks a Mr. Hannay if she can come to his apartment. He agrees. She tells him about a conspiracy to smuggle information out of the country and tells Hannay she is being followed.

A murder is committed and Hannay sets off on a harrowing journey to thwart a group of foreign agents and save his own skin. You won’t want to stop watching until the movie has come to its surprising conclusion.

There are a lot of good points of The 39 Steps. Hitchcock’s ingenious screenplay is one of the things that makes this movie such a gem. The acting is excellent and the plot has lots of interesting twists and turns. Mr. Hannay, the main character, is a particularly excellent actor, and he is a likable character for it.

As good a film as it is, The 39 Steps has its downsides. As an old movie, the audio can be hard to hear, and in several places the film is noticeably sped up. However, these are traits that you will find in almost any film made prior to 1940 or so. The storyline, while thrilling, is a little melodramatic and shallow. The ending, while very surprising, is in some ways not quite fitting with the story. There are also, of course, all the 1930s stereotypes about women and people who live in rural areas.

Despite its downsides, The 39 Steps is an excellent film that everyone should watch. It is fast-paced, and you will not want to stop watching once you begin.