The 39 Steps (1935)
HIGH INTRIGUE IS MAKING ITS WAY onto the silver screen over the next couple of weeks with the d0xE9but of such films as The Sum of All Fears, The Bourne Identity, and Minority Report. If you like this genre, but are looking for a lighter tale to share with your family, you may find the answer in just 39 easy Steps.
Although we've all been told to beware of strangers, Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) does not heed such sage advice. A Canadian living abroad, he is sampling London's nightlife when two gunshots abruptly change the evening's entertainment. Leaving the music hall with the rest of the panicked throng, the young man chivalrously stops to help a damsel in distress (Lucie Mannheim). But instead of the usual "thank you," she asks to come home with him.
Upon entering Richard's flat, the mysterious maiden displays paranoid tendencies while claiming to be a spy and muttering something about 39 steps. Skeptical of her story, the gentleman retires to the couch, only to be awaked later that night when she staggers into the room and collapses to reveal a knife protruding from her back. Realizing his life is in danger, and that the police will believe him a murderer, the desperate man sets out to prove his innocence by finding the real plot behind the killing.
Unfortunately, Richard's honest demeanor is not well suited for the covert operation he is now entangled in. A series of misplaced confidences, unlucky coincidences, and vigilant pursuers keep the fugitive on the run. Along with the suspense, the script provides some humorous situations, like the predicament the accused encounters when a police officer handcuffs him to a feisty woman (Madeleine Carroll) who is determined to see him incarcerated.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935, this early film contains many of the elements that would eventually become trademarks of this master moviemaker (including his cameo appearance). The 39 Steps deals with espionage and murder, yet handles both violence and some mild sexual content in a polite manner. It's also a good reminder to be cautious with mere acquaintances.