As I accustom myself with older films more and more, it’s clear that I’ve been checking out the heavy hitters rather than some of the lesser known pieces. I’m not for a second suggesting that The 39 Steps isn’t well known, but it’s certainly not the most prominent Hitchcock movie out there. Starring the illusive Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll, The 39 Steps follows the classic Hitchcock story of an innocent man trying to clear his name.
But as the film continues, it becomes clearer that The 39 Steps is more experimental than anything else Hitchcock would display. Full of pacing issues, character development struggles and the occasional random dialogue, it has an almost strange and engrossing charm to it. Donat’s performance goes from tense and nervous to wickedly suave in the blink of an eye and at complete random. It’s a great performance though, a great lead to spend a short while with.
Much of the supporting cast are only in for a handful of scenes, rarely popping up later on in the movie. It’s not too shameful though given the grand majority of these performers aren’t really the best cast or most interesting characters. Godfrey Tearle especially is the most forgettable of all, which is a genuine shame since he’s meant to be the main villain of the piece.
It’s all down to some fairly poor pacing on the whole. Donat goes from worried and intrepid hero to international super-spy in what is one of the strangest and lengthiest monologues I’ve ever witnessed. Still it could’ve been worse, somehow Donat manages to play off this role rather well, and the latter half of the movie is some of the most interesting set pieces available.
You wouldn’t think this were a Hitchcock film, there are no real tropes in direction to pick up on entirely. What’s certainly sure though is that, regardless of how poor the pacing is or how cringe inducing some of the plot points are, it’s an underrated piece of his filmography. Slightly better than Psycho and slightly worse than Vertigo, The 39 Steps is a strange movie, almost experimental. A solid enough semi-thriller piece from the early days of Alfred Hitchcock.