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The 39 Steps (1935)

The Criterion Collection

Cast: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll.

Rating: NR

Run time: 86 mins.

Genre: Drama.

Verdict: Brilliant (see rating system)

Famed director Alfred Hitchcock's first great thriller, The 39 Steps, looks fabulous in Criterion's lavish remastered edition.

This simply doesn't look like a movie made more than 70 years ago and the engineers have done wonders with the sound, too.

The 39 Steps tells a familiar Hitchcock story: an innocent man is on the run trying to prove he really isn't a killer.

It all begins innocently enough for Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian visiting London who takes in a music hall show one evening. A shot is fired and the audience flees in panic. On the way out of the theatre, a mysterious woman says she fired the gun to cause a diversions and she begs Hannay to escort her to safety as she is being pursued by a dangerous espionage gang.

At first he doesn't believe her, but after taking the woman to his flat, Hannay discovers his place is being watched. During the night, the woman is murdered.

Realizing the spot he's in, Hannay escapes and with police in pursuit heads for Scotland with some clues the dead woman gave him - a map with a small town circled, a description of a man with a missing finger and the phrase "the 39 steps").

An exciting chase movie with a great finale, The 39 Steps also includes Hitchcock's trademark blonde temptress, this one played by Madeleine Carroll, who ends up handcuffed to Hannay and facing death at the hands of the gang.

If the story sounds familiar it should be: Cary Grant played much the same part in North By Northwest in 1959, again a man on the run trying to expose the gang of foreign agents who've framed him for murder.

There are some very poor public domain versions of The 39 Steps on DVD, featuring picture blemishes and crackling sound - problems virtually eliminated in the Criterion edition.

This DVD includes several extra features, notably a documentary on Hitchcock's British films before he left for Hollywood in 1939.

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