The 39 Steps

Critics Consensus

Packed with twists and turns, this essential early Alfred Hitchcock feature hints at the dazzling heights he'd reach later in his career.

96%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 47

86%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 23,817
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The 39 Steps Photos

Movie Info

A man in London tries to help a counterespionage agent. But when the agent is killed and he stands accused, he must go on the run to both save himself and also stop a spy ring trying to steal top secret information.

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Cast

Robert Donat
as Richard Hannay
Godfrey Tearle
as Prof. Jordan
Lucie Mannheim
as Miss Smith
Helen Haye
as Mrs. Jordan
Wylie Watson
as Mr. Memory
Frank Cellier
as Sheriff Watson
Peggy Simpson
as Young Maid
Gus McNaughton
as Two Voyager
Jerry Verno
as Two Voyager
Miles Malleson
as Director of the Palladium
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News & Interviews for The 39 Steps

Critic Reviews for The 39 Steps

All Critics (47) | Top Critics (7)

  • The 39 Steps is a masterclass in propulsive narrative cinema that even today's so-called blockbuster auteurs should study.

    Sep 9, 2015 | Full Review…

    Kevin Maher

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps neatly converts its essential implausihility into an asset by stressing the difficulties which confront its hero when he tries to tell outsiders about the predicament he is in.

    Aug 5, 2014 | Full Review…
    TIME Magazine
    Top Critic
  • In Hitchcock's hands, however, this well-known espionage adventure provided the basis for a new sort of thriller and a new sort of comedy.

    Sep 4, 2008 | Full Review…
  • It's melodrama and at times far-fetched and improbable, but the story twists and spins artfully from one high-powered sequence to another while the entertainment holds like steel cable from start to finish.

    Aug 18, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • As an artist, Alfred Hitchcock surpassed this early achievement many times in his career, but for sheer entertainment value it still stands in the forefront of his work.

    Jul 9, 2007 | Full Review…
  • Great fun.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Brown

    Time Out
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The 39 Steps

  • Jun 15, 2016
    The 39 Steps, in many ways, shows how much Hitchcock improves as a filmmaker in mastering cinematic techniques. However, The 39 Steps also is the embodiment of the highs that his films would reach in the future, as this tightly structured, highly entertaining thriller includes many of his signature suspenseful set pieces and twists, while also maintaining a consistent sense of humor. The 39 Steps isn't incredibly complex or life-changing, but then again, it isn't trying to be. For what it is trying to be, an intelligent and entertaining thriller, it is one of the best in its genre. If you enjoy Hitchcock at all, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
    Joey T Super Reviewer
  • Mar 25, 2016
    There are few things like a good thriller with a nice sense of humor, even though the humor doesn't always work here; and while it is well directed and has some clever twists, it relies on too many coincidences and gets weakened by a silly semi-romance that feels always forced.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Sep 27, 2015
    39 Steps is fun movie from prewar Britain, though really not on par with the Hitchcock classics. It does not deliver in terms of pacing, suspense, and thrills. I found myself more interested in how the leading man and lady would get on, amused by the comedic elements, and enjoyed how the main character keeps a wry sense of humor throughout the wild ride. 39 Steps is not another North By Northwest but is fine as it is.
    Robert B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 16, 2014
    Well, jeez, I'm wondering what happened to the twelve-step program, because this just sounds like a chore. Hey, maybe this is a good method of stopping alcoholism, because if the road to recovery is 39 steps, well, I'm just not going to start and save myself all of the trouble. Hey, I've tried to make it through Dream Theater's "Twelve-Step Suite", and I'm sorry, Mike Portnoy, but your hour-long, progressive groove metal ballad about overcoming addiction is the real struggle. I don't know if it's more awkward that I've gone on this long with an alcoholism joke, or that I just referenced a contemporary metal band in a discussion regarding a film from 1939, when I could have at least taken a reference to Bryan Ferry. "39 steps; don't ask me why my-my heart is breaking, don't get me wrong this time!" Man, this film's even too old for that, so that must make it quite the potential victim for unfitting anachronism, because you'd figure that the reference would still fit, being that this film is more British than Bryan Ferry, so much so that it's about spies... predating James Bond. Wow, I told y'all that this film was old, but whatever, I still liked it, although, even though it doesn't seem to be as much of a chore as a 39-step alcohol rehabilitation program, it struggles with some things along the way. Rather noirish, or rather, dry in atmosphere, and steady in structural momentum, the film is intentionally and often effectively slow, yet there are times in which it gets carried away with all of the blasted meandering, which blands, if not dulls as it leaves storytelling to limp, both on paper and in atmosphere, despite its not being long enough to afford that many slow-downs. Of course, what really holds the film back, in terms of pacing, is not so much the dragging, as much as it's the briefness, which limits development a little too much, while reflecting a thinness to this narrative concept that leaves you with only so much meat to draw upon, no matter how much the film tries with dramatic highlights, perhaps too much. Approaching its tense subject matter with subtlety and grace, this film, upon meeting genuine material, sinks its teeth, but when material feels less than genuine, perhaps even histrionic, all of the thoughtfulness only gives you time to focus on just how overblown some of the melodramatics are, at least in retrospect. Quite frankly, if there is cheese in this film, - which, make no mistake, has plenty of cheese to it - then it tends to derive from the dating, for although this film was ahead of its time, it's still a victim of a time of cheesier filmmaking, which isn't to say that disconcerting tropes end there. Again, the film was ahead of its time in a lot of ways, but even for the time, Charles Bennett's and Ian Hay's script found itself plagued with conventions, and at this point, the film is definitely too familiar for its own good, following a formulaic path that is too predictable for you to focus on much of anything to storytelling beyond the other flaws. Conventional, melodrama, overdrawn and even rather thin, this film's story could have been fleshed out into anything from a rewarding classic to a mediocre misfire, and sure, there are enough strengths to secure the final product as decent on the whole, but missteps are consistent, until the film finds itself at least too worn down to be all that memorable. That being said, where the film could have slipped further under the weight of its shortcomings, it goes a fair distance on the backs of the areas in which it endears, maybe even excels, including the stylistic areas. Among the aspects that were particularly impressive at the time is Bernard Knowles' cinematography, which, even then, stands to fare better against the test of time, but still boasts a noirishly handsome attention to bleak, darker lights and shadows that immerses you into the gritty environment about as much as excellent framing and other forms of stylish filming moves, which particularly stand out during pretty thrilling action sequences. While technically limited by the time, the well-choreographed and dynamically staged chase sequences mark heights in intensity, even with little attention to musical flavor-ups, or at least mark heights in style, whose highlights are effective enough to do justice to the substance of this bleak thriller. Yes, there's only so much juice to flavor up in this somewhat minimalist espionage thriller, but it's there, in concept, where its most promising aspects are more-or-less rich, and its less compelling aspects go stressed by a flawed script that still has its moments in cleverness to dialogue and characterization, brought to life by highlights in acting. Well, for the brief time she's on, very early on in the film, Lucie Mannheim kind of slows down momentum with her hammy performance, yet most everyone else plays his or part very effectively, and that particularly goes for Robert Donat, whose role of an intellectual, but otherwise average individual caught up in an extraordinary scenario and danger carries enough charisma and subtle depth makes Donat quite the worthy lead. The thriller is, of course, pretty heavily driven by its characters, most of which are portrayed with enough realized charisma and layering to endear as mediums through which a tight noir narrative is told, and reasonably well I might add, at least by one man in particular. Storytelling is just so lacking in so many places that the film's decency goes threatened, with even Alfred Hitchcock's directorial storytelling getting a little too dry for its own good, yet if juice is drawn, it is drawn pretty thoroughly by Hitchcock's efforts as a director whose thoughtfulness soaks up enough depth from the more genuine attributes to material to intrigue, maybe even tense you up. The brightest moments in this film really shine, at least as rewarding, and while I wish they were more consistent in this mostly forgettable opus, those memorable moments highlight storytelling's engagement value enough to secure the final product as a slick classic of a noir drama, limp though it may be at times. Once the final steps have come and gone, thin areas in the story concept are so firmly stressed by slow spells, histrionics and conventions that the final product goes seriously threatened, yet decency is ultimately secured firmly enough by strong cinematography and acting, and by intriguing subject matter, carried by good acting and direction, to make Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps" a somewhat forgettable, but once-unique and still decent dramatic thriller. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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