Praised as the first true Hitchcock masterpiece, this is a great spy thriller, though I wouldn’t actually label it as one of Hitchcock’s best. What I would say is that this is probably the film that sealed Hitchcock as the main director of the thriller genre, because it is a strong thriller and also because it was a box office hit. The story follows Robert Donat’s character, who’s on the run for a crime he had nothing to do with. Enter Madeleine Carroll who at first provides an excellent foil but then also becomes a willing love interest. It’s a great movie with two wonderful performances by Donat and Carroll. In addition to being one of the first Hitchcock films to use the “wronged” man as a theme, it also is probably the first use of something later coined as the MacGuffin, a plot device that is used to move the story along but actually, it’s of no true significance to the story. Here, the MacGuffin would be the formula inside the mind of Mr. Memory. The 39 Steps is a fast-paced thriller that really keeps the audience guessing right until the very end…and one of the best of British Hitchcock.
Posts Tagged: Macguffin
Over the course of his career, Hitchcock followed his trademark “thriller” genre fairly closely. He made one totally non-suspenseful work early in his career (Mr. and Mrs. Smith from 1941 is a screwball, romantic comedy) and some of his works had more intense thrills than others did. On the whole, though, Hitchcock’s films made his audience sit on the edge of their seats and Notorious (1946) is no exception. Yet, it is somewhat unique since it is the closest Hitchcock ever came to making an outright dramatic love story. Starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman (both of whom had worked with Hitchcock prior to this film), Notorious is a masterpiece on every front. It works perfectly as a thriller and passionately as a love story and it features both supreme directing and stellar acting performances. Bergman plays the daughter of a former Nazi who is convicted for his wartime crimes. Her father’s connections place Bergman in a perfect position to play spy for the U.S. government, which she does under the watchful eye of governmental agent Grant. A love affair between Bergman and Grant cools off after her assignment involves her becoming more than just an acquaintance with one of her father’s friends. Hitchcock’s sense of style is unmatched in this film. The camera movements add to both the intensity of the romance (following Grant and Bergman from room to room as they continue their embrace) and the drama of the suspense (following a key in Bergman’s hand).