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.
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