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TRIBUTE TO THE GROUND-BREAKING FILMS OF THE 20'S AND 30'S
Hello, fellow movie buffs. This page is our tribute to the ground-breaking work of film makers of the 1920's and 1930's. We will offer our views and reviews of selected films from those eras, and at the same time give you the opportunity to tell us what you think. Take a second to check out our links section.
We are graduate students just about ready to be unleashed upon the world. Since we are in our final year, we have some time to kill. We figured it would be fun to give this home page a try.
I have been trying to make some changes to this page that would make it better. I have experimented with an "in history" feature in which I tried to pull some headlines together from the year the film was made. I have scrapped that idea because the news becomes too general. I may start a "on this date in history" feature in which I would put in a single significant news story from the date on which I update the page. For example, if I update the page on June 1, 1997 and the featured movie was made in 1930, I would have a section in which I recount the top story from June 1, 1930. This will go a long way toward giving this page the fell of going to the movies in the golden era with a newsreel section, some background music and maybe some cartoon shorts that readers could download and view (if I can find some that I am allowed to use). In any event, tell me what you think of these ideas. by the way, have you checked out the section yet? oh one more thing, is the larger text in the body of the reviews better or is the old way better??
Abysmal. Completely lacking
in merit -- bad acting, writing, cinematography, etc.
Poor. One or two redeeming qualities, but inferior overall.
Average. Not outstanding in most respects, but worth a viewing.
Good. Solid acting, writing, cinematography, etc. Superior in many respects.
Excellent. A true classic. Superior acting, writing, cinematography, etc. Few, if any, flaws.
Robert Donat. . . . . . Richard Hannay Studio . . . . . . . . . . . Gaumont International
Madeleine Carroll. . . Pamela Director . . . . . . . . . .Alfred Hitchcock
Lucie Mannheim. . . . Annabella Smith Film Editor . . . . . . . .Derek N. Twist
Godfrey Tearle. . . . . Professor Jordan Screenplay . . . . . . . . Charles Bennet
Peggy Ashcroft. . . . . The Crofter's wife Music . . . . . . . . . . . .Hubert Bath
John Laurie. . . . . . . . The Crofter Cinematography . . . . Bernard Knowles
Helen Haye. . . . . . . . Mrs. Jordan Costume Design . . . .Marianne and
Frank Cellier. . . . . . . Sheriff Joe trassner
Wylie Watson. . . . . . Mr. Memory
Running Time: 81 minutes.
The 39 steps is a rather complex spy thriller in which an innocent man, Hannay (Donat), must clear his name to the police by tracking down a ring of spies and exposing them. You see, Mr. Hannay meets up with Annabella Smith one evening while he is out on the town in London. When Ms. Smith asks if she might go home with Hannay, he considers himself lucky and obliges. When they return to h is flat, Ms. Smith tells Hannay that she is a spy who is trying to keep The 39 Steps, a ring of foreign spies, from removing top secret military documents from the country. While they sleep, The 39 Steps find Annabella and kill her. Hannay then sets out to expose The 39 Steps in an attempt to clear himself of charges in Ms. Smith's death.
The 39 Steps is a depressing tale of deceit, lost dreams, and lack of respect for authority, and this is totally understandable in the world which Hitchcock creates in this film. In Hitchcock's world, in this film and many others, there is very little to be happy about. In this respect, the Crofter episode could stand alone as a short story. the Crofter, played by Laurie, is a hypocrite who has trapped a younger woman, played wonderfully by Ashcroft, on his sad little excuse for a farm and has forced her to submerge all of her feelings and desires so that he can control her. He lies in order to catch her fooling around, when he has no reason to suspect so other than his own insecurities which have led him to virtually imprison her to begin with. Take this scene, add some spies, and set it in London, and you have The 39 Steps.
It would be easy to say that this milieu in which The 39 Steps takes place is common to all spy stories and that it is necessary for a spy story to truly work, and I would agree with this in part. However, I believe this film is a piece of a larger version of Hitchcock's psyche which is developed in his later films. One can only imagine what kind of phobias and fears clouded Hitchcock's mind, but if this film is any indication, he was not a very happy man. Yet, there is also a childlike hopefulness that the world will somehow be different one day. This is best represented by Hannay's political speech. Tear away the grown-up rhetoric, and I believe you will also see that child-like (though by no means childish) wonder that somehow also lurked deep within Hitchcock's mind. This hopefulness is finally symbolized by Hannay and Pamela reaching out for one another at the end, finally forming the binds of trust so necessary to bring about Hannay's vision.
I have two basic criticisms with this film. First, I found the story to be a bit complex, and this problem is only aided by my second criticism--that the dialogue was very difficult to understand. The difficulty understanding the dialogue has two primary causes, one of which is technical and the other of which is human. On the technical side, I can only assume that this film reflects an overall lack of consistently reliable sound technology from the time. This problem is only compounded by the passage of time. The more human problem is that of the actors. In The 39 Steps we have a rather large range of dialects and accents. Compound this with a tendency of stars from the early years to speak very quickly, and you have a film that is rather hard to follow. Notwithstanding this concern, overall the acting in this film is quite good.
In the end, many have asked the question whether this
film is merely an entertaining story or whether it is truly cinema. In
and as much as this film presents an overall view of society (and at certain
times a condemnation of that view), one has to admit that it is more than
just a "movie." However, Hitchcock presented the same ideas in
a better fashion many other times (Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a
Train, North by Northwest, and Psycho, just to name a few of
the more famous ones), and to that extent, this film is something less
Destry Rides Again (1939), The Gold Rush (1925), The Jazz Singer (1927)
The Divorcee The Blue Angel Indiscreet The Scarlet Pimpernell
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