[Movie] The 39 Steps (1935)

  • Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Cast: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim
  • Based on: The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915 novel) by John Buchan

Richard Hannay: What are The 39 Steps?

Mr. Memory: The 39 Steps is an organization of spies collecting information on behalf of the foreign office of…

from the movie

The 39 Steps” is the early masterpiece of Alfred Hitchcock. The film is an example of how Hitchcockian elements had been evolved. It is a story based on an innocent man being forced to go on the chase accidentally. Also, it contains a typical Hitchcockian MacGuffin.

A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin) is an object, device, or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself.


Hitchcock’s movies are always about something else. Viewers need to look at multi-layers. 

  • What the film narrates. vs. what is really going on.
  • What the main plot is. vs. what the main character does.

In the film, we have a story about spies. The MacGuffin device is the plan for an advanced airplane engine stored in the memory of “Mr. Memory,” which is an object that everyone is chasing. But the protagonist, Richard Hannay, only wants to clear his name.

Another point to look at is the Alfred Hitchcock cameo appearance. At around seven minutes into the film, both Hitchcock and the screenwriter, Charles Bennett, can be seen walking past a bus that Robert Donat and Lucie Mannheim board outside the music hall.

The next point is how the fetishistic “Hitchcock blonde” character started to evolve. Madeleine Carroll became a template for a cold, intelligent, elegant, and somewhat remote female character of his successive films. 

The directing and the plot seem a little bit far-fetched, but it is really interesting to discover Hitchcockian elements throughout the film. Here is the warning: You always need to see Hitchcock’s movies multiple times. It is a rare joy to find this kind of movie.

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