Category Archives: 1935 Movie Reviews

The 39 Steps-1935

The 39 Steps-1935

Director-Alfred Hitchcock

Starring-Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll

Scott’s Review #1,212

Reviewed December 26, 2021

Grade: A-

Before Alfred Hitchcock conquered American audiences in the 1950s and 1960s he made a slew of British films many of which are overlooked gems. The 39 Steps (1935) is a film nestled among that category, providing thrilling escapism and a spy-tinged subject matter that has an everyman on the run.

The plot pattern is very familiar because Hitchcock would use it later in his American films like The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and The Wrong Man (1956) to name only two.

Rather than any sort of carbon copy The 39 Steps instead is a pure delight for any fan of Hitchcock because the viewer can see facets and ideas the director would later bestow on his other films. There is enough originality though to please anyone looking for a good thrill.

It is very loosely based on the 1915 adventure novel The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan.

The story centers on Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian civilian on holiday in London. He unintentionally becomes involved in preventing an organization of spies nicknamed “The 39 Steps” from stealing British military secrets.

After being mistakenly accused of the murder of a counter-espionage agent, Richard flees to Scotland and becomes tangled up with an attractive woman named Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) while hoping to stop the spy ring and clear his name.

It’s a simple story but one that immediately compels the viewer to root for Richard since we know he is innocent. Perhaps he can find a bit of romance along the way with Pamela and stop the bad guys in the process. So there is little ambiguity with how the story is supposed to wind up.

The fun is getting there.

Assuming this isn’t one’s first time watching a Hitchcock film and nearing a hundred years since The 39 Steps was made I sincerely doubt it, there are oodles of sequences to enjoy. If one asks “does this scene seem familiar?” it is because many of them are.

The London music hall theatre and the London Palladium brim with recognition especially after a catchy tune that Richard cannot forget come into play. It’s too easy not to think of Doris Day’s hit “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”, featured as a key element of The Man Who Knew Too Much, or even the London setting itself.

To switch for a moment to another Hitchcock masterpiece, North by Northwest (1959), the frequent dashing across the lands by foot or by locomotion comes into play in a big way in The 39 Steps.

I loathe spending too much time with comparisons because The 39 Steps delivers some goods on its own merits. The action that takes place in the Scottish Highlands is fantastic and a treat for anyone who has been to the lovely and picturesque area. And the daring trip that Richard takes aboard the Flying Scotsman expresses train to Scotland is compelling adventure personified.

The chemistry between Richard and Pamela is decent but not great. It’s not the focal point of the film so I didn’t necessarily mind that. The clear intent was for her to first fear him but then have the characters fall in love. We never really get there but it seems the intent.

The main villain is Professor Jordan (Godfrey Tearle) who Richard tries to prevent from sending secrets out of the country.

Sure, there are better quality Alfred Hitchcock films to bask in once he got his groove decades later and one can assuredly boast that Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960) are superior films. But The 39 Steps (1935) is a blueprint of what brilliance the director had in his head at this time and it’s a pure treat to witness.

Bride of Frankenstein-1935

Bride of Frankenstein-1935

Director-James Whale

Starring-Boris Karloff, Elsa Lanchester

Scott’s Review #825

Reviewed October 31, 2018

Grade: A-

After four long years director, James Whale finally agreed to follow-up, and resurrect, his character of The Monster. Fortunately, Boris Karloff also returned to the role he made famous. In this installment, he meets a mate played by the gorgeous Elsa Manchester. Critics argue that the sequel is superior to the original, but I am not so sure of that, slightly preferring Frankenstein. Still, the aptly titled Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is a fantastic effort and a memorable classic in and of itself.

The plot picks up where the original Frankenstein ended and includes a sub-plot from the 1818 Mary Shelley novel. Having learned his lesson about the drawbacks of creating life, Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) is coerced into creating a female mate for the Monster. Much of the action follows the Monster, who is on the run from hunters as he encounters both devious and kindly individuals. In clever form, Manchester plays both the “Bride” and Mary Shelley, who is heralded for her masterful writing.

The main difference between Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein is that the Monster is more developed from a character perspective. Even more empathetic and now uttering some dialogue, the pained character contains deeper moments and a damaged quality. Karloff reportedly despised this aspect preferring that his character be more ambivalent, using grunts and facial expressions more than words, but to me, the development works well.

As the Monster traverses the forest looking for shelter while being pursued witch hunt style, a lovely sequence occurs between the Monster and a lonely blind man. Attracted by the gorgeous sounds of a violin playing “Ave Maria”, the blind hermit befriends the Monster and teaches him a few words like “friend”. Harboring no ill-will towards the creature, the old hermit instead feels blessed and thanks God for sending him a friend. The tender moment is then shattered when a fire burns down the cottage.

Continuing what Frankenstein did and more in line with Shelley’s novel is the constant theme of loneliness and despair. The Creature is a tortured soul, yearning for love and affection, yet suffering from a temper. He is childlike and struggles to know the difference between right and wrong.

Like Frankenstein, the sequel contains high-quality special effects and ambiance. With a storm raging (naturally), the thunder and lightning qualities add so much to a horror film such as this, filling it with suspense and a certain science fiction element. When the Bride is hoisted to the sky and struck by lightning, the scene is both campy and terrifying.

How delicious a character is Manchester as The Monster’s Bride? With her statuesque seven-foot height (the actress used stilts), white-streaked hairdo, macabre white gown, and jerky, animal-like head movements, the character is forever recognizable in pop culture. Timeless in characterization, the beautiful woman possesses a macabre yet humorous quality. When she becomes alert, sees the Monster, and shrieks, it is a memorable moment in film history.

Throughout cinematic history, few sequels ever live up to their predecessors, but Bride comes close. Easily able to be watched in tandem with Frankenstein, and perfect for a bit of Saturday afternoon nostalgia, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is a wonderful trip down memory lane to a time when horror was as thrilling in simple black and white as it is with all the frills added. Thanks to Whale’s brilliant direction, both films are legendary in their inspiration and achievements.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Recording