CMBA Hitchcock Blogathon: Notorious

This reposting is in conjuction with the Classic Movie Blog Association’s  Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon. For more Hitchcock reviews by other CMBA members see list after the review or click on the Hitchcock Blogathon ad on the right. 

Who ever said Alfred Hitchcock was not a romantic? After all, what could be more romantic than the final scenes in “Notorious” where we see Cary Grant coming to Ingrid Bergman’s rescue just in time to take her away from the murdering Nazi Claude Rains. True for the past two hours Grant forced Ingrid to whore herself  by playing a 20th Century Mata Hari, seducing and sleeping with Rains in order to obtain secret information. He then resents her for agreeing to do this and hates himself for forcing her do it. Yep, no one knew how to treat a woman like Mr. Hitchcock, just ask Janet Leigh in “Psycho” or Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.”

“Notorious” is a dark perverted love story. It is also a story of espionage, spies, murder and sex with Grant and Bergman as two of the most glamorous spies this side of James Bond, and wouldn’t have Grant made a great James Bond. In this seductive tale, Bergman is Alicia Huberman, daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, though Alicia herself is a patriotic American, a party girl who loves to drink and has a reputation for promiscuity, which just happens to make her a perfect choice for a dirty job planned by American intelligence agents.  Agent Devlin (Grant) is selected to recruit her, by seduction if necessary, for the delicate mission. He does his job well, a little too well as she falls in love with him. One romantic evening, Devlin breaks the news on what she has been recruited to do. They want her to go to Rio de Janeiro where a known Nazi spy ring has congregated. There she is to ingratiate herself into the home and life of the spy rings leader, one Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a man she has previously met. In a subtle (remember this is 1946) but still clear way, Devlin tells her to do what it takes, even to sleep with Sebastian if need be, to find out what he and his cohorts are up too.  Reluctantly she agrees. In love with Devlin, she practically pleads with him to tell her not to go through with this mission but Devlin never says the magic words, he has his orders. Poor Devlin, our dark hero is conflicted; he has feelings for Alicia yet resents her for accepting the job and hates himself for not stopping her. Continue reading

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CMBA Hitchcock Blogathon is Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

 The one day, all day Alfred Hitchcock blogathon is coming! On January 17th,  The Classic Movie Blog Association presents the first Alfred Hitchcock blogathon. More than 15 classic movie blogs with be participating on Hitchcock and nothing but Hitchcock this coming Monday. A list of all the participarting CMBA bloggers will be provided on Monday.

Dial M For Murder (1954) Alfred Hitchcock

“Dial M for Murder” was a successful play in both London and on Broadway (where it ran for 552 performances). Written by English playwright Frederick Knott (Write Me a Murder, Wait Until Dark), the hit play originally was turned down for production by London theater managers claiming there would be little interest in this sort of play. Eventually, the BBC showed interest and the play premiered on the British TV station in early 1952. The play made its West End debut when a businessman who owned a lease on the Westminster theater, and with no play ready to put into production, decided to take a chance and put on the low cost thriller with some of the same cast members from the television version. The show was a critical and commercial success.  In October 1952, the play opened in New York with Maurice Evans as Tony Wendice, (Ray Milland in the film). Evans had shrewdly acquired the North American rights to the play. Also in the Broadway cast were Anthony Dawson and John Williams, both who would recreate their roles later on screen. Williams won a Tony Award for his role as the Police Inspector.

Enter Alfred Hitchcock who loves a well plotted mystery.  Hitch was at the end of his Warner Brothers contract and needed a film to complete his obligations.  Women in peril has always been a favorite subject for writers ) and film directors, so the blending of these two talents was a natural fit. Knott wrote the screenplay which remained faithful to the play. Unlike most filmmakers, when they film a play, Hitchcock did not “open up” the story. He kept it confined to the apartment, where the entire play takes place, except for a couple of short scenes outside the apartment and one scene at a men’s club. Continue reading

Notorious (1946) Alfred Hitchcock

Who ever said Alfred Hitchcock was not a romantic? After all, what could be more romantic than the final scenes in “Notorious” where we see Cary Grant coming to Ingrid Bergman’s rescue just in time to take her away from the murdering Nazi Claude Rains. True for the past two hours Grant forced Ingrid to whore herself  by playing a 20th Century Mata Hari, seducing and sleeping with Rains in order to obtain secret information. He then resents her for agreeing to do this and hates himself for forcing her do it. Yep, no one knew how to treat a woman like Mr. Hitchcock, just ask Janet Leigh in “Psycho” or Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.”

“Notorious” is a dark perverted love story. It is also a story of espionage, spies, murder and sex with Grant and Bergman as two of the most glamorous spies this side of James Bond, and wouldn’t have Grant made a great James Bond. In this seductive tale, Bergman is Alicia Huberman, daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, though Alicia herself is a patriotic American, a party girl who loves to drink and has a reputation for promiscuity, which just happens to make her a perfect choice for a dirty job planned by American agents (CIA, FBI?).  Agent Devlin (Grant) is selected to recruit her, by seduction if necessary, for the delicate mission. He does his job well, a little too well as she falls in love with him. One romantic evening, Devlin breaks the news on what she has been recruited to do. They want her to go to Rio de Janeiro where a known Nazi spy ring has congregated. There she is to ingratiate herself into the home and life of the spy rings leader, one Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a man she has previously met. In a subtle (remember this is 1946) but still clear way, Devlin tells her to do what it takes, even to sleep with Sebastian if need be, to find out what he and his cohorts are up too.  Reluctantly she agrees. In love with Devlin, she practically pleads with him to tell her not to go through with this mission but Devlin never says the magic words, he has his orders. Poor Devlin, our dark hero is conflicted; he has feelings for Alicia yet resents her for accepting the job and hates himself for not stopping her.

 And so, Alicia not only sleeps with Sebastian, she marries him when forced to prove her love when jealousies arise.  During a reception in Sebastian’s home, to which Devlin was invited, he and Alicia make their way down to the wine cellar where by chance discover uranium hidden in wine bottles. A short time later, Sebastian goes toward the cellar to retrieve more wine for the party and spots the couple. When Devlin realizes Sebastian is watching them he puts his arms around Alicia and kisses her hoping to draw Sebastian’s thoughts away from thinking they are spying. Sebastian is not fooled and to his dismay realizes he foolishly married an American spy. Mortified that he has been duped, and scared of what would potentially happen if his cohorts found out, he acquiesces to his mother’s devious plan to get rid of Alicia by slowly poisoning her. When Devlin discovers Alicia is in danger he goes to Sebastian’s house, rescuing Alicia just in the nick of time from her slow demise, and in turn leaves Sebastian and his mother to face their fellow Nazi’s and most certain death.       

Cary Grant has played his share of dark characters, especially with Hitchcock. Here Grant plays Devlin the American agent as unlikable, cold, calculating and cruel, pimping the woman he has fallen in love with to sleep with another man. Alicia marries Sebastian partially in spite to get back at Devlin for forcing her into this life. She loves Devlin but willingly sleeps with Sebastian. Devlin loves Alicia but encourages her to seduce Sebastian (all for God and Country). Sebastian, a hen-pecked mama’s boy desires Alicia and resents Devlin. Hitchcock, ever the little devil makes Sebastian the Nazi come across as the gentler, more considerate, loving and more likable man while Devlin, our alleged hero is cold and despicable forcing the woman he loves to cheapen herself.

“Notorious” is one of Hitchcock’s most visually stunning films, brilliantly photographed with exquisitely arranged camera work. In a very early scene we  see Alicia waking up the following morning from an alcoholic binge to find Devlin at her bedroom door with the camera, from her POV spinning 180 degrees to simulate her hangover. There is a superb crane shot during the reception scene at Sebastian’s home where Hitchcock’s camera begins at the top of the stairs and slowly zooms in and down to first floor continuing to an extreme close up of Alicia’s hand and a key (to the cellar) she is holding. Then of course, there is the famous kissing scene where Hitchcock out foxed the censors with their rule of  “no kisses lasting longer than three seconds” which he managed to make more erotic than the most blatantly steamy scenes we see in today’s films.  Needless to say, “Notorious” is a beautifully choreographed film.

You can add Sebastian to the list Hitchcock’s mama’s boys, which include Roger Thornhill in “North by Northwest” along with good old Norman Bates. Speaking of “Psycho” Hitchcock  uses a similar opening here with  the location, time and date appearing on the screen, as he would use again  in opening scene of the  1960 horror classic. Hitchcock was forced to change the ending by Selznick. In early versions of the script Alicia dies, Hitchcock does manage to come up with a “happy ending” that is still one of the smoothest, thrilling and satisfying ending. The film opened at Radio City Music Hall in 1946, and was an immediate hit. The story was exciting and had the audiences smoking with the sexual heat generated between the two stars.  

*****

Psycho: Sex, Violence, Advertising and Going to the Movies

How do you write about Psycho and not be redundant? There has been so much written about the film, the director, and the cultural influence that one has to wonder if there are any new avenues left to explore. The number of books devoted to Psycho stands at least number six not including the original novel by Robert Bloch.

The Moment of Psycho – David Thompson

Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho – Stephen Rubello

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho: A  Casebook  – Robert Kolker, Ed.

Psycho in the Shower – Philip J. Skerry

Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller – Janet Leigh

A Long Hard Look at Psycho – Raymond Durgnat

Add to this, the list of books on Hitchcock’s film  and biographies about Hitch and well there is enough reading  to keep you busy for a while.

Still, here I am writing about one of my favorite Hitchcock films. In 1960, Psycho was a film in the forefront. In many ways, it was revolutionary. Hitchcock slyly fought the censors managing to get more sex and violence into one film that ever before, that is, at least since the Production Code came into effect in 1934.  But the revolution was not just about sex and violence. Psycho also ground-breaking in advertising, in sophisticated filmgoers thinking about American film as art and in changing the movie going habits of the public. Psycho did not just break all the rules, it created new ones.

Movie going in the old days….

“It is required that you see Psycho from the very beginning!”

“No one will be admitted except at the very beginning of the picture”

No one…BUT NO ONE…will be admitted to the theater after the start of each performance…”

Before television, home video, home theater, streaming, video games and Xbox for entertainment, the public went to the movies.  As much as two or three times a week. Local movie houses changed features at least twice a week to accommodate the ever-hungry audience. That began to change once the dreaded menace of the film studios, television, started showing up in everyone’s home. Audiences began staying home, attendance dropped dramatically. The studios fought back with CinemaScope, 3-D and epic road show productions like The Robe and Ben-Hur.One other factor also came into play, the slow and continuous destruction of the Production Code. What did not change was the habit moviegoers had of just going to a show at any time. They did not bother looking in the newspaper to see what time the feature started, theaters had continuous showings, most folks just entered the theater in the middle of the picture and stayed until that point came in the film where they arrived. It was a strange practice, kind of like starting a book with chapter five, reading it to the end and then going back and read the first four chapters.

That all began to change in 1960 when Alfred Hitchcock presented a small, made for less than $1 million dollars, black and white horror film called Psycho.  Theater owners were not happy about this forced ruling  that NO ONE WILL BE ADMITTED TO THE THEATER AFTER THE START OF EACH PERFORMANCE,  fearing a loss of revenue. Were filmgoers going to wait until the next starting time? Those fears were placated once they saw the lines form around the block.  Hitchcock actually wanted to do this when he released “Vertigo” a few years earlier. Theater owners fought it and there was really no dramatic effect, unlike in Psycho that could be argued for doing so. With Psycho, seeing the last part of the film first would ruin the film. Besides, Hitchcock owned 60% of Psycho and could demand anything he wanted. It was his movie both artistically and financially. It was a slow process but audiences eventually would begin to attend movies at the starting time and not just drop in at any time.

Censorship Sex and Violence

Paramount Studios was reluctant to make the film, nervous about the content, so Hitch had to arrange financing though his own production company and shot the film on the Universal Studio lots though Paramount would eventually agree to release the film.

Hitchcock begins Psycho with a shot of the city of Phoenix, and as the Saul Bass credits appeared the camera moves across the city closing in as the final credit reads “Directed by Alfred Hitchcock” on one hotel window, the hotel room of two of the leading characters. They are semi-dressed, in bed, participating in a lunchtime tryst! This kind of sensuous bare flesh eroticism was unparalleled in American cinema at the time. Right from the opening scenes Hitchcock was rocking the boat. Like Otto Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder and The Moon is Blue, Hitchcock and Psycho was a pioneering force in breaking through the stringent production code that had been enforced since 1934. The code demanded that punishment be handed out, sex between unmarried couples could not go unpunished. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) would meet her maker, wacko Norman Bates, soon enough but strangely, Sam Loomis is not punished for his behavior. Was there a double standard here, the woman had to pay, but the guy was off the hook?  The amount of screen time Marion Crane spends in her bra and half-slip is unprecedented. Not one,  but three scenes, the good Marion wears white undies in the opening scene, however after she steals the $40,000 we see her in a black bra and half-slip.  

This leads us to the famous shower sequence, a Hitchcock potpourri of sex and violence. It is a visually brilliant sequence that has been written and discussed over and over. The editing of this sequence had more than 70  cuts. What did you see, what did you think you saw. Was Leigh naked? Did we, the audience, see a knife penetrate the victim’s skin? Give credit to Hitch for constructing such an intricate piece of work that here we are, almost fifty years later, still discussing it and still in awe. Despite all the blood and gore, we have seen over the past five decades, seeing “Mother” entering the bathroom, the knife coming down repeatedly, Marion in the shower screaming, blood going down the drain, her slumped body leaning over the tub, the amazing close up of the dead woman’s eye as the camera pulls back. This is still shocking today and that may be because art conquers all.  The actual shooting of this sequence in the shower was a tough one for Janet Leigh, as she could not blink though water was pouring from the shower. In the end, they had to use an optical shot. Though the shower scene runs for only approximately 3 minutes, it took seven days to film.

Then there is the toilet bowl flushing. Marion tears up her mathematical equation, subtracting $700 from $40,000 to arrive at $33,300 of stolen money remaining that she will have to return. Guess math was not her strong suit. Anyway, she tears up the note and flushes it down the toilet! OMG, a toilet flushing right there are the big screen! Does this mean movie stars go to the bathroom like the rest of us! Who knew? Yes, this was the first time a toilet bowl was seen on-screen flushing and all.

 

Advertising

“No one…BUT NO ONE…will be admitted to the theater after the start of each performance…”

The poster for “Psycho” featured  Janet Leigh, a major movie star at the time in a bra and a half-white slip.

Never before had a star of her magnitude been featured so blatantly in the advertising. She even appeared on theater marquees semi-dressed. Hitchcock demanded that no one be allowed into the theater once the film began. You must see it from the beginning.  As mentioned earlier, theater owners were not happy about that. They worried audiences turned away would not return. For the first time many filmgoers stood in line to watch a movie.

The Psycho movie trailer is unusual in that it is about 10 minutes long, and it consists of Hitchcock giving us a droll  tour of the Bates Motel and other scenes of mayhem. The trailer was made after the completion of the film and Janet Leigh was on to another assignment by this time, subsequently, Hitchcock had Vera Miles put on a blonde wig and scream in the shower for the trailer scene as it came to an abrupt end.

 

Some Notes on the Film 

Based on a novel by Robert Bloch who used Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein as a role model for his character of Norman Bates. Joseph Stefano was hired to write the screenplay after a failed attempt by James Cavanaugh, a writer who worked on several “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” scripts. Bloch’s Norman Bates was changed from a short fat unattractive man into the tall, slim and more attractive Anthony Perkins who was Hitchcock’s choice from the inception.

Before Janet Leigh got the part, Lana Turner, Piper Laurie, Martha Hyer  were some of the actresses considered or mentioned but never seriously. Leigh’s homespun image and her dramatic role in Orson Welles’  Touch of Evil won her the role. Leigh was not the typical blonde heroine we usually associate with Hitchcock, the icy elegant style of Grace Kelly or Ingrid Bergman. Though just as beautiful, Leigh’s beauty  is more down to earth and seemingly more attainable.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times continued his misguided ways by giving “Psycho” a mixed review. However, he seemed to have a change of heart toward the end of the year when he named it as one of the top 10 films of the year. Other critics called it tasteless, cheap and exploitive; Yet Wanda Hale of the New York Daily News gave it four stars (her highest rating).

With Psycho Hitchcock changed the perceived rules of movies. He overthrew the unwritten, though accepted parameters that were in place, the agreement between the filmmaker and the audience. He does this most blatantly with our treasured star system. The credits announce that there are two major stars, Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. The unwritten contract is that both of these stars will be in the film for the entire length, be it one and a half hours, two hours or more.  When Janet Leigh is killed after approximately 40 minutes, we the audience, are doubly shocked. First, by the sheer never before seen brutality of the attack,  as we see “Mother’s” knife so violently ripping through the shower curtain and into the naked body of Marion Crane with Bernard Hermann’s screeching violins heightening the bloodcurdling moment.

In another way the killing off of one of the stars of the picture, so unexpectedly, so early on was just as unsettling. Audiences already stunned by the viciousness of the murder now are unnerved by the unexpected disposal of the star. The audience is left wondering, where do we go from here? Hitchcock made it even more unsettling because just before the horrific murder, we watched Marion having something to eat with Norman, and she decided she was going back to Phoenix, return the money, and attempt to make amends. He made us like Marion, gave us hope that somehow it will all be all right for her. We empathize with her and then Hitch pulled the rug out from under us all.

Composer Bernard Herrmann did not even receive an Academy Award nomination for his magnificent  score that contributes so much tension to the film. The Oscar that year went to  Ernst Gold for his score of Otto Preminger’s Exodus. Gold also won a Grammy for the same score while Herrmann was again denied any recognition. Try to imagine Psycho without the magnificent dramatic musical score and you will realize the importance of Herrmann’s contribution.

Some of Hitchcock’s favorite themes run through Psycho.  Food, voyeurism, use of mirrors and reflective surfaces and of course birds. From Norman’s hobby of taxidermy to Norman telling Marion “she eats like a bird, to the city of Phoenix (mythical bird) and Marion’s last name Crane.

Robert Bloch received only $9,000 for the film rights to his novel. He never knew who was purchasing the book until after it was sold. By the time, Bloch paid of his agent and taxes he was left with less than $6,000.

Below are some additional lobby cards, posters and photos.

The Lady Vanishes (1938) Alfred Hitchcock

Lady Vanishes - Title2

    The “Lady Vanishes” takes place in a fictitious European country, though it seems suspiciously similar to pre-World War 2 Germany. Possibly, in an attempt to pacify the Germans, the filmmakers did not want to mention the country by name as this was just year or so prior the start of the war. Whatever the reason, the villains act very much as if they are affiliated with the Third Reich. A group of passengers are delayed from boarding their train due a recent avalanche.  Among the passengers are Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) an attractive young woman, apparently financially well off, traveling with some female friends, who is on her way back to England to get married. Also on board is Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), a musicologist, Miss Froy (Dame Mae Whitty), an elderly governess who is returning to England after spending some time abroad, Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Nauton Wayne), two Englishmen whose only concern is to rush back to England in time for a cricket tournament. Finally, there is the philandering Mr. Todhunter (Cecil Parker) and his mistress listed coyly as “Mrs” Todhunter (Linden Travers).   

Lady Vanishes- Still    The following day, the tracks have been cleared and all board the train heading for England. Just before boarding, Iris becomes acquainted with the elderly Miss Froy. As they talk, a flowerpot is purposely dropped from a second story window. Meant for Miss Froy the flowerpot hits Iris on the head.  On aboard, the still dazed Iris and the elderly governess share the same compartment along with three other people. Settled in Iris takes a nap hoping to relieve her headache. When she awakens, Miss Froy has disappeared. What’s more, no one seems to remember seeing her. Dr. Hatz (Paul Lukas), a fellow passenger suggest that Iris’ meeting Miss Froy is all an illusion, a result of her bump on the head. Iris meets up with Gilbert, who she previously encountered back at the inn. Though skeptical, he offers to help find the older woman. 

    Each of the passengers for their own reasons denies the existence of Miss Froy. Dr. Hatz and just about every other non-English passenger seem to be mixed up in a conspiracy to cover up the existence of the older woman (even the conductor and stewards are involved). The English passengers all seem to have their own personal reasons for denying Miss Froy’s existence. Charters and Caldicott are only concerned about getting back to England for the cricket finals and do not want the train delayed any longer than it already has been. Todhunter, and his mistress, want to avoid any attention being drawn to illicit affair. As a result,  they are unconsciously aiding the enemy in Miss Froy’s disappearance.

Lady Vanishes-LC    The young couple eventually discovers Miss Froy is being held prisoner by Dr. Hatz in a private compartment guarded by a “nun” wearing high heels. They free her and eventually find out she is a British spy carrying important information (the maguffin) back to London. As the Brits attempt to escape, a shootout entails with the enemy and ironically, the only Englishman to die in the battle is the pacifist adulterer Mr. Todhunter who is shot in the back as he waves a white handkerchief surrendering to the enemy.  

Lady Vanishes-insert    With a screenplay written by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder based on a novel by called “The Wheel Spins”, the script is a devilishly funny suspenseful filled work brought to life by Hitchcock’s camera and his cast. Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave are a charming couple and both became stars as a result of this film. In many ways, they are a typical Hitchcock couple; at first, they do not like each other though eventually they fall in love. If made Twenty years later it is easy to picture Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in these roles. Nauton Wayne and Basil Radford as Caldicott and Charters provide many of the laughs as the cricket obsessed twosome whose only concern is “How’s England doing.”  There is a wonderful humorous scene at the beginning where the pair are forced stay in the maid’s room at the inn due to a full capacity. The room is small and the men have to share a single bed. When the maid enters to change her clothes, the men in bed together are unsettled by her openness changing right in front of them.  The two men look on somewhat bewildered, a scene very reminiscent of a Laurel and Hardy short (Geoffrey O’Brien in his excellent essay that accompanies the Criterion DVD also points this out). Overall, “The Lady Vanishes” though a thriller, contains a lot more humor than most of Hitchcock’s other works.  Basil Radford and Nauton Wayne would go on to portray Charters and Caldicott in three more motion pictures (Night Train to Munich, Crook’s Tour and Millions Like Us). In 1985, the characters of Charters and Caldicott would reappear in a British TV series appropriately named “Charters and Caldicott” portrayed by Robin Bailey and Michael Aldridge.

 Lady Vanishes-Hitch abd Lockwood   Hitchcock was already in negotiations with David O’Selznick to come to America when he began work on “The Lady Vanishes.” The original director was going to be Roy William Neill best known for the terrific series of Sherlock Holmes movies he directed with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. When filming was delayed, Neill left the project and Hitchcock looking for a film to help complete his contract so he could move on to America took over the direction. A few changes were made to the script, mostly in the beginning and the end. Hitchcock would go on to make one more film in England,  “Jamaica Inn” before coming to America.    

    Critics on both sides of the Atlantic greeted the film with rave reviews. The New York Times called it the best film of the year. Today, it is still considered one of Hitchcock’s great films from his English period and actually one of his great films overall. “The Lady Vanishes” is also one of the outstanding “train” films, which Hitchcock seems to favor himself having made “The 39 Steps”, “Strangers on a Train” and “North by Northwest”, all with significant scenes on a train.

The 39 Steps (1935) Alfred Hitchcock

                The 39 Steps-

    Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 thriller “The 39 Steps” speeds along like a ray of light shooting through dark clouds. The film waste not a moment from the opening scene at the Music Hall to the closing tense finale at the London Palladium. The script was written by Charles Bennett who had already worked with Hitch on two other works (The Man Who Knew Too Much and Blackmail), and would collaborate on other films including “Secret Agent” and “Sabotage” and “Foreign Correspondent.” The screenplay is very loosely based on a novel by John Buchan, originally published in 1915, which by the time it was filmed was too antiquated in style for the 1930’s cinema. Subsequently, Hitchcock and Bennett made many changes including the adding of the leading female character, Pamela (Madeleine Carroll).  

      thirty-nine-steps_1241486c                      Canadian Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is mistakenly implicated in the murder a woman, Annabelle Smith (Lucie Mannheim); he met at the music hall while watching an act called Mr. Memory. She admits to being a spy selling herself to the highest bidder and right now, the British were paying the best. She is being followed by foreign agents who are on the verge of smuggling top-secret papers out of the country. In a Hitchcock film, it does not really matter what the papers are, this is the MacGuffin, a red herring that gets the story moving.   Taking sanctuary in Hannay’s apartment, Annabelle tells the skeptical Canadian that two men are following her. After looking out his window, seeing two shadowy figures standing out on the street Hannay become’s a believer. Unfortunately, her time is short, as Hannay sleeps; Annabelle is knifed in the back. With Annabelle leaving few details before her death, something about “39 Steps”  a map of Scotland with the area known as Alt-na Shellach marked on the map as the location she believes the ring leader of the spies is located, Hannay heads for Scotland with the police on his trail as the accused murderer of Annabelle Smith. Along the way, Hannay ends up handcuffed to Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) who turns him into the police or so she thought, as they turned out to be foreign agents kidnapping both Hannay and Pamela.  The plot leads up back to London and the famed Palladium where Hannay comes to the realization how the foreign agents are going smuggle the secret plans out of the country.

       the_thirty_nine_39_steps_alfred_hitchcock                         This quickly paced episodic film runs from one short descriptive scene to another. Filled with suspense and humor, some risqué for its time, the film is a rollercoaster ride that does not stop for 85 minutes. The opening music hall scene get things off to a rousing start filled with laughter and a marvelous setup; the meeting of Hannay and Annabelle that sets the rest of the film in motion. Hannay’s relationship with Pamela is another highlight. Taking an instant dislike to him after he burst into her compartment on the train and begins kissing her in order to hide from the pursuing police, she quickly turns him in. The couple will soon meet again and find themselves handcuffed together in a series of scenes that are both suspenseful and comedic. Hitchcock liked pushing the censors’ buttons even as far back as 1935 when the British board did not allow unmarried couples to share a bed. Hitchcock gets away with this through some clever direction and   skillful performances by Donat and Carroll including the scene where Pamela removes her stocking and Hannay, his hand handcuffed to Pamela’s, is “forced” to rub up against her leg. Left unsaid, but still it must be in the back of filmgoers mind is how did they go to the bathroom? The film is actually filled with sexual innuendo. The salesmen Hannay meets on the train heading Scotland, displayed their samples, women’s under garments. When Hannay takes refuge in a Scotsman farmhouse, the farmer at one point insinuates Hannay and his wife have slept together. Even at the beginning of the film when Hannay meets Annabelle, one of the first things she says to him is “May I come to your home.” Hannay quickly agrees, and when Hannay tries to sneak out of his apartment after Annabelle’s murder, the only way he can convince the milkman to switch clothes with him so he can sneak past the two men watching outside is to tell him he has just spent the night with a married woman.

             stockings            Speed is of the essence in this film, with swift cuts and lightening transitions from one scene to the next. Note how quick the editing is when the housekeeper finds Annabelle’s body and screams, her scream blending together with the train whistle of the next scene. Hitchcock and his editors do this so well the train’s whistle seeming coming from the woman’s mouth as she screams.

    For the first time, Hitchcock used what would become one of his most famous motifs that of the innocent man accused of a crime he did not commit. It would surface again in films like “The Wrong Man”, “Saboteur” and “North by Northwest.” Other themes that show up again and again in his films appearing here are the cool blonde; Madeleine Carroll may be the first in a long line of cool Hitchcock blondes. Spies and secret organizations are another theme that would continue to show up in future works.

    When the film opened at the Roxy Theater in New York in September of 1935, New York Times critic Andre Sennwald called it “one of the most fascinating pictures of the year.” He continues, “If the work has any single rival as the most original, literate, and entertaining melodrama of the year, it is “The Man Who Knew Too Much” which is also out of Mr., Hitchcock’s workshop.” Today, the film remains one of the greatest from his under appreciated English period.