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Alfred Hitchcock: The Shape of Suspense

Friday, January 11, 2013
7:00 p.m. The 39 Steps
Alfred Hitchcock (U.K., 1935)

The 39 Steps is one of the most satisfying of the British Hitchcocks, a thriller filled with wry humor and sophisticated romance—and some of the disturbing elements of Hitchcock’s dark silents, as well. Robert Donat’s Richard Hannay may be an innocent abroad (he is Canadian), but he is drawn along in a dangerous intrigue in part by his own desire to know too much. (The stage freak Mr. Memory shows the extremes and limitations of such a passion.) Hannay’s journey is away from innocence toward a broader humanity—toward becoming, like a spy, a man without a country. Locale, from music hall to moors, is bathed in mystery; a landscape of fog and sheep is by turns vampirish and serene. Hannay’s pursuit of that which makes him “lonely and helpless with the whole world against me” is a trial run for Saboteur, North by Northwest, and even Vertigo: it has to end where it began.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Charles Bennett, Alma Reville, based on a novel by John Buchan. Photographed by Bernard Knowles. With Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim, Godfrey Tearle. (87 mins, B&W, 35mm, From Park Circus)