Like most movie-lovers, I’m most familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s later work. I’ve seen his early movies Rebecca and Sabotage, but the movies I think of when I think of Hitch are The Birds, Psycho, North by Northwest, and, my personal favorite of his, Rear Window. But those movies were a full thirty years into the legendary director’s career. The 39 Steps was Hitchcock’s first big hit and was the beginning of a run of rare form. There’s a reason Hitch is one of the few directors from early Hollywood that even the movie-illiterate have at least heard of, and The 39 Steps is the genesis.
Moody and atmospheric, the movie’s story, following a London man (Robert Donat) who gets caught up with an agent trying to foil plot to steal valuable British military intelligence, is the classic Hitchcock fable of an ordinary man facing extraordinary circumstances. It’s also got Hitchcock’s typical deadpan humor. The combination makes for a stylish, classic spy movie that ranks up there near, yes, Rear Window.