August 5, 1935 [The 39 Steps]

When it’s my turn to be pursued by sundry spies, traitors, and lawmen, I hope I can command half the easy aplomb of Robert Donat in The 39 Steps. But even that half may be out of the reach of mere mortals. In a picture that's as much a nimble-footed comedy as an exercise in all-but-unbearable suspense, Donat smiles through with uncanny calm and quick wits, certain he will maintain his forward progress, despite an absolute ignorance of what has actually befallen him.

Alfred Hitchcock, he would be pleased to hear, makes me uneasy. He is a genuine puzzle, with a soul both as cold and jolly as Christmas day at the North Pole, capable of utter ruthlessness toward his hapless characters--and of godlike beneficence, providing miracles of coincidence and timing that effect escape, rescue and resolution, all employing his own particular physics, actions and reactions occurring as Hitchcock sees fit.

And what will stick with us, long after the last villain is dispatched, is poor Mr. Memory, burdened with a Music Hall talent that delights everyone but himself. He follows Donat like a silly little demon--and serves his master, Mr. Hitchcock, with perilous loyalty. I was about to write, “I’m glad I don’t live in Hitchcock’s world”--but a suspicion I will not pursue denies me such comfort, knowing that British villain smiles, and smiles.


  1. Everybody is a cornered rat in Hitchcock--that box of space time is best enjoyed from the galleries.


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