Thursday, March 4, 2010

The 39 Caps

I've been in screen capping mood lately. I'm screen capping happy. (Scappy?) Not content to let the good folks at 1,000 Frames of Hitchcock do my work for me, I had to go out and make 39 caps from one of my favorite films. Gosh it was fun. So fun, I couldn't really stop at just 39. This is a recap, so spoilers abound.

As with Notorious, Hitchcock chooses to introduce his hero, Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) from behind in The 39 Steps. In Notorious, I think it is to keep Devlin's character ambiguous and shadowy, here, I think it's more of a "look out behind you!" kind of thing.


After several minutes of the music hall and Mr. Memory, we finally see Hannay from the front. And even then it's not clear that he is the focus of the film. His question, "How far is Winnepeg from Montreal?" is one of many shouted out. It's amusing to me, given my post on Man Hunt a few weeks ago, that here we have a Brit playing a Canadian in a chase movie. Hey, Robert Donat, you and Walter Pidgeon should switch. Nah. On second thought you are perfect in every way in this film, Mr. Donat.


A scuffle breaks out in the music hall and shots are fired. Hannay helps a mysterious lady with a veil to navigate the press of the crowd.


Anabella "Smith" (Lucie Mannheim) asks him if he will take her back to his place. Thinking it a proposition, Hannay is a bit shocked. "What's the idea?" he asks. Later he repeats the question when he realizes that Pamela (Madeleine Carroll) who has been handcuffed to him all night has broken free of her bonds and NOT done a runner. So what's the idea, Richard Hannay? Are you unaware that you attractive or something? (Thereby making yourself even more attractive...tricky!) After she assures him that he has the right end of the stick, he says, jokingly "It's your funeral." You've really gotta love Sir Alfred's wicked sense of humor.


Ok, I'm pretty gaga about everything about Richard Hannay's Art Deco/Art Noveau apartment (including its occupant) but this bar is just too much. If you only knew how many walnut hideaway bars I've lost in Ebay Auctions you would cry.


This is not only my favorite cap from The 39 Steps, but this may be my single favorite moment in any Robert Donat film. I can't explain why exactly, maybe it's the size of the fish or the way the cigarette is dangling from his lips. I'm a sucker for kitchen scenes in 1930s films, but kitchen scenes in which men cook? There oughta be a blog about it or something. By the way, this is the first of four fish references in the film. In Scotland the Crofter asks him if he can "eat the herring?" Then the Crofter's wife cooks up a huge pan full of whole herrings. At the political rally a woman cries out, "what about the herring fisheries?" Somewhere a screenwriter was winning a bet that they could get four overt fish references into a feature film.


Hannay isn't having any of Anabella's spy nonsense. Come on, man, she's wearing a veil. What more proof could you want? After this he takes the knife, nonchalantly out to inspect the window to confirm that men are indeed following her. They're still in the kitchen eating fish and he's still in his overcoat. The whole idea of their initial impulsive hook-up is wordlessly forgotten.


Annabella gets it in the back with that same knife. In offering to take the couch, he probably saved his own life. Who says chivalry is dead?


A clue! Hannay finds a map of Scotland with the village "Alt na Shallach" circled in pen, is found clutched in the dead woman's hand. My friends at CGMTV once made a video of every instance in which Cary Grant's hair gets mussed up. If I ever do such a thing for Robert Donat, you can bet this scene will be in there.


The next morning Hannay trades coats with the milk men, in order to evade the murderers. This is the first of four times that he borrows a coat.

There is something a tad unsavory and even menacing about the two men on the train to Scotland. I think they must be related to the really unpleasant passengers in The Lady Vanishes. Even so, you gotta love 1930s lingerie.

With the police chasing him around a moving train, Hannay throws them off by bursting into Pamela's compartment and kissing her. The "throw them off" kiss is a move later perfected by Cary Grant in Notorious (and at least half a dozen episodes of Remington Steeele.) I love Madelaine' Carroll's expression here. She really does a lot with that one eye ball.


One of about 1,000 instances in this movie where Hitchcock blurs the line between sex and violence. No matter how much she protests afterward, the truth remains that she did drop her glasses.


After Pamela turns him in, he makes a daring escape by jumping out of the door as the train crosses the Forth of Firth Bridge. If the cops were smart they'd get him in one of those Hannibal Lector suits right away. This dude is slippery.

After the exciting escape from the bridge (which happens off screen) Hannay finds himself miles from Alt na Shellach. He arranges some accommodation for the night with a Crofter and his wife, Margaret. "Could ye sleep in there, do ye think?" she asks. "Try and stop me." The little bittersweet romantic interlude between Hannay and Margaret is my favorite part of the film.

Over dinner Margaret reads about Hannay in the newspaper. He must convince her that's he not a murderer without saying a word while her suspicious husband sits inches a way. This is a really tense scene. Hitchcock is completely economical conveying exactly what the audience needs to know in a few close-ups and this medium shot.
The Crofter excuses himself to go shut the barn door (likely story, Crofter!) and spies on his wife through the window. We can't hear their conversation but he gets the wrong idea about what is happening here. He isn't completely wrong though, he correctly surmises that there is a spark between his wife and the handsome stranger.

I guess she didn't try to stop him from sleeping in the box bed.

Margaret tries to warn Hannay that the police are coming to search the house, but the Crofter thinks they are "Makin' love." Hannay, to save Margaret's honor, confesses that the police are after him and offers the Crofter five pounds to keep his mouth shut. The Crofter accepts his money but is planning on turning him over, anyway.

Margaret gives Hannay her husband's overcoat and tells him to scoot before he's "catched." I love the way Hannay says, "I'll never forget you for this. What's yer name?" Hannay realizes that Margaret is attracted to him and he uses it a bit. At first he flirts to keep her from reading the dreaded newspaper, but later he feels grateful that she's willing to go out on a limb for him. Throughout the film, women come to his rescue, repeatedly, except for Pamela, whom he imposed upon. So the moral of the story is, Richard Hannay wannabees, never assume!


He steals a quick good-bye kiss and then he's gone. Margaret is left to deal with her husband which isn't pretty. The whole breathlessness of this scene is really quite great. It leaves the viewer feeling like Margaret, not wanting it to end.

Annabella explained, while they were eating their Haddock that the chief spy out to get her was missing the top joint of his little finger. After escaping from the Crofter's he heads for Alt na Shellach. The Professor, who Hannay believes is an ally, turns out to be the last man in Britain that he'd want to see. This is probably the most famous scene in the film.

Like the best of Hitchcock's civilized villains, The Professor offers him a drink, and a gun with which to shoot himself. When Hannay refuses he shoots him anyway. I love that Hannay is still clutching his cigarette. In real life, Robert Donat had asthma. I'm sure all the smoking he did in his movies didn't do him any favors.

Hannay finds himself again in Margaret's debt as the hymnal in her husband's coat stopped the bullet. Hannay turns himself in to the local sheriff. That doesn't go so well so he escapes by jumping through a window.


Hannay finds himself in a political hall, mistaken for the next speaker. He extemporizes a great speech. I love the top hat on the daius, as Hannay has almost a magical ability to think on his feet.

His speech is a rousing success and he backs away from the crowd slowly, unaware that the police are behind him, waiting for him. I warned you that Hitchcock filmed him from behind a lot but you didn't believe me.


Pamela, that same girl from the train, recognizes him and turns him over to the police. He gives her an earful about the 39 Steps and the secret that the Professor is about to take out of the country. The police decide she'd better come along down town to identify him.

As he's being led away in handcuffs he waves to the crowd who are still pumped up about his speech.

The police act strangely and decide to take them to Inverary. Suspecting that they aren't the police at all Hannay confronts them. When a "whole flock of detectives" (sheep) block the road, the bad guys handcuff Pamela to Hannay. He doesn't seem to cut up about it, does he?

Hannay escapes with Pamela in tow. It's not easy considering he has to drag her and keep his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming.

There's a whole thing with them getting tangled up in this fence. I made five caps of it and then I decided that they were all too dark to really appreciate how funny this scene is. Like a screwball comedy, this section of The 39 Steps has the war between the sexes, contention over sleeping arrangements, confusion, misunderstanding and an undercurrent of romance.

Pamela and Hannay hide beneath a waterfall. OK, messy hair again, I admit it!

Hannay whistles a tune that he heard at the Music Hall, except that he can't remember where he heard it. This little throw away detail becomes crucial at the end of the film.

I love this little bit of stage business as he starts cleaning leaves out of her hair. Pamela's not really afraid of him and stuff like this is why. He's just too nice and considerate to have murdered that woman at Portland Place.

Since Pamela still doesn't believe that he's innocent, Hannay decides to make the best of his reputation as killer and bully Pamela into cooperating. "For all you know, I might murder a girl a week," he says. She's not really buying it though and she pushes him off her. "I like your pluck," he says.

Hannay orders Pamela to keep quiet as they are about to get a room at the Argyll Arms. If she makes a peep he'll shoot her with the gun that the audience knows he doesn't have. "Does that penitrate the ivory dome?" he asks. If he isn't a murderer, he's being a bit condescending here. Still, Pamela seems to be warming up to him a bit.

Hannay and Pamela don't fool anyone that they're married, but Innkeeper Alice thinks they are a runaway couple and so rents them a room anyway. She cheekily asks the lady if she'd like to borrow a nightgown.

With the pipe that Pamela is meant to think is a gun pressed firmly against her, Hannay convinces Alice not to let anyone know they're here. Alice, mistaking their panting and pawing of one another as true love (they are chained together, afterall) agrees not give them away.


After Alice leaves, Pamela decides to take off her wet stockings. This proves to be problematic.

This may be the only time Hannay paws Pamela that's not in the service of keeping her quiet. He is genuinely enjoying himself. Amazingly, she lets it slide.

He does eventually agree to hold her sandwich.

Reluctantly, Pamela agrees to share a bed with Hannay. He begins telling her a wacky, made-up story about his life in crime and his criminal ancestor the Cornish Blue Beard.


The camera catches Pamela enjoying herself a little.


His little bedtime story puts her to sleep.

She no sooner manages to wriggle out of the handcuffs, than he wants to snuggle. She manages to get away without waking him. She overhears the two men whom she thought were policemen describing how since Hannay is on the loose "The whole 39 steps have been alerted." She also overhears the crucial clue that the secrets will be taken in hand at the London Palladium. She returns to the room, finally convinced of Hannay's innocence.

Hannay wakes finding himself alone in bed.

He's happily surprised that Pamela hasn't left. That is until he hears that she let the bad guys get away without waking him.

At the Palladium, Hannay figures out that the Professor is using Mr. Memory to take the secrets out of the country. He tries to tell the police who are there to arrest him. He creates a diversion by shouting to Mr. Memory, "What are the 39 Steps." To everyone's suprise Mr. Memory answers and gets shot for his trouble.

Poor memory pours out his secrets to Hannay before dying and gets his catch phrase, "Am I right, sir?" in one last time. I love that you can see the chorus girls lined up in the back ground. The show must go on.

As Hannay backs toward the camera a final time, he's joined by Pamela. This time she willingly holds his hand. The end(s).

5 comments:

paularubia said...

The movie that introduced me to the pleasures of Robert Donat.

Jennythenipper said...

I love the phrase, "the pleasures of Robert Donat." This was my first RD film, as well, though the obsession didn't officially until Mr. Chips...

簡單嗎 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joe Thompson said...

When I first saw the movie, I said to myself, "Self, I want to be Robert Donat." No luck so far.

Thanks for the screen captures.

Jennythenipper said...

Joe: Robert Donat is a great role model in this movie isn't he? He is the proto-type, dare I say it, James Bond.