The 39 Steps (Criterion), Alfred Hitchcock’s first great romantic thriller smoothly plays the “wrong man” gambit with the light, black-humored grace that would reach it’s apex in North By Northwest. The Hitch touch is all through this delightful confection: the quick-witted innocent (Robert Donat as affable Canadian tourist Richard Hanay) plunged into conspiracy, the icy blonde (Madeleine Carroll) literally handcuffed to the man who thaws in the warmth of his charm and resourcefulness, the ingenious set pieces and brilliant use of locations, and of course the world where no one is as they seem. It’s an effortless balance of romance and adventure against a picaresque landscape populated by eccentrics and social register smoothies, none of whom what they appear to be. Hitchcock would play similar games of innocents plunged into deadly conspiracies, but in this breezy 1935 classic Hitch proves that, as in any quest, the object of the search isn’t nearly as satisfying as the journey.
Criterion first released the film on DVD in 1999. They have remastered the film for Blu-ray (and an accompanying new DVD edition), which carries over the commentary by Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane and the 1937 radio adaptation with Ida Lupino and Robert Montgomery from the earlier release, along with new supplements. New to this edition are the 2000 documentary “Hitchcock: The Early Years,” archival interview footage with Alfred Hitchcock from Mike Scott’s 1966 television interview, excerpts from François Truffaut’s 1962 audio interview with Hitchcock, a visual essay by Hitchcock scholar Leonard Leff, original production design drawings, and a booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Cairns.