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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Audio essay by Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane
  • The complete 1937 broadcast of the Lux Radio Theatre adaptation, performed by Robert Montgomery and Ida Lupino
  • The Art of Film: Vintage Hitchcock, a Janus Films documentary detailing the director's British period
  • Excerpts from the original 1935 press book
  • Original production design drawings

The 39 Steps

1999 Edition
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim, Godfrey Tearle, Peggy Ashcroft, John Laurie, Halen Haye, Frank Cellier, Wylie Watson
1935 | 86 Minutes | Licensor: Rank/Carlton

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $ | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #56 | Out of print
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: November 2, 1999
Review Date: April 6, 2012

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SYNOPSIS

The best known of Hitchcock's British films, this civilized spy yarn follows the escapades of Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), who stumbles into a conspiracy that involves him in a hectic chase across the Scottish moors-a chase in which he is both the pursuer and the pursued. Adapted from John Buchan's novel, this classic Hitchcock "wrong man" thriller encapsulates themes that anticipate the director's biggest American films (especially North by Northwest), and is a standout among his early works.

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PICTURE

Alfred Hitchcockís The 39 Steps is presented on a dual-layer DVD in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1. Because of this ratio the image has of course not been enhanced for widescreen televisions.

What we get with this DVD is better than previous home video versions up to it but the image presentation is still limited by age and some factors with the transfer. Damage isnít altogether too bad, primarily limited to fairly minor dirt, blemishes, and scratches, but the image is very soft and fuzzy with only a very few moments of anything resembling clarity. The transfer presents some obvious compression noise in places leading to heavy pixilation and the contrast looks to have been boosted a little too much.

Itís simply okay. Problematic but okay, definitely open to improvement.

6/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The disc comes with a fairly bland Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track that is limited primarily by its age. Dialogue is at least clear and easy to hear for the most part but the overall track is flat, edgy when it tries to reach higher volumes, and has some noticeable background noise and damage.

5/10

SUPPLEMENTS

This DVD special edition was released to mark Hitchcockís 100th birthday and features a number of supplements about the film and the directorís career.

The least compelling of the bunch is an audio essay by Marian Keane. Iím not a fan of the Keane commentaries Iíve listened to. While she manages to cover interesting themes within this film, all of which appear in many other films by the director. Unfortunately she also has a gift at stating the obvious, simply narrating the action, has an amazing ability to read sex into anything (though itís nowhere near as bad as her track for Notorious) and is beyond bland in her delivery. Itís a painful track, one of the most obnoxious ones Iíve listened to and is basically the epitome of scholarly tracks gone wrong.

But this package makes up for that in a big way with other features, starting with a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film. It's the complete broadcast, including advertisements and a guest appearance by an ďex-spyĒ. Itís actually a surprising adaptation and fairly entertaining on its own and I especially loved the ads. The broadcast also plays over images of participants. It runs just shy of an hour.

A piece from a Janus series called "The Art of Film",which covers directors from certain eras is the next feature. The episode here is about Hitchcock and his work in England. It's fairly interesting but is mostly comprised of clips from his films with narration talking about some of the common themes found between his works and also goes into his style and technique. Also as a warning the whole story of The 39 Steps is given in the last 10 minutes of the segment so if you haven't seen this film yet watch the movie first then this documentary. The documentary runs about 29-minutes.

The coolest feature is the original press book feature which offers a nice reproduction of it that you can navigate through using your remote. You can either go through it page by page or jump to a certain section using an index. Also, in a nice stroke, with Criterion trying to take advantage of the DVD format of the time (finally getting away from laserdisc traps,) you can select certain segments from the book like a picture and zoom in on them. Or you can highlight the text of an article and then receive and easy to read text reproduction of the article that you can go through. Far better than simply photos and itís a technique Criterion would use in other releases.

Considering how old the film is I was surprised Criterion was able to round up production designs for the film. Though we only get a few, itís interesting to look through the development process that went into achieving the filmís look.

In all itís not a bad special edition but it feels slim when you discount the commentary (like I do.) A solid if unremarkable set of supplements.

6/10

CLOSING

Itís an okay edition but in bad need of an upgrade. The image shows its age and I imagine could be better and the supplements, despite a rather bland commentary, are still strong overall. An upcoming Blu-ray edition from Criterion will hopefully best this one by far.


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