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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary by Alfred Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane
  • Hitchcock: The Early Years (2000), a British documentary covering Hitchcock's prewar career
  • Original footage from British broadcaster Mike Scott's 1966 television interview with Hitchcock
  • Complete broadcast of the 1937 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation, performed by Ida Lupino and Robert Montgomery
  • Visual essay by Hitchcock scholar Leonard Leff
  • Excerpts from François Truffaut's 1962 audio interview with Hitchcock
  • Original production design drawings

The 39 Steps

Blu-ray
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: ITV Global Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #56
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: June 26, 2012
Review Date: June 24, 2012

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SYNOPSIS

The 39 Steps is a heart-racing spy story by Alfred Hitchcock, following Richard Hannay (Oscar winner Robert Donat), who stumbles into a conspiracy that thrusts him into a hectic chase across the Scottish moors-a chase in which he is both the pursuer and the pursued-as well as into an expected romance with the cool Pamela (Madeline Carroll). Adapted from a novel by John Buchan, this classic wrong-man thriller from the Master of Suspense anticipates the director's most famous works (especially North by Northwest), and remains one of his cleverest and most entertaining films.

Forum members rate this film 8/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Criterion presents Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080p/24hz.

The Blu-ray does present a better image than Criterion’s DVD but to my disappointment the up grade of this new transfer is not as significant as I would have hoped. The source has been cleaned up substantially more than the source used for the DVD and print damage is fairly limited to a few stains, some mild pulsating, hairs and a spec of dirt here and there. This is easily the cleanest I have ever seen the film. Unfortunately it looks like they’re using a really rough source print to begin with and it almost looks like it’s a copy of a copy. Detail is lacking and the image looks soft and smudgy throughout with only a few moments of decent clarity. Finer details never pop out and edges come off blurry. Contrast looks fine, with some rich blacks and decent gray levels, but again nothing really stands out.

The transfer itself looks fine, and it renders film grain nicely. No artifacts appear to mar the picture. In all, the digital transfer itself is fine but the source leaves a lot to be desired. There is a bit of an improvement over the DVD, but for those hoping for a far clearer image they may be disappointed.

6/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed 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 lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono track sounds a bit muddled. Dialogue can be very hard to hear at times and I had to crank the volume on my receiver to hear most of it. Music is also weak and rough around the edges, but never reaches screeching levels. There’s some minor noise in the background but it barely noticeable. In all the audio is limited by its age.

5/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Not everything has been ported over from the previous Criterion DVD but Criterion has replaced certain features with newer ones.

The least compelling of the bunch is an audio commentary by Marian Keane. I’m not a fan of the Keane commentaries I’ve listened to. While she manages to cover interesting themes within this film, all of which appear in many other films by the director she also has a gift at stating the obvious. She’ll simply narrate the action while also having an amazing ability to read sex into anything (though yes, it is there) and is beyond bland in her delivery. It’s a painful track, one of the most intolerable ones I’ve listened to and is basically the epitome of scholarly tracks gone wrong.

The previous DVD had a feature called “The Art of Film” which looked at Hitchcock’s early years. That feature has been replaced by a newer feature created by Carlton in 2000. Called Hitchcock: The Early Years this 25-minute piece looks at Hitchcock’s early life and career, getting into the film business, and directing his first feature. It then looks at his British work up to Jamaica Inn, right before he moved to the States to direct Rebecca. The 39 Steps actually receives a lengthier mention in comparison to the other films but it only takes up a small section of the doc. It’s a fine enough feature but for those already familiar with Hitchcock’s early work it may not offer something new.

Criterion next includes what appears to be raw footage of an interview with Hitchcock shot in 1966 for a Granada television series called Cinema. The notes state the actual finished interview segment is lost. The material here runs just over 40-minutes and presents the director simply talking about his early British film career for the most part. He talks about his silent work, specifically The Lodger, and then his move to sound with Blackmail, and the problems that creeped up from that. He also talks about the advantages of having a star in the film, but also covers the disadvantages (you’re limited in what you can do with the characters.) He also talks about The Man Who Knew Too Much, Secret Agent and its famous reveal, The Lady Vanishes, and The 39 Steps (briefly) as well as others. He then talks about the details of his move to the States to do Rebecca. Throughout he talks about his techniques and ways in developing stories. It’s also amusing when he gets into more personal topics, like his fear of getting a ticket for a driving infraction. I rather liked this interview since it is raw footage and presents as pure an interview as possible.

The Borders of the Possible is a new visual essay by scholar Leonard Leff, running about 24-minutes. The piece first looks at the novel on which the film is based and then looks at how a lot of the familiar Hitchcock touches can be traced back to here (or were at least perfected here,) like the blonde female lead, the wrong man, the type of leading man, the openings, the MacGuffin, and so forth. He looks at the buildup of certain scenes through editing, and how Hitchcock is able to convey so much and build up suspense in as little as 35-seconds. It’s a fine little piece, offering a nice analysis of the film that never gets heavy handed, and I prefer it over Keane’s commentary.

Criterion carries over the production design gallery from the DVD, which presents design concepts for the sets followed by photos of the actual sets. Sadly the interactive feature for the “original press book,” which allowed you to zoom in on sections of the book, has not been carried over for whatever reason. This was one of the best features on the DVD and there’s no reason that I can think of for it not to have been carried on over to this new Blu-ray edition.

Criterion then includes an audio excerpt from the Hitchcock-Truffaut interview conducted in 1962. Here the two, through an interpreter, talk about The 39 Steps, with Truffaut praising how the farmhouse sequence played out, and then talking about a recent British remake he had seen, which he found terrible. They also talk about other aspects of the film, like Mr. Memory with Hitchcock recalling the basis for that character, and other sequences that Truffaut obviously admires including the sequence on the train. Sections of this interview (which runs over 50-hours) can be found scattered across other Hitchcock DVDs and Blu-rays and they’re always great to listen to. They’re charming and funny and find Hitchcock at his loosest; it’s one of the few interviews where it sounds as though Hitchcock is really enjoying himself.

The disc then concludes with a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film. It's the complete broadcast, including advertisements and a guest appearance by an “ex-spy”. It’s actually a surprising adaptation and fairly entertaining on its own. The broadcast plays over images of participants. It runs just shy of an hour. Criterion includes a cast and crew list as well.

Marian Keane’s essay, which appeared in the DVD insert, is missing here, and is instead replaced by an essay on Hitchcock’s British film career and The 39 Steps by David Cairns.

Sadly, not everything has made it from the DVD, with the “original press book” being the biggest, most significant loss. But in other areas the supplements are an improvement over the old edition, offering a better analysis of the film and its production.

7/10

CLOSING

The Blu-ray offers minor improvements over the DVD in all areas, but isn’t the lavish upgrade I would have hoped for. The supplements improve upon the old DVD’s but some of the features on the old DVD are missing, and the picture looks a bit better, but the film still shows its age and the overall image is fuzzier than I would have expected. It comes with a mild recommendation.


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