The 39 Steps

The most successful and most celebrated of Alfred Hitchcock's British movies, his The 39 Steps (1935) was twice remade and staged on Broadway. It is also the movie with which Hitchcock became Hitchcock. The tale of a suavely diffident fellow (Robert Donat), dragged by a sultry dame of mystery into inexplicable intrigue and, wrongly accused of murder, pursued both by the police and a spy ring from London to the Scottish moors, wasn't exactly fresh material. In Hitchcock's hands, however, this well-known espionage adventure provided the basis for a new sort of thriller and a new sort of comedy. The precursor to the James Bond movies as well as Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest, et al., Hitchcock's 39 Steps is simultaneously suspenseful, insouciant, and absurd—a work of heightened theatricality and bravura, breakneck filmmaking. The movie is playful in both senses of the word. Indeed, showmanship is in good measure the subject of the film. (NR) J. HOBERMAN

Jan. 30-Feb. 5, 7 & 9 p.m., 2009

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