The 39 Steps (Avenue One) (1935)
Listing-Cast & Crew
|Year Of Production||1935|
|Running Time||86:01 (Case: 97)|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Alfred Hitchcock|
Gaumont British Pict
Select Audio-Visual Distrib
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Like many of Alfred Hitchcock's films, the broad story is relatively simple. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) is visiting a music hall in London to see Mr Memory (Wylie Watson) in action. During the show, hecklers start a fracas that results in the mysterious Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim) discharging a gun to clear the hall and aid her escape in the company of Richard Hannay. She mysteriously reveals some tantalizing details about herself as she stays overnight in Hannay's apartment, including the fact that there are two men trying to kill her and she has to get to Scotland to see a man to prevent a secret being taken out of the country. When she is murdered overnight, Hannay sets out for Scotland to avoid the police, since he has in typical Hitchcockian fashion been blamed for the murder, and to find the man Annabella was talking about. What follows is the chase across the moors of Scotland as the law closes in on Hannay, and he relies upon the good grace of folk like Margaret (Peggy Ashcroft) and her husband John (John Laurie) to reach the object of Annabella's search, Professor Jordan (Godfrey Tearle). Along the way he is reunited with Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), whom he met on the train heading to Scotland, and who is eventually convinced of the accuracy of his story of intrigue as they escape the clutches of the constabulary and try to unravel this mystery left by Annabella.
Even after sixty-five years - note that the reference to this being made in 1938 on the cover is incorrect - this is a film that holds it own as a mystery/thriller. Much of the film sets up everything so well, then in the space of a few minutes as you start to wonder how the film will end and indeed what the 39 steps are, all is revealed in a most simple and effective way. Naturally you may have guessed the answer before you get there, but then again it is reasonable to assume that somewhere along the line of the film, you will have made several guesses. The fact that those guesses may indeed prove to be completely accurate does not diminish the film in anyway and indeed probably heightens the use of comedy in the film. A use I might add that could be overlooked otherwise. The cast do a pretty fair job here although Lucie Mannheim is perhaps a little too over-the-top but this is a nicely cast effort with a nice consistency of performance.
Once again this a film that is well worth getting your hands on, but once again the stature of the film is not matched by the quality of the transfer. Nonetheless the quality of the film to a large extent transcends the transfer it has been given and it ends up being an enjoyable enough hour and a half of viewing.
The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format, and it is not 16x9 enhanced.
This is a reasonably similar transfer, albeit not quite so good, to that afforded The Lady Vanishes, and it is a decently average transfer as far as sharpness is concerned. However, in general the decent bits are not quite outweighed by the diffuse and murky bits. Detail is not so good and at times there is a distinct lack of detail, usually when it would perhaps have been helpful to the understanding and flow of the film. Shadow detail is pretty mediocre, and that is being somewhat polite, but this is really no worse than we would expect in a transfer of this age. If you were wanting a nice clear transfer, then this will not satisfy you at all. This really is a somewhat dirty looking picture and at times the grain gets a really serious run too. There does not appear to be much in the way of low level noise problems with the transfer.
This is another black and white transfer that is certainly not black and white, tending more towards assorted shades of grey - and not especially well defined greys either. Compounding the lack of variety in the grey tones is the fact that aside from being murky at times, this is not an especially bright transfer. Since a fair degree of the action takes place at night, and misty nights at that, the overall effect is not one that is guaranteed to make a too pleasant sight for sore eyes. There is at least a reasonable consistency to the tones throughout the film, although they did seem to drop off slightly during the latter part of the film.
There are no significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There is also not too great an issue with film-to-video artefacts here, with only a small amount of jitter being noticeable and aliasing being virtually absent. As we are to expect in a sixty five year old film, there are some problems with film artefacts in the transfer, but this is also a little better in that regard than perhaps I was expecting. Nonetheless, I have some doubts about the claim that this is digitally mastered from the original 35mm print - the source print however is however quite a decent one.
There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 effort that is again optimistically described as surround encoded.
Overall, there is not much of a problem with the dialogue, which comes up quite well in the soundtrack and is relatively easy to understand. There did not seem to be any major issues with audio sync in the transfer.
The music score comes from Hubert Bath and another relatively undistinguished effort this seems to be. It seems to be a little clichéd, but this is a reasonably supportive soundtrack to the film.
The first reaction to the soundtrack is that the distinct static problem is back: the little static tick that was something of an issue with the early part of The Lady Vanishes is back, although it is by no means pronounced nor extended. Once that settles out of the equation, which is rather quickly, the same sound style continues. The surround encoding is not to the surround channels per se but to the centre channel. It makes it an eminently listenable soundtrack with a degree of extra body. There is no bass channel here at all. The overall result is quite decent, the sound has a decent clarity to it and it is less of a mono sounding effort than it should be.
|Surround Channel Use|
There is however a release of the film by The Criterion Collection, and for a genuine fan of the film this is certainly a better option. It is a better effort than this in the video department, although it has to be said that it is not as staggering an improvement as perhaps I was expecting. However, it has a much more extensive extras package including an audio commentary by film scholar Marian Keane, a documentary entitled The Art of Film - Vintage Hitchcock, a complete 1937 broadcast of the Lux Theatre adaptation of the film, a copy of the original 1935 press book for the film and some production design stills. It may be a lot more expensive than the Region 4 Avenue One DVD release, but the value of that extra cost is most clear.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515, using S-Video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|