The 39 Steps (Avenue One) (1935)

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Released 1-Aug-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Menu Audio
Filmographies-Crew
Biographies-Crew
Listing-Cast & Crew
Gallery
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1935
Running Time 86:01 (Case: 97)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor
Gaumont British Pict
Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring Robert Donat
Madeleine Carroll
Lucie Mannheim
Godfrey Tearle
Peggy Ashcroft
John Laurie
Helen Haye
Frank Cellier
Wylie Watson
Gus McNaughton
John Verno
Peggy Simpson
Alfred Hitchcock
Case Alpha
RPI $19.95 Music Hubert Bath


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Continuing our wanderings through recent releases from Avenue One DVD, we again find ourselves faced with another classic Alfred Hitchcock film in The 39 Steps. This is one of his true gems, especially from his British period and rightly earns the description of The Very Best of British that is proudly emblazoned on the front cover of the DVD. How much of a gem? Well, the voters at the Internet Movie Database have this currently residing at 216 in the all-time Top 250 films, with a solid rating of 8 out of 10. And if remaking is the sincerest form of flattery in the movie business, then this is a well-flattered film indeed, as it appears to have had not one but two remakes.

    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.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    After the relative surprise at the quality of the previous DVDs reviewed from this latest batch of Avenue One DVDs, I approached this in a slightly more expectant mood. The transfer ends up not quite matching those expectations, but that does not indicate that this is unwatchable.

    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.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Funnily enough, the audio transfer displays an amazingly similarity to that of The Lady Vanishes!

    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.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    At least a decently consistent package is on offer here from Avenue One DVD.

Menu

    Again nothing really special, although it does feature some audio enhancement - in fact, the same audio applies across all menus and you do tire of it rather quickly!

Biography - Crew

    Purely restricted to Alfred Hitchcock, this is actually a reasonable effort, although it could still have been far more extensive in its scope. Plenty of information here and relatively easy to read too.

Filmography - Crew

    Again restricted to Alfred Hitchcock and looks like it might be just a complete listing taken off the Internet Movie Database.

Gallery - Pictures

    Well, actually only six pictures - two of artwork for posters and the others of the cast. Should have been a whole lot more in my view.

Screen Credits

    I still don't understand the point of them, since they merely repeat the film credits.

Trailers

    Don't expect to actually get to see real trailers for the mentioned films (Angel and The Badman and Plan 9 From Outer Space amongst them), as all it actually comprises is a listing of films now available on Avenue One DVD. I don't see how this listing can be considered a trailer.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Like many Alfred Hitchcock films, there are a number of Region 1 releases of the film available, with the most similar to this effort being the version from Laserlight (also available in Australia from MRA Entertainment), which is slightly less featured than this version. Since that is an NTSC formatted DVD, it would seem that despite the differences in presentation, this slightly more endowed PAL package would be the way to go.

    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.

Summary

    An absolute gem of a film from Alfred Hitchcock and an essential inclusion in any true film collection of the twentieth century. Whilst the video transfer is not top notch, it is no worse than should be expected for a sixty five year old film, although there are some minor problems with both it and the audio transfer. Whilst I would not like to be without my Criterion Collection version of The 39 Steps, if your budget does not stretch that far, you could do a lot worse than this Avenue One DVD release.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Sunday, November 12, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
39 steps correction - shane k
best Region4 DVD transfer to 2008 - Anonymous