Professor Jordon’s House

Hannay finds the estate and rings the bell.  The maid answers the door.  He asks for the Master and says to ask him if he knows Miss Annabella Smith.  Remember, she is the spy who was murdered in his flat in London.   He enters, the police show up, and the maid answering the door denies any strangers are there.  That’s a clue to the audience only that perhaps Hannay is in trouble.

Hannay introduces himself to Professor Jordan as Mr. Hammond and that he knows Anabella Smith, and is coming on her behalf.  There is a party going on, and Hannay is introduced as Mr. Hammond to a variety of people, including the local sheriff.    The people know about the murderer being in Scotland.  And Professor Jordan knows he is Hannay and asks if Annabella was killed.  He also asks why Hannay is here in Scotland.  He answers by saying she was coming to see you.   That the foreign agent who killed her is headed up by a man who had part of his little finger missing.   He reveals that part of his (Professor Jordan’s) little finger is missing and that he is about to convey some very vital information out of the country.

Jordan shoots Hannay, and Hannay falls with a thump, presumably dead.   It turns out the bullet hits the hymnbook that was in the farmer’s “Sunday” coat.   Hannay escapes to the sheriff.    He turns himself in to the police who have been after him.   The other two men who killed Smith are outside the police station.  Something is fishy.  Professor Jordan obviously controls lots of people in this town, including the sheriff.    Hannay escapes through the window.

He loses himself in a parade and the woman on the train (Pamela) turns up again, and turns him in again.   Hannay pleads with her to call England and Scotland Yard.  She says no.     She and Hannay are in a car being taken somewhere, by the police, because the police need her at the station to identify Hannay.   It is a suspicious situation.   They miss a turn that would go to the station they said they were heading to and Pamela, familiar with the territory, knows this.,   Hannay does not, but she tells the police they missed the turn,  Hanny figures out that they are not the police, but part of Professor Jordan’s agents.

Pamela and he are now wondering – and Hannay says “I bet your Sheriff principal has the top joint of his little finger missing.”  Pamela overhears something that makes her believe Hannay is telling the truth.  Handcuffed together, Pamela and Hannay escape.

The police are still on their tracks as he stays at an inn with Pamela, posing as newlyweds or lovers,  and the police show up to ask the innkeeper about new travelers.  But they are supposedly in the good graces of the wife and she sends off the police.  Pamela now decides Hannay has been speaking the truth.  Eventually, they make it back to England.  The haunting Mr. Memory musical theme is still in Hannay’s head as he has been whistling it in various scenes.  Is Pamela the first Spy Girl (ala “Bond Girl”)?  If so, she is tough and self-sufficient, and a model for future spy women.  Think Ursula Andres as Honey Rider in Dr. No.

For spy movie fans, this movie has continuous action – not the kind of special effects action scenes in modern spy films – but continuous action that creates tension onscreen and in the viewer’s mind.

The Theater Finale

Back in London, Pamela goes to Scotland Yard – she had phoned from Scotland (unbeknownst to us or Hannay).   Scotland Yard is not believing her.   They want Hannay.  She goes to the theater.   They follow.  Hannay is in the theater too.   The tension is high, and the police are following her to get to Hannay.   Hannay sees someone up in a box, borrows specs and sees a hand with the top knuckle of the little finger missing!

Mr. Memory is now on stage!  Hannay figures it out – Mr. Memory has committed all the secret plans to memory and Hannay thinks Professor Jordan will get him out of the country after the show.  Hannay is cornered by the police and he shouts out to Mr. Memory, ”What are The 39 Steps?”  Mr. Memory starts to speak, “The 39 Steps is an organization of spies collecting information on behalf of the foreign office of . . .” and he is shot by Professor Jordan, who leaps from the box and eventually onto the stage (ala John Wilkes Booth) and is caught.  Hannay: “Mr. Memory – what is the secret formula  you were taking out of the country?” Mr. Memory:   “The first feature of the engine is….renders the engine completely silent.”   And he dies.  The secret is safe!  Hannay is innocent!

Again, this is considered by many to be the first spy movie.  And here we see an innocent man, not a spy, as the leading character in the movie, along with a strong female ally.   The photography is spectacular, the directing by Hitchcock flawless, and the impact on future spy movies is deep.   Of course, other Hitchcock movies will have similar themes – like North By Northwest, Notorious, and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

This is a great watch for all spy movie fans.   The entire movie is available on YouTube.  We at SpyMovieNavigator would highly recommend every spy movie fan to view this film.  It’s less than an hour and a half long and is must-see for spy movie fans.

From the book, “The 39 Steps,” by Mark Glancy – a British Film Guide – he indicates that in 1999,  The 39 Steps was voted 4th in the top 100 British Films of the 20th century – one of only three films made before 1940 to be on the top 100 list.

It was an instant success in Britain because the stars, Robert Donat and Madeleine Carrol were huge stars there, and Hitchcock was extremely popular.  It did well in Canada too, and in the US was successful too, but it took time since it was in competition with huge Hollywood films of 1936.

In the movie, The 39 Steps is the spy organization, and maybe the steps to build a secret engine, in the book, they are actually 39 steps leading down to a beach where the spies will meet – but it really does not matter to the story.   The film version, we think, is a lot more of a thriller than actual steps!

As the first spy movie, The 39 Steps is a must for all spy movie fans.   It is a fast-paced story, that holds your interest, and prepares the way for many more spy movies to come.


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