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A Few Words About A few words about...™ The 39 Steps -- in Blu-ray (1 Viewer)

Robert Harris

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"What are the 39 Steps?"

One of the greatest thrillers ever made.

All 86 minutes of it.

Alfred Hitchcock's British period as director ran for only 14 years, from 1925 through 1939. During that time he crafted some of the finest thrillers to hit the screen, and made a name for himself as a quality, bankable filmmaker. When he came to the Colonies, his first project won an Academy Award as the Best Picture of 1940.

But return to that UK era, spend the time to study his early work, and you'll see how everything that would come after, came to be. As an example, you can study the final music hall sequence in The 39 Steps, and compare it to the Albert Hall sequence in the 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much. Or for that matter, take a look at the 1934 original.

Within that early era, Sir Alfred directed over twenty projects . What's interesting, is that from 1934-38, he directed a string of six films, one after the next, that all stand the test of time.

The 39 Steps was the second of the group.

Visually, it was stunning and at the same time simple in its craft.

Take, for example, a shot 55 minutes in. Story doesn't matter, and for those who have never seen this classic, I'll not ruin a first viewing by discussing it. In this shot, Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll are in a car with some men. The shot is taken from outside the left side of the vehicle, looking in to the open car, which at least appears to be moving. As the shot seems to come to a close, the camera moves back very slightly, and then appears to come around to the rear of the vehicle...

and then miraculously seems to detach itself from whatever was holding it place for the shot, becomes stationary, and follows the car as it drives into the distance.

The two leads are worth a bit of research on your part. Madeleine Carroll (1906-1987) was a British actress, working from 1928 to 1949. Originally working in British productions, inclusive of two Hitchcock films, The 39 Steps and Secret Agent, she moved to the Colonies four years before Hitchcock, and made her mark hear in The General Died at Dawn (1936), directed by Lewis Milestone, and starring Gary Cooper. Also seek her out in the 1937 Selznick version of The Prisoner of Zenda.

Mr. Donat was in far fewer films, nineteen in all, from 1932 to 1958. Look for him in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), The Ghost Goes West (1935), one of my childhood favorites, The Citadel (1938), The Magic Box (1951), a Technicolor production about the life of William Friese-Greene (look him up). Probably his moved beloved role was playing the title character in one of the finest films ever made, the 1939 Goodbye, Mr. Chips. His final performance was as the Mandarin of Yang Chang, in Mark Robson's 1958 classic, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

Cinematographer Freddie Young told me that not only was he one of the nicest people one was apt to work with, but also a consummate professional. During the production of Sixth Happiness, he pulled Freddie aside mid-shoot, warned him that things were not well with his health, and told him to make certain that he got everything that he needed from him for the film to be completed, and to cut together properly. Much like a similar situation with Spencer Tracy's scenes for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Freddie worked with Mr. Donat to get his scenes from all necessary angles and shots, and had him released from set as early as possible.

For those unacquainted with Mr. Donat's work, I suggest that you order up a copy of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, sit back, and enjoy. That's one we need desperately from Warner Bros. in Blu-ray.

How does The 39 Steps look and sound?

Very nice.

In 1963 the film fell into the public domain, and remained there until rights reverted by virtue of the GATT Treaty around 1998. During that period, it was not out of the norm to see the film derived from a 16mm dupe of a dupe. Not a pretty picture.

The enclosure with the new Criterion edition makes note of the fact that the film was scanned from a fine grain master, but in this case I feel the term may be illusory. While a fine grain is a special stock used to make duplicating positives from original negatives, I have my doubts whether this particular fine grain may not been derived from a dupe neg, making it a fourth generation, rather than second generation element. The simple use of the term fine grain master, often doesn't tell what it might.

Regardless, the image is from a quality 35mm source, as is the audio. Both have been digitally cleaned without doing any damage, and providing a very high quality final product.

Image - 3.25

Audio - 3

Highly Recommended.

As a final comment, make certain when purchasing the UK Hitchcock films to buy legal product. Some of the largest purveyors of DVDs and Blu-rays, such as Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Target and others seem to go out of their way to support pirated product, with funds potentially returning to other countries in support of terrorism.

RAH
 

Brandon Conway

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One of my favorite Hitchcock films, and probably my second favorite of his early British era (first would be The Lady Vanishes). While North by Northwest had the Hollywood spectacle, I feel this is his purest "wrong man accused" film.
 

Robert Harris

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Originally Posted by Brandon Conway /t/321713/a-few-words-about-the-39-steps-in-blu-ray#post_3941061
One of my favorite Hitchcock films, and probably my second favorite of his early British era (first would be The Lady Vanishes). While North by Northwest had the Hollywood spectacle, I feel this is his purest "wrong man accused" film.
Certainly 39 and Y & I.

RAH
 

Matt Hough

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After enjoying The 39 Steps all over again, I pulled out Young and Innocent last night and marveled again at its wonderfully tight pace and expert set pieces. It's one of Hitchcock's pictures that deserves to be better known. I guess the lack of stars familiar to American audiences focuses less attention on it.
 

Charles Smith

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Originally Posted by Robert Harris /t/321713/a-few-words-about-the-39-steps-in-blu-ray#post_3940910
As a final comment, make certain when purchasing the UK Hitchcock films to buy legal product. Some of the largest purveyors of DVDs and Blu-rays, such as Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Target and others seem to go out of their way to support pirated product, with funds potentially returning to other countries in support of terrorism.

I know this was discussed not long ago in some thread or other, and maybe this question was asked and answered then, but it should certainly bear repeating:

At the present time, in addition to the two Criterions, what are legitimate US/UK DVDs for the rest of early Hitchcock? I remember doing one Amazon search on one of the titles, and the pages upon pages of results were mindboggling.

(I know Criterion released a couple of others on LD back in the day.)
 
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Robert Harris

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Originally Posted by Chas in CT /t/321713/a-few-words-about-the-39-steps-in-blu-ray#post_3941093

I know this was discussed not long ago in some thread or other, and maybe this question was asked and answered then, but it should certainly bear repeating:

At the present time, in addition to the two Criterions, what are legitimate US/UK DVDs for the rest of early Hitchcock? I remember doing one Amazon search on one of the titles, and the pages upon pages of results were mindboggling.

(I know Criterion released a couple of others on LD back in the day.)
The MGM products are legit, and I believe Jamaica Inn via Kino is / was licensed.

One would think that the film piracy = funds going to terrorism thing would make generally legit vendors a bit uncomfortable, but apparently not. I made Amazon aware of the problem a month or more ago, and no change, so apparently they have no problem supporting international terrorism with their actions. I was not oblique about my message. I phoned, spoke to a rep, and then emailed all of the info. They seem happy where they are. Sad really.

RAH
 

Ken_McAlinden

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Originally Posted by Chas in CT /t/321713/a-few-words-about-the-39-steps-in-blu-ray#post_3941093

I know this was discussed not long ago in some thread or other, and maybe this question was asked and answered then, but it should certainly bear repeating:

At the present time, in addition to the two Criterions, what are legitimate US/UK DVDs for the rest of early Hitchcock? I remember doing one Amazon search on one of the titles, and the pages upon pages of results were mindboggling.

(I know Criterion released a couple of others on LD back in the day.)
Pretty much every R1 release of his feature film output from Rebecca on forward has been legit owned or properly licensed product. Here are some of the legit R1 sources for his UK films prior to that...




From Lion's Gate: Includes The Ring, The Manxman, Murder!, The Skin Game, and Rich and Strange




From MGM/Fox: Includes The Lodger, Sabotage, Young and Innocent (as well as Lifeboat and the four Selznick Library titles)




From Criterion Collection/Janus: The Lady Vanishes and The 39 Steps L to R from oldest to newest to "Blu-est". I left out the Essential Arthouse box set which inludes the version of The 39 Steps pictured and a version of The Lady Vanishes not available separately. I made the editorial decision to focus on releases under US $500.



From Kino: Jamaica Inn
 

Osato

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Thanks for the review Robert! I hope to pick this title up very soon!
What a great day for Hitchcock, blu ray news too!!
I appreciate the info about UK Hitchcock DVD bootleg copies too! I doubt many consumers know about this.
 

Richard--W

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Robert Harris said:
Visually, it was stunning and at the same time simple in its craft.
Take, for example, a shot 55 minutes in.  Story doesn't matter, and for those who have never seen this classic, I'll not ruin a first viewing by discussing it.  In this shot, Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll are in a car with some men.  The shot is taken from outside the left side of the vehicle, looking in to the open car, which at least appears to be moving.  As the shot seems to come to a close, the camera moves back very slightly, and then appears to come around to the rear of the vehicle...
and then miraculously seems to detach itself from whatever was holding it place for the shot, becomes stationary, and follows the car as it drives into the distance.
I love it when you talk setups.
Blake Edwards applied a similar set-up in an episode of Peter Gunn.
Actually, there are many innovative and remarkably fluid camera setups in all of Hitchcock's 1930s films. I agree it is an underrated period in his work. Loathsome though they are, even the poor quality "public domain" DVD's have done much to make his 1930s films more accessible -- I'm thinking of Diamond's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and Secret Agent (1936), which are not that bad really.
With regard to the fine grain master, anything would be an improvement over Criterion's previous DVD release. From what you describe the transfer is upgraded considerably.
 

alistairKerr

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Regarding legality in Hitchcock DVDs and blu-rays, here in the UK the rights to most of the 1930's Hitchcocks belong to ITV DVD (Granada Ventures) - they have released "The 39 Steps" on blu (although the print they used isn't all that wonderful), and they have issued many other 1930's Hitchcocks on DVD in the past. All legal!
Alistair
 

Robert Harris

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Originally Posted by Michel_Hafner /t/321713/a-few-words-about-the-39-steps-in-blu-ray#post_3941447
What are the best surviving elements of this film?
A question for the BFI.
 
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Hi Robert,
I reviewed the ITV Blu-ray release of 'The 39 Steps' a couple of years ago and was pretty disappointed by it at the time.
http://www.avforums.com/movies/The-39-Steps-review_10367/blu-ray.html
Has Criterion really carried out a new transfer?
I don't know if you've seen the ITV release. If you have, is the new Criterion so much better as I'd really like to get a good copy of this film.
Kind regards
Alan
 

Robert Harris

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AlanPaterson said:
Hi Robert,
I reviewed the ITV Blu-ray release of 'The 39 Steps' a couple of years ago and was pretty disappointed by it at the time.
http://www.avforums.com/movies/The-39-Steps-review_10367/blu-ray.html
Has Criterion really carried out a new transfer?F
I don't know if you've seen the ITV release. If you have, is the new Criterion so much better as I'd really like to get a good copy of this film.
Kind regards
Alan
I have not seen the ITV release, but would bet that Crit did a great deal more cleanup. I'm quite impressed
 

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AlanPaterson said:
Hi Robert,
I reviewed the ITV Blu-ray release of 'The 39 Steps' a couple of years ago and was pretty disappointed by it at the time.
http://www.avforums.com/movies/The-39-Steps-review_10367/blu-ray.html
Has Criterion really carried out a new transfer?
I don't know if you've seen the ITV release. If you have, is the new Criterion so much better as I'd really like to get a good copy of this film.
Kind regards
Alan
It comes from the same ITV master but Criterion's encode is better, plus probably some additional tweaking.
 
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Thanks for that, I think I might try to get my hands on a copy of the new Criterion release.
You mentioned 'The Inn of the Sixth Happiness' in your opening post, Robert, and it reminded me of a story a chap told me years ago when I was working in Shepperton Studios.
To get his union ticket, he had to do a spell working in the neg cutting section at Rank Labs in Denham ( just down the road from Pinewood).
He was given the task of cleaning the neg of 'The Inn of ...' and while he was winding it manually through a fluid soaked velvet cloth, a ring on his finger had been touching the film and scratched it. I was horrified and my mouth must have dropped open. If I'd done that I'd have been suicidal. Apparently they spent ages polishing and polishing the scratch out and must have been successful as I don't recall ever having seen the scratch on TV showings.
While I've never done that kind of thing, I was once distracted by someone talking to me as I finished a rather long 16mm edit on a Steenbeck editing table. It had grown to around 2000 feet in length and I absent mindedly picked the film up by its edges instead of lifting the metal platter underneath it. The plastic core dropped out of the centre and most of the film unravelled itself on to the floor with me left holding on to the outer 2 inch thick band of film. Luckily it was only a cutting copy but no matter how hard you try, you can never get the film back on its core and to wind back in place without cutting it.
Funny how you never forget these things.
Alan
 

Robert Harris

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Originally Posted by AlanPaterson /t/321713/a-few-words-about-the-39-steps-in-blu-ray#post_3941586
Thanks for that, I think I might try to get my hands on a copy of the new Criterion release.
You mentioned 'The Inn of the Sixth Happiness' in your opening post, Robert, and it reminded me of a story a chap told me years ago when I was working in Shepperton Studios.
To get his union ticket, he had to do a spell working in the neg cutting section at Rank Labs in Denham ( just down the road from Pinewood).
He was given the task of cleaning the neg of 'The Inn of ...' and while he was winding it manually through a fluid soaked velvet cloth, a ring on his finger had been touching the film and scratched it. I was horrified and my mouth must have dropped open. If I'd done that I'd have been suicidal. Apparently they spent ages polishing and polishing the scratch out and must have been successful as I don't recall ever having seen the scratch on TV showings.
While I've never done that kind of thing, I was once distracted by someone talking to me as I finished a rather long 16mm edit on a Steenbeck editing table. It had grown to around 2000 feet in length and I absent mindedly picked the film up by its edges instead of lifting the metal platter underneath it. The plastic core dropped out of the centre and most of the film unravelled itself on to the floor with me left holding on to the outer 2 inch thick band of film. Luckily it was only a cutting copy but no matter how hard you try, you can never get the film back on its core and to wind back in place without cutting it.
Funny how you never forget these things.
Alan
We've all popped a core out of a roll. Embarrassing, but nothing that severals hours (or more) of work won't fix.

As to the Inn neg, hopefully it was a dupe.
 

JParker

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Mr. Donat was in far fewer films, nineteen in all, from 1932 to 1958. Look for him in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), The Ghost Goes West (1935), one of my childhood favorites, The Citadel (1938), The Magic Box (1951), a Technicolor production about the life of William Friese-Greene (look him up). Probably his moved beloved role was playing the title character in one of the finest films ever made, the 1939 Goodbye, Mr. Chips. His final performance was as the Mandarin of Yang Chang, in Mark Robson's 1958 classic, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.
Cinematographer Freddie Young told me that not only was he one of the nicest people one was apt to work with, but also a consummate professional. During the production of Sixth Happiness, he pulled Freddie aside mid-shoot, warned him that things were not well with his health, and told him to make certain that he got everything that he needed from him for the film to be completed, and to cut together properly. Much like a similar situation with Spencer Tracy's scenes for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Freddie worked with Mr. Donat to get his scenes from all necessary angles and shots, and had him released from set as early as possible.
For those unacquainted with Mr. Donat's work, I suggest that you order up a copy of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, sit back, and enjoy. That's one we need desperately from Warner Bros. in Blu-ray.
I also can recommend Mr. Donat's performance in Knight Without Armor; I don't know why a release in good condition isn't available but it is well worth watching for his performance:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0029087/
As to his asthma, this story from IMDb above is worth mentioning:
During the shooting Robert Donat had a severe attack of asthma and the film was delayed for almost a month. The producers wanted to replace him but Marlene Dietrich refused.
And don't forget, The Count of Monte Cristo (1934); he was brilliant!
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0025004/
 

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[COLOR= rgb(24, 24, 24)] but no matter how hard you try, you can never get the film back on its core and to wind back in place without cutting it.[/COLOR]

[COLOR= rgb(24, 24, 24)]My personal experience in the 1970s when I worked with 16mm that came on cores likewise. I would not have been able to handle 35mm like that for personal reasons. [/COLOR]

[COLOR= rgb(24, 24, 24)]As a bit of history, they used to send lavender dupes to Australia for b&w release print printing. Technicolor, in its pioneer days, came ready to screen as there were no color printing facilities in those days here. Pontius Pilate's dad(Frank Thring Sr) had lavenders made of his films in the early 1930s. [/COLOR]

[COLOR= rgb(24, 24, 24)]Denham was started by Alexander Korda who lost them like so much else and Rank bought them. Rank also had the Brentford Labs and I have seen many a 16mm print with Brentford Labs on the leader(Brentford is an area of London, around the North Circular Road, I believe).[/COLOR]

The 1935 39 Steps is a favorite film but I think 1936's Sabotage is my most favorite film in the timeline. Stage music heard in the film is music from Victor Saville's Evergreen(1934, with Jessie Matthews & Barry McKay) made at the same studio previously(Tinkle Tinkle Tinkle or some such). The two later films are fine color films for me. I first saw the Robert Powell version silent on a plane trip overseas. I didn't hire the headphones.

Support actress, Lucie Mannheim(1899-1976) was married to actor Marius Goring until she died. Expelled by Hitler she went back for the remainder of her life, at least for a number of films. She was in Bunny Lake in Missing and sang Lili Marleen for the BBC during WW2.
 

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