The 39 Steps (The Criterion Collection)
Like the prototype for many of Hitchcock's later American classics, "The 39 Steps" remains one of the more influential thrillers ever made. Following a dash across the Scottish moors laden with the Master of Suspense's usual tropes - mistaken identity, twisting allegiances, femme fatales, and twists of power - it features a youthful energy and exuberance where later, similar films like "North by Northwest" favored more distant artistry. Hitchcock had truly come into his own as a master filmmaker by this point; and "39 Steps" is as important to understanding his work as "Psycho", "Vertigo", and many other well-known classics in his oeuvre.
And luckily, the Criterion Collection has once again come through with top-of-the-line restoration work to bring us the film exactly as Hitchcock envisioned it. Perhaps one of the more impressive things in "Steps" is the sound design - Hitchcock's use of sound effects (while obviously mono) gives everything an immersive feel, and this release features none of the canny sound we've become accustomed to with films from early eras. And the 1080p transfer brings out previously unseen details in this magnificently shadowy film; so much so that TV broadcasts rendered as pitch black are visible here.
And, as always, Criterion has gone more than over-the-top with their extras. We have commentary from a Hitchcock scholar, a nearly half-hour visual essay on his aesthetic, and audio excerpts from Hitchcock's interviews with fellow master director Francois Truffaut, among much else. As customary also included is a booklet with essays by other critics and scholars. With all those surplus features, it's impossible not to recommend Hitchcock's "the 39 Steps" - with Criterion, the boutique price is worth it.
"The 39 Steps"