The 39 Steps

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The 39 Steps Movie Poster Image
Classic Hitchcock suspense, some drinking and smoking.
  • NR
  • 1935
  • 86 minutes

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The idea that you should stand up for yourself if wrongly accused is certainly a theme, but the character's methods are questionable.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Despite being accused of murder, Hannay is willing to go to great lengths to prove his innocence.


A woman is mysteriously stabbed in the back and falls dead onto a bed. A man is shot, but is not killed. Another man is shot and killed in a theater. A bar fight breaks out -- characters throw punches while other characters try to restrain them. When a husband discovers that his wife gave away his best coat, he starts to slap her and she screams. The slaps aren't shown, but heard.


There's some flirtatiousness between a man and a woman, and as much sexual innuendo (tame by today's standards) as a film could get away with in the 1930s -- a woman raising her skirt to remove her stockings, a man and a woman in bed together sharing handcuffs after the police had taken them away, kissing.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

As a film of the 1930s, characters smoke. Social beer drinking. A man offers an agitated woman a tall glass of whiskey, which she downs in one gulp. Characters are shown holding glasses of champagne.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The 39 Steps is Hitchcock at his best. All the plot twists and turns, suspenseful surprises, and subtle clues are in effect here. While the violence is not graphic (especially by today's standards), characters are shown dying from being stabbed or shot. As was standard in 1930s films, characters smoke cigarettes and pipes. Some tame sexual innuendo, too. Overall, for fans of Hitchcock, and suspense films in general, The 39 Steps is essential viewing.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBestPicture1996 January 5, 2015

Hitchcock showing the potential for what was to be

This mystery has all the elements of classic Hitchcock: mistaken identity, a man on the run, those infamous Hitchcock blondes. I found this one a little harder... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byFILMCRITIC500 February 15, 2013

OK Hitchcock thriller has low action but excellent filmmaking

Hitchcock may have made some really good films, The 39 Steps is not one of his best works. sure, its a classic and has a few chase scenes, but viewers may lose... Continue reading

What's the story?

Hanney (Robert Donat) is visiting England from Canada. While attending a music hall, shots ring out, and the crowd flees in a panic. Outside, he makes the acquaintance of an agitated woman who asks Hanney to take her to his flat. She claims to be a spy who's being followed by enemy spies who wish to kill her because she has important information for the British government. She drops some important clues to Hanney, but doesn't have the chance to reveal everything before she is stabbed in the back holding a map pointing to a Scottish village. Hanney must make his escape, not just from the spies, but from the police, who have accused him of murder. He must figure out a way to prove his innocence, and he must also figure out the meaning of THE 39 STEPS.

Is it any good?

The 39 Steps has all the elements of a classic Hitchcock film: subtle clues, suspenseful twists and turns, unexpected moments of humor, and steady surprise in the unexpected. It would have been enough for most movies to be about simply a man accused of murder having to prove his innocence, but when combined with a spy thriller, the result is one of Alfred Hitchcock's best films.

As the lead actor, Robert Donat plays Hanney with considerable charm and wit -- as the scenes alternate between the suspenseful and the absurd with each new situation he's thrown into. Second-tier characters -- milkmen, lonely women in the countryside, vaudeville performers -- always leave the audience guessing as to whether they're there temporarily, or if they are crucial elements to the mystery. All of this combines to make The 39 Steps not simply a strong representation of the Hitchcock oeuvre (although it definitely is), but a timeless masterpiece.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how women and men are shown relating to one another in this film. How is this different from movies of today?

  • Contrast the violence in this film with how violence is shown in films today. What differences do you notice?

  • How are objects in the film used to convey information or ratchet up the tension?

Movie details

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