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The 39 Steps
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.