Saturday, February 9, 2013

The 39 Steps (1935)

WHO: Alfred Hitchcock directed.

WHAT: The 39 Steps is one of Hitchcock's most celebrated films, and perhaps the most celebrated of all the films made during his "British period" before he moved to Hollywood. If you've only seen it on home video, alone, it might be difficult to understand why this has been true. Sure, it has a perfectly acceptable spy-thriller plot and fine performances from its cast, but what distinguishes it from all the other well-crafted films he made in the 1930s? Seeing it on a big screen makes its reputation understandable. Surrounded by an audience, one is more likely to appreciate how this is not just a thriller but also one of Hitchcock's funniest films, and how its treatment of male-female relationships mirrors the developments in the screwball comedies of Hollywood of the same era. One also realizes how Hitchcock employs no fewer than three separate scenes to explore ideas about performers and audiences (as he later would in The Man Who Knew Too Much's remake, North By Northwest and elsewhere), making this one of his first, and most powerful, meta-cinematic films.

WHERE/WHEN: At 5:55 PM and 9:15 PM at the Stanford Theatre tonight and tomorrow night only.

WHY: Every few years the Stanford programs a month or two of Alfred Hitchcock films. This year's collection includes 18 films, all on double-bills (The 39 Steps is paired with the equally-excellent The Lady Vanishes) and runs from this last Thursday until April 7th. It's not as extensive as the Pacific Film Archive's current Hitchcock series, which has 28 features and a short, with more on the way. But the PFA is only showing each film one time apiece, while the Stanford shows each of its selections six or eight times per week. If you haven't been attending the PFA series it's possible to see all but two (the frequently-confused Sabotage and Saboteur) of the films you missed at the Stanford.

HOW: 35mm prints only in this series.

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