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Customer Review

on June 10, 2004
I just ordered the Criterion Hitchcock "set" which includes "The 39 Steps", a movie I've watched many times over the last 20 years, but NEVER in a form this crisp and well-transfered; it's been restored beautifully, and as with all the films("My Man Godfrey" and "The Lady Vanishes", to name two)that have been kicking around with duped, grainy, fuzzy prints for the last 60-some years that were FINALLY restored-it's almost like watching a new movie-even if you'd thought you'd memorized all the dialogue and action! There's just so much that's missed in a bad print. Here, we have Hitch at his finest....there just isn't a dull second in this film. It's really as sure-fire as any movie ever made, in terms of entertainment. I believe this too was Hitchcock's first huge breakout international hit, although happily for us, he didn't "go Hollywood" for another 3 years or so(and gave us the later "Lady Vanishes"-another Criterion must-have).
One caveat: if you're like me(hopeless film buff), you often get these Criterions for not only the fantastic quality of the print but for the often illuminating audio tracks, usually provided by experts of one type or another; I've never quibbled with any of them before, but I have to say, don't expect Marion Keane's wall-to-wall droning to be worth it. There's generally two kinds of film "discussion"(not counting the sort where the actual director or actors gab, which we get with new films): the sort that's superb, like Rudy Behlmer's on "Adventures of Robin Hood"-an amalgam of film history, film technique, on-the-fly biographies of the actors you're watching, tidbits about the production locations, etc.etc.-nd then there's the OTHER kind:
film "semiotics". In other words, a commentator turns a smashing, hugely exciting and entertaining movie into a dull excercise in psychoanalysis. Virtually NOTHING is said about any of the particulars of "The 39 Steps" that isn't a parsing of the symbolism, the framing, that sort of thing. That stuff's there, of course, and I'll hand it to her that the speaker *does* mention Robert Donat's acting several times(it's excellent, of course!)-but you know, for all her blather about the poignancy of the scene of the Crofter's wife, you'd think that she might bother to tell us the actress' name(Peggy Ashcroft), the fact that this was one of her few films, that she was a huge stage star eventually, etc. The sort of thing that other audio tracks do so well.
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