An innocent man accused of something he did not commit and forced to flee and try to prove his innocence is a common theme that runs through Alfred Hitchcock’s films. The most famous example is certainly “North by Northwest”, and this thriller from the British phase of the old master is one of the first in which he used something called a MacGuffin in fiction, which is an object or event crucial to the plot and motivation of the characters, but irrelevant to viewers. That MacGuffin in “The 39 Steps” is the secret plan to design a silent aircraft.
That secret plan will almost come from the head of a Canadian civilian in London, Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), who will neither be guilty nor obligated to get involved in the affairs of the spy organization called “39 Steps” which aims to steal British military secrets. Going to the theater to see an entertainer called Mr. Memory, because he has the ability to remember everything he heard, will be almost fatal because there he will meet a young lady who claims to be a spy and that she deliberately caused chaos in the theater because she is being followed by assassins. The reason for this is that she is a secret organization that plans to steal British military secrets, and after someone actually kills her, Hannay will not only be suspected of her murder, but will take on the task of exposing the secret society.
The road will soon take him to the Scottish Highlands, and although “The 39 Steps” may seem archaic from today’s perspective, it is obvious that this classic thriller was a kind of Hitchcock’s training for later masterpieces of the genre. After the success of the previous “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (whose remake he filmed twenty years later in America), with “The 39 Steps” Hitchcock established himself as the leading master of thrillers in Great Britain. And in the next few years in his native England, he continued to shoot successful thrillers and soon became the biggest directorial star of his time, and the logical continuation of his career was going to Hollywood, where he later shot all his best and most famous films, starting with “Rebecca” in 1940.