Friday, 28 September 2012

Hitchcock, Mira Calix + Juice, NFT – Champagne (1928)

Through a glass lightly...
Another week, another Hitchcock restoration premier - not that I'm taking it for granted - and another brave choice of music... Following Shlomo's beatbox score for Downhill, this time the BFI had commissioned electronic composer Mira Calix, who I’d last seen performing a DJ set at Warp Records' 20th anniversary all-nighter.

This time Calix was performing her own music, using a bank of electronic kit, pre-recorded instrumentation and supported by the Juice Vocal Ensemble (Kerry Andrew, Sarah Dacey and Anna Snow).  The four walked on stage suitably attired as jazz babies, almost as if they were taking part in the film as well as providing the music… This could be another combination of sound and vision that might struggle to find the right balance - that's the risk of old meets new - but overwhelmingly they met the challenge very well.

Betty Balfour, Jean Bardin and dancer
There was a moment, as a woman danced furiously behind the main characters, when the rhythm of the music matched perfectly the staccato edginess of her movement… it was a startling connection, as if the rhythm of the dance is a constant over the decades and Calix had just tuned into that continuum with amazing precision.

Ferdinand von Alten, Jean Bardin and Betty Balfour
But then, for a film about youthful nightclubbing, Calix is an astute choice. She’s been a mainstay of Warp’s roster for many years now and has alternated between ambient sound-scaping, IDM, DJ-ing and composition. Classically trained, she has an enviable range and produced an intelligent and very entertaining score full of subtle references and which always reverted to a satisfyingly deep bass: the staple of many a good rave and a simple resonating signifier of the unsettling promise of a good night out.

Juice gave strong voice to her music, all three technically proficient individually and working well in subtle harmony. They threw in sound effects and all joined in Balfour’s quite bizarre hand-dance as the club scene reached its climax… the jazziest of jazz hands and a strange signal to move albeit one rebuffed by her confused and disaffected lover. We knew how he felt... it's an odd film.

Betty Balfour - cross-eyed
I should say that there was a split vote on the effectiveness of the music with my wife finding it intrusive and occasionally jarring. Still, this is my blog… and she’s entitled to comment below!

The ultimate judge of silent movie scores is how well they meld with the film and I felt that, in addition to the visceral impact of the bass lines the music served to bring out the quirks and the's all about the timing!

Champagne was not one of Hitchcock’s personal favourites and is a-typical in terms of its light-hearted storyline. It still has his visual flair with a number of striking sequences, but there’s little drama or threat… although The Man - none of the characters are named - retains an air of menace to the end.

Betty Balfour and Jean Bardin
Ultimately any film staring Betty Balfour is going to be a giggle. Described at the time as Britain’s Queen of Happiness and compared with Mary Pickford, she is certainly an energetic performer. Her mobile features enable her to switch expression with unpredictable swiftness and Hitchcock often lingers on her face as she moves the story along with a laugh that emphatically becomes a frown and vice versa...

Not your conventional movie star she had huge expressive eyes and a winning disposition... it’s not surprising that she went on to sustained success in Europe.

Betty plays a spoiled little rich girl who begins the story by flying out to rendezvous with her boyfriend (Jean Bardin) on a cruise ship. She’s been forbidden by her Wall Street banker father (a frowning Gordon Harker) from marrying the boy, but she’s not to be thwarted…

Ferdinand von Alten and Betty Balfour
But at the same time, she is also spotted by a predatory man (Ferdinand von Alten) who begins to pursue her – interrupting her attempts to make love to her beau.

The Girl’s father finds out about the stunt and follows her to Paris in a fury… she’s reckless, a good time girl and with no sense of fiscal responsibility… Even the Boy is frustrated by her relentless party-time as she makes fun of her assistant’s dowdy clothes at an impromptu fashion show with her socialite chums.

Gordan Harker... who's the Daddy?
But then dad turns up and reveals that the party has to stop, he has lost all in pursuing her to Europe and his business has gone bust. She’s not a bad girl though and immediately offers to sell her mound of jewellery to help them yet, in a superb sequence focusing on bodies below the head, we see her being robbed in the street – they have nothing. This is deft stuff from Hitchcock who keeps the narrative moving with economy and grace – we don’t get bogged down in exposition.

The girl attempts to look after her father in a mean little apartment… she’s ill-equipped. Then she tries to get a job and ends up as a flower girl in a dubious night club… she’s innocent and it takes her many wide-eyed shocks to understand the dynamics of the place. All of which Hitchcock relishes… in so many of these early films he ends up taking us to similar venues of adult entertainment.


The scenes in the club are the fulcrum of the film - this is where the champagne really kicks in. The main characters are constantly interacting with the crush around them and always in danger of being over-showed by these lively lights. This could be any club at any time and Hitch directs the chaos really well – the relentless energy and high spirits of  a champagne fuelled good time.

Amidst all this, The  Boy returns to rescue The Girl but they fight and she takes up The Man’s offer of help… they head off on a cruise ship back to her home in America and, to her surprise, she is joined by her true love.

It is now that the truth is finally revealed as her father arrives to explain that he hadn’t lost his money and had been trying to teach her a lesson all along. What’s more, we learn that the Man has been in Daddy’s employ all along: charged with luring her away from her boy.

All confusion passed… the girl agrees to marry the boy and all look set to live happily… Hitch can’t resist a few sinister stares from the Man who looks at the Girl through the bass of his champagne glass.

Jean Baldin and Betty Balfour
Champagne is a slight and oddly constructed comedy with a wonderfully quirky performance from Betty Balfour… part innocent, part irritant… she is unpredictable and usually emerges from each crisis with a beaming smile. There are times though when her eye-balls-to-the-wall performance throws up a frown of sorrow and you can understand why she retained the sympathy of the British public – she may be a brat but she’s not malicious and is ultimately humble and a quick learner!

Betty Balfour
The rest of the cast perform their parts well, with Ferdinand von Alten standing out for his menace even at the happy ending. Gordon Harker is good at looking grim but he still looks more like a fairground boxing promoter than a financier!

Champagne is currently available on DVD but this restoration is something else and well worth the wait for the eventual release.

For more information on the marvellous Ms Calix visit her official website here.

Postscript: As usual the film was introduced by the BFI’s Keiron Webb who pointed out that a 22-year old Michael Powell had been involved with Champagne as a still photographer, nice to think of our two greatest directors working on the same silent film.

As he spoke about the restoration work, it struck me how extraordinary the BFI’s efforts have been this year and how much I’m going to miss these events. The big finale is still to come with The Manxman but what are the BFI going to do to follow this?!

Betty ponders life beyond the Hitchcock 9...

Friday, 21 September 2012

Hitch and Shlomo at the NFT - Downhill (1927)

Annette Benson, Robin Irvine and Ivor Novello
This was the fifth of the BFI's superb silent Hitchcock restorations and featured arguably the most daring choice of live score from beatboxer Shlomo.

The audience crammed into NFT 1 to watch what could have been a messy culture clash between the silent expressionism of our master director and the vocalisations of the man dubbed the Harry Potter of Beatbox. Hipsters to the left of me, cineasts to the right...  would this be a hip-hop too far?

Not quiet: it was edgy and occasionally unbalanced but it also reinforced the sharp humour in the story and
created a new emotional blend for the film. It was a bit risky but that helped to remind you that, in 1927, this wasn't a sure fire hit film from one of our greatest ever directors, but a very early step in the young man's hectic career: only his fifth film and one begun in haste after he'd already started his next feature...

Ivor Novello and Norman McKinnel
So, the 28-year old beatbox innovator and dynamo from Bucks meets the 28-year old cinematic mash-up artist and creative whirlwind from the East End... who gave off the most energy and which one's actually more street?

In truth the balance between the silence and the sound was not always maintained. The music did sometimes intrude on the story and in this context at least, it was occasionally a little loud - especially the bass (impressive though it was!). But mostly it worked well and really clicked for certain sequences... the rugby, the music hall... the illicit dancing in Ye Olde Bunne Shoppe!

Dancing in the dark...
Shlomo didn't perform himself but had five amazing voices working together in total unity: Robin Bailey and Billy Boothroyd (tenors), Julie Kench (soprano), Harriet Syndercombe Court (alto) and Tobias Hug with that huge booming bass. They all pitched in with rhythmic sound but also sang exceptionally well - far from the DIY amateurism you might expect from this genre. But then Shlomo is no slouch, he's classically trained and an accomplished jazz drumer... he's worked with Bjork, Damon Albarn and the sainted Martha Wainwright amongst many others.

There were times when I thought that the score was too successful in musical terms and that this would be a great gig on its own. But, ultimately, the job was done well - the music and the images did succeed in creating a indivisible synthesis that was unique if not always smooth.

Sybil Rhoda
As for the film... Downhill is one of the restorations I've been keenest to see as it features Sybil Rhoda. Sybil is the great aunt of my friend Nicky and it is rare to find such a living connection to this period of cinema*. Nicky had talked about the film with her aunt who professed to having few memories of the experience and yet there she was sitting alongside Ivor Novello in near pristine quality.

Sybil died a few years ago but there's a lovely interview on The Guardian website she did in 2004 when she was 101. She lived a long and full life and was quite an ucompromising character by all accounts... what she would have made of Shlomo is hard to say...let alone the film's late start!

But it was a treat to have her great niece with us to watch this restoration.

Ivor Novello and Sybil Rhoda
Sybil plays the sister of  Tim Wakely (Robin Irvine), a public schoolboy who's best friend is rugby star and school captain, Roddy Berwick (Ivor Novello). She appears at the start of the film as the boys celebrate a rugby victory with a formal dinner. She encounters Roddy in the process of changing and chats with him during the meal.

But Roddy has many admirers and one of the waitresses, Mabel (Annette Benson, sizzling like a cockney Clara Bow), has designs on him. She arranges to meet with his mate Tim in the Bunne Shoppe hoping to ensnare one or the other.

Ivor Novello, Sybil Rhoda, Annette Benson and Robin Irvine
The three meet at the Shoppe and much dancing ensues. This is one of the film's best sequences and Hitchcock handles this teenage tryst with subtelty, lots of awkward interactions, false moves and shadow play as Mabel gets the one she can have but not the one she wants. A further assignation with Tim is arranged and clearly signposted on the shop door... wednesday half-day closing.

The meaning only becomes clear when the boys are summoned to the Head's office. Roddy turns in shock to see Mabel sitting behind him. she has come to accuse one of the boys of getting her pregnant... it was Tim but, in spite she points the finger at Roddy. His decency dictates that he takes the rap and he ensures his expulsion and the beginning of his life downhill...

Annette Benson
Thrown out of his home by his unforgiving father, Roddy decends down into the London Underground in a shot Hitchcock later felt was too obvious. It's still effective though and was surely worth the early morning shooting at Maida Vale tube station where the sign says " anywhere, quickest way, cheapest fare".

Ivor Novello... stage left
The next phase of Roddy's fall begins cleverly as the camera pulls back to reveal him wearing formal diner jacket, but he's a waiter... on stage... back in the minor places. Hitchcock has returned to his beloved music hall and this intelligent sequence says so much in just a few seconds.

Roddy is mixing with dubious theatricals, who soon contrive to liberate him of a lucky inheritance. He marries actress Julia (Isabel Jeans) who only has eyes on his new money and feathers her own nest whilst still seeing the brutish Archie (Ian Hunter of The Ring fame). Roddy is ruined and in his anger lays out Archie (which stretches credibility just a tad given their relative stature...).

Isabel jeans and Ian Hunter
He heads for France and the Moulin Rouge,"the world of lost illusions" and life as a "consort" who is loaned out to amuse lonely ladies of wealth. He meets a middle-aged poet (Violet Farebrother), who is understanding but then  the sudden illness of one of the revelers forces someone to pull the curtains wide and the empty debauchery of all those around him is revealed in dazzling sunlight.

Roddy hits absolute rock bottom in dingy Marseille where he looks to be near death... his motley cohabitants  return him to Britain in the hope of a reward but he escapes at the docks and make his delirious way home.

The sequences here are especially effective as all those who have dragged him down appear colluding in his waking dreams and his unforgiving father manifests as a deckhand and then a policeman. Hitchcock then shows the streets of London swirling in overlay as Roddy relives his downfall and fights the last few yards home... will he find redemption?

Downfall is a visually very coherent as you'd expect and has some excellent scenes utilizing expressionistic light and shade. It's not the strongest of stories and it is unsurprising that it started out as a play, co-written by Novello with Constance Collier.

Ivor Novello is superb as Roddy and is largely convincing as a schoolboy even though he was 34 at the time - he obviously relished the chance to run through the emotional gears. As has been noted, he is a male version of the Hitchcock blonde, with his extraordinary features perfectly suited to the cinematic process. But Annette Benson runs him close for visual intensity as the frustrated and vengeful Mabel.

And then there's Sybil... I'd like to hope that once the dust had settled, Roddy and her were able to continue their dinner conversation and then who knows...

Downfall is currently available on DVD but I'd hold off for the release of the restoration, which will hopefully have Shlomo's score. To find out more about his music visit his site Beatboxing Adventures.

*Having said that, Nicky's husband Mike, revealed that his father's second cousin used to clean the offices of the man who performed a hip replacement operation on Lillian Gish!

Post script... here's a stunning portrait of Sybil Rhoda taken from around this period - she was much in demand as a model. Copies are available from the BFI Printstore. Sybil was also in Boadicea (1928) starring alongside the great Lillian Hall-Davis as one of the daughters of the queen.

Sybil Rhoda

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Truffaut’s hard truths - The Soft Skin (1964)

Françoise Dorléac
This was Truffaut’s forth feature and a return to the more serious tone of debut 400 Blows, after the ebullience of Jules et Jim. It was an attempt to resent an evenly-balanced take on adultery – giving the story straight for the husband, his wife and his mistress. That it didn’t quite achieve this equality was perhaps inevitable but it is a fascinating and for the time, daring attempt at even-handedness.

Half the audience at the Cannes Festival walked out and the film was a box office flop on release… people were perhaps not ready for a film telling this age-old drama in such a dispassionate and un-sentimental way. And yet, it has more than stood the test of time and is now regarded as one of the director’s strongest works.

Truffaut was ahead if his time in subject matter and style but this film is also founded on three quite remarkable central performances, not least from the boundlessly talented Françoise Dorléac. I’ve fawned over Françoise before and see nothing here to undermine previous impressions – she was an actress of rare grace who demonstrated a raw intelligence and subtlety in her work.

She has an intense but imperfect beauty which can make her more interesting to watch than her serene younger sister (but they are both sublime…). A slight rasp in her voice helps gives her an emotional edge and she always seems fresh and in-the-moment real. Here she’s a young woman in the early stages of discovering her self and sexuality: she grows in stature through the film.

Jean Desailly
She is matched by Jean Desailly who gives a courageous portrayal of sterile, intellectual mid-life crisis. He seems to be in a neutral state, bored with existence, directionless yet driven by obsession: work, women and electric lights. He’s scared of slowing or looking down from where he is for fear of falling: a man looking for distraction at all costs and who cannot really honest with himself. No wonder he finds it difficult to talk to women.

Desailly always said that the film killed his career as what he saw as his unsympathetic character meant he never got leading roles again. But it’s hard to imagine the film without him and his strangely boyish, middle-aged face. He was perfectly cast in terms of his ability to express both the timidity and recklessness of the man running out of chances, making the wrong choices and just… not planning.

Nelly Benedetti
Nelly Benedetti has the hardest job of all, having to act for our sympathy largely on her own, her character in ignorance of the main events until her husband’s infidelity is slowly revealed. She is superb when torn between wanting to save the relationship with the man she still loves and her brave resolution to end it. He may be the intellectual but she has the emotional intelligence and quickly calculates the inevitabilities once their bond is broken.

Your sympathy is directed towards her… and the full extent of his betrayal has yet to be revealed… She is the emotional core of the film and goes from happy to heartbreak in a heartbeat: frighteningly incandescent...the rage of a good woman scorned.

Truffaut had been heavily involved in the meetings with Alfred Hitchcock that would lead to his ground-breaking book, and the influence of the British director is clear throughout this film. There’s lots of rapid cutting and, noticeably more shots than in most Truffaut films and maybe this film is amongst the most deliberate and the most “directed” he made?

Desailly plays Pierre Lachenay, a well-known writer and broadcaster, who starts the film off in a terrific rush to get home and say his farewells to wife Franca (Beneditti) and daughter Sabine (Sabine Haudepin, a Truffaut regular). Then it’s out to the airport, breaking the speed limit, in order to board a flight to a conference in Lisbon – he is busy and he must be important too. This opening segment is breathless and Lachenay only just makes his flight after his friend takes the cop for the speeding offence.

On board Pierre notices an attractive air hostess, Nicole (Dorleac), and watches her attentively.  He sees her again as he leaves and she arrives at the hotel they’ll both be staying at and after he has given his talk, he bumps into her in the hotel lift… Saddened by his inaction he rings her room number and initiates a meeting. She has recognised him from TV and we can only conclude that this plays a part in piquing her interest…

Their relationship takes off in fits and starts. There as almost surrealist failure to connect as they cannot find the right place for their canoodling in Paris – her apartment is too well “guarded” and she worries for her reputation whilst the kinds of hotels lovers use are too sleazy.

Pierre eventually suggests they go away together to Reims where he is giving an introductory lecture to a film on Andre Gide. But things do not go to plan and he is button holed by the chum who arranged the event and forced to meet and greet the locals. The evening is sold out and Nicole has to wander the streets being hassled by dirty old men…

By the time Pierre frees himself both are so fed up that they head back to Paris… They manage to find a nice romantic hotel in the countryside en route and spend an idyllic day together. But then he phones home and his wife having called Reims the night before knows something’s up.

Back in Paris Pierre and Franca argue and he denies having an affair. She wants to believe him but knows their time is over: they agree to separate. The section detailed the couple’s rapid disentanglement is harrowingly close to the bone as they move further away with every meeting – even their daughter and even sexual love cannot prevent the termination of the marriage.

Pierre plans to move in with Nicole but his back-up plan runs aground when – typically – she has worked out the truth of their situation before him. His disregard for her when they meet in a restaurant shows all the reflex complacency of his marital arrangement and Nicole sees that there can be no long-term future. The basis of their relationship was as lovers and without the third part of the triangle the structure will not hold.

She urges him to tell Franca the whole truth but he dithers and, despite the advice of friends continues to delay calling his wife to try, once more, for reconciliation. But by now, she has found out the whole truth and is set upon her own course of retribution…

The ending was based on an actual event and I won’t give it away here. It was part of Truffaut’s attempt to show real life including his own – famously he used his own apartment as the Lachaney’s home. And, eventually he left his wife for Fanny Ardant.

This is a beautifully controlled film and, even though it may lack that sentimentalism that many viewers still sought, you do feel for all the characters. Like all of us they can be annoying and frustrating but they’re trying to maintain balance and to make the right choices.

I watched the MK2/2 Entertain DVD which has a fascinating commentary from the film’s screen writer, Jean-Louise Richard along with an introduction from Serge Toubiana. Oh, and did I mention it's got Françoise Dorléac in it?

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Three women and… The 39 Steps (1935)

Peggy Ashcroft
As some of us are delighting in discovering Hitchcock’s early silent work, it leads you on to that period immediately after, when he was establishing his future templates in a series of bold and innovative British sound pictures.

Seeming familiarity means that you forget how skilful and impactful Hitchcock was… these are his early albums recorded on modest budgets for indy labels… fresh, abrasive and highly influential. Would Hitchcock have made his 1950’s Hollywood classics without the ground work laid in the 30s… isn’t The 39 Steps the film North by North West was intended to ape and isn’t Robert Donat the prototypical Cary Grant?

Robert Donat
The 39 Steps certainly has much style and wit and I enjoyed it all the more for being able to place it in the context of his silent work. The story moves on at some pace and is so well structured with stories within the story and a maguffin to end all maguffins… But, for me at least, the tale revolves around the main character’s interaction with three women.

The tale starts in music hall, with jaunty expressionist shots of the theatre exterior as we follow a great coated man entering to watch a Mr Memory – “every day he commits to memory 50 new facts!”. The scenes in the theatre are superb and reminded me of the audience shots in The Ring, lots of British characters rapidly established through their questions, hesitations and off-hand comments… it’s quick fire and very funny.

“What causes pip in poultry?”, persists one dour character and there are repeated shouts of “how old’s Mae West?” leading to a scrap between audience members.. ah London!

Miss Annabella Smith

Robert Donat and Lucie Mannheim
A shot rings up and panic ensues… the man in the great coat (Robert Donat) rescues a lady from the crush and she asks to come back to his flat…a pretty forward suggestion in those times yet one which the man doesn’t hesitate to accept. The sign on his rented Portland Place apartment says he is Mr Richard Hannay – in Britain temporarily rather than his native Canada. The woman introduces herself as Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim) and sauciness turns quickly to suspense…”I fired those shots… there were two men there who wanted to kill me”.

She’s a freelance agent who had tracked two foreign agents to the theatre, they have a secret vital to Britain’s air defence which they are planning to get out of the country as soon as they can. She loads Hannay up with as much information as she can: “Have you ever heard of the 39 Steps? No, what’s that? A pub?”

She tells him about how ruthless the group is and that their leader has the tip of his little finger missing… Hannay is having the batton passed to him as he now knows too much for the agents to leave him alone.

She is knifed in the night and hands Hannay a map of Scotland showing a pencil mark around Alt na Shellach near Killin…(and coincidentally near to a mountain, Meall nan Tarmachan, I climbed in the summer...spooky!) her voice-over recounts the key facts: Hitch is making sure the audience is following…there’s a lot to take in.

Hannay escapes disguised as a milkman, makes it form Portland Place to Euston in time to catch the Flying Scotsman… and just evade the two spies. The scream of the woman finding the body merges with the train whistle as it roars up the tracks.

Over the Forth Rail Bridge… the police come searching and he snogs a surprised Madeleine Carroll (good plan!) as cover but she gives him away - there'll be no easy route to trust with this one.

Margaret, the crofter’s wife

Hannay escapes across the glens and encounters a crofter (John Laurie). This is a pivotal section of the film and features great cameos from both Laurie and a young, frankly very cute, Peggy Ashcroft. Ashcroft plays a Glasgow girl who’s married an older man, swapping the energy of the big city for the smothering quiet of the country and her oppressive husband. She laps up Hannay’s tales of London: “is it true that all the ladies paint their toe nails…”

What are we to make of this character? Is she the counter-point to Hannay’s chance taking/life-living adventurer?

So much is communicated so quickly as the dour crofter says grace over the supper table, and his wife sees Hannay glancing at the latest Portland Murder headline: she realises and he mouths innocence at her. All the while Laurie looks at both sensing their instant connection, jealous and fearful at the same time.

Robert Donat, John Laurie and Peggy Ashcroft
He goes outside ostensibly to lock the barn but only goes to spy on hannay and his wife through the window. We see her and Hannay debating his situation… she trusts him. Ashcroft is simply stunning, quick witted and clever actress who tells an immense story within this relatively short camera time.

She hears the police coming early the next day, her husband is going to give him up but she – Margaret – gives Hannay the break – he kisses her and says he’ll never forget her… in another time they could have been a couple? She knows she’ll be made to pay and looks in despair at the floor as he leaves.

Hannay is chased across the glens and finds his way to Alt na Shellach… where, after he telling them he’s from Annabella Smith, he meets the owner, Professor Jordan (Godfrey Tearle). There’s a drinks reception for the Professor’s daughter… it’s a quick shift to apparent normality after the chase.

Hannay talks with the Professor whom he thinks Annabelle was intent on seeing but, he holds up his hand to show the missing finger tip of the enemy agent… Donat’s reaction shot is cool and rather impressed – suave doesn’t do him justice!
Godfrey Tearle and Robert Donat
The Professor offers Hannay an honourable suicide but after he declines shoots him. Hannay’s life is saved by the bullet getting lodged in the crofter’s hymn book – the film cuts to Laurie asking Margaret about it and as she tells him he hits her… she's saved Hannay twice now but the police have him.

Madelaine Carroll and Robert Donat
Hannay escapes through the window, he joins a march and then ducks into a political rally where he is mistaken for the guest speaker… Again Hitchcock pulls us back to “normality” as, in the midst of all this re-assuringly cosy political debating, there is a real drama being played out – life and death…There’s a brilliant sequence as Donat makes up a stirring speech whilst the police arrive with Pamela (Madelaine Carroll) in tow – she identifies Hannay and they and the enemy agents close in on him. He plays for time by stirring up the political rhetoric… such an admirable and resourceful character – a great cinema hero!

As he’s arrested he pleads with Pamela to contact the Canadian embassy… she refuses…but he’s told her too much and she’s taken with him by the agents. Once again the baton has been passed…from Annabelle to Hannay and onto Pamela. A great camera sweep moves from focusing on the captured couple in the agents car to a rear view of it speeding through the Trossachs… now the final section of the film begins as the relationship between Hannay and Pamela is built.

The car is stopped by a sheep-jam and they handcuff Pamela to Hannay but he drags her out of the car and they run…Annabelle trusted Hannay enough to tell him her story whilst Margaret instinctively knew Hannay was good – there was an instant connection. But Pamela just won’t believe him… and, even when they are physically attached, he struggles to connect. It’s the classic rom-com "falling in hate" scenario and the fact that they’re handcuffed – literally inseparable – makes it all the more barbed! How many relationships end up like this let alone get started as a “ball and chain”?

Maybe Pamela is spoiled, used to having her own way and also bored and used to being allowed to complain all of the time… she’s certainly not happy. Another woman for Hannay to save? And this time he might manage it…having failed with the first two.

They stay in the Argyll Arms… welcomed by a complicit look from the barman, similar to the milk man earlier in the film, who was only too willing to help Hannay when he thought he was trying to avoid his lovers’ husband! A male conspiracy… Hitchcock's shared fantasy. The barman asks his wife if she think they’re married, "Idinnae ken and Idinnae care. They’re so terrible in love with each other!” We laugh but she’s right and is about the first to see it. Pamela isn’t convinced yet and Hannay’s bullying her…even if he’s joking about it.

Pamela removes her damp stockings and Hitchcock focuses unashamedly on her legs. This was certainly provocative for the time and a way of reinforcing her vulnerability: but, impressive as the Carroll pins are, the viewer is uncomfortable with this frankness. Donat’s hand is inevitably drawn to them by their metal connection, he grabs her knee but she pushes a sandwich in his hand... a humorous apology for the free show?

They chat and both fall asleep, Pamela gets free of the cuffs and is about to escape when the two agents call Professor Jordan’s house and give the game away: the 39 Steps is to be revealed at the London Palladium. She returns to Hannay knowing his innocence at last.

Spoilers ahead:
The film ends as it began, in a theatre… Pamela tells Hannay that no information is missing and he despairs then hears the tune that’s been stuck in his head… it’s the introductory music for Mr Memory, the penny drops:“All the information’s inside Memory’s head!”

Grabbed by the police, Hannay calls out “what are the 39 Steps?” and Mr Memory starts to answer but gets shot by Professor Jordan who then gets got by the police: trapped from all directions on stage. Mr Memory dies giving up his secret and the camera pulls away as Hannay and Pamela - voluntarily this time - hold hands.

It's a classic use of the Maguffin… the motor of the plot but not important in itself… (see also the Avenger in The Lodger as well…) it doesn’t matter what the 39 Steps is…or even what the secret is that’s being stolen… the real movers in the story are the relationships and specifically Hannay’s time spent with Anabelle, Margaret and Pamela.

The cast is excellent, especially Ashcroft and Donat. Carroll is also good value as the spoilt and stubborn Pamela: another Hitchcock blonde who endures much for our entertainment.

The 39 Steps
is available in a variety of releases. I watched the ITV release which has a nice short feature on early Hithcock… got some more catching up to do I think.