Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll
A man wrongly pursued for murder flees to Scotland to find the real killer
This classic Hitchcock thriller is one of three films based on The Thirty-Nine Steps, the 1915 adventure novel by the Scottish author John Buchan. Although the 1935 film departs substantially from the novel, it is widely regarded by critics as the superior film version. The quick pace, slick direction and brilliant acting have seen it rank amongst the Top Ten best British films of all time, and rightly so. The film is memorable for the sequence in which Robert Donat makes his way to Scotland by train and jumps out on the Forth Bridge to avoid detectives, but it is ironic that it is also the version that uses the least actual railway footage with the majority of the journey taking place in the studio. None the less it is quite a well constructed set with some considerable effort made to make it look authentic. The shot where Robert Donat opens the carriage door and clings to the side of the carriage to enter the next compartment uses a section of wooden mock-up and back projection from a train crossing the Forth Bridge. The scenes of the train stopped on the bridge were also all studio bound, (believed to have actually been filmed on the roof of Islington Studios!), though there is a real shot taken from the bridge looking down at the waters of the Firth, with a small boat passing beneath. There is also a general establishing shot of the bridge as the police make a radio message looking for the wanted man. Earlier in the film when Robert Donat begins his journey, there are some real shots at London King’s Cross station with a couple of LNER teak coaches present. These scenes include a couple of shots of the ‘Flying Scotsman’ departing behind LNER Class A1 4-6-2 No.2595 Trigo. After this, however, the stock-shots used ruin all attempts at continuity. There is first a shot of a GWR ‘King’ Class 4-6-0 leaving a tunnel, and then a shot looking out of a train on a single track line. This looks like it maybe a line in the West Highlands as the locomotive at the head of the train appears to an LNER K2 Class 2-6-0. Then, there is a distant shot from ground level of an ex-NBR 4-4-2 taking a train across the Forth Bridge, but at least this ties in with the story. The scene filmed at a station midway through the journey, where Robert Donat hears newspaper reports about a wanted man appear to also be filmed at King’s Cross.