THE 39 STEPS (1935)

1hr 26mins
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.

LNER Class A1 4-6-2 No.2595 Trigo stands at King’s Cross at the head of the ‘Flying Scotsman’. The LNER advertisement is an odd addition to the shot.
Passengers board a train standing at King’s Cross platform 10
A King’s Cross ‘top link’ driver prepares to depart. The locomotive is another A1 pacific, presumably No.2595 again.
The time is 10:00am, and the ‘Flying Scotsman’ pulls out of ‘The Cross’ at the start of it’s non-stop journey to Ednburgh Waverley, 393 miles in 7 1/2 hours. The loco is A1 No.2595 Trigo and a sister loco can be seen far left with another unidentified loco alongside.
A GWR ‘King’ bursts out of a tunnel somewhere on the Great Western network
This shot appears to show the suburban platforms (No’s 9, 10 and 11) at King’s Cross
Behind this shot of Robert Donat is an LNER teak carriage with ‘The Flying Scotsman’ roofboard that looks real enough
This shot appears to show a train in the West Highlands hauled by an LNER K2 Class 2-6-0
Despite the inconsistencies with the previous stock shots this one brings us nicely back to the story. It shows an ex-NBR 4-4-2 crossing the Forth Bridge.
Robert Donat clings to the side of the train as it crosses the Forth Bridge in this suspenseful scene that was entirely studio bound
Robert Donat evading capture. This was again a studio recreation of the bridge, apparently set up on the roof of Islington Studios.
But this is real though. A small boat passes beneath the bridge as it chugs along the Forth. This is probably a stock shot from a publicity film.
The railway sequence ends with this establishing shot of the Forth Bridge at dusk