Gaumont has a zippy, punchy, romantic melodrama in The 39 Steps. Story is by John Buchan. It’s melodrama and at times far-fetched and improbable, but the story twists and spins artfully from one high-powered sequence to another while the entertainment holds like steel cable from start to finish.
Story places a Canadian rancher (Robert Donat) in the centre of an English military secrets plot. He is simultaneously flying from a false accusation of murder and hunting down the leader of the spies, of whom he has learned from a lady who becomes a corpse early in the story. In the course of his wanderings through Scotland’s hills and moors he has a series of spectacular escapes and encounters.
It’s a creamy role for Donat and his performance, ranging from humor to horror, reveals acting ability behind that good-looking facade. Teamed with Madeleine Carroll, who enters the footage importantly only toward the latter quarter section of the film, the romance is given a light touch which nicely colors an international spy chase.