Filmsite Movie Review
The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Left alone in the living room, the Professor locks the door from behind his back and approaches Hannay. To the genial family man that he believes is Annabella's ally, Hannay mistakenly asks for help. He describes her murder and the information she gave him about the spy ring that is leaking secrets abroad:

Professor: Now, Mr. Hannay - I suppose it's safe to call you by your real name now. What about our mutual friend, Annabella?
Hannay: She's been murdered.
Professor: Murdered? Oh, the Portland Mansions affair. What our friends outside are looking for you for.
Hannay: I didn't do it.
Professor: Of course you didn't. (He turns) But why come all this way to Scotland to tell me about it?
Hannay: I believe she was coming to see you about some Air Ministry secret. She was killed by a foreign agent who is interested too.
Professor: Did she tell you what the foreign agent looked like?
Hannay: There wasn't time. Oh, there was one thing. Part of his little finger was missing.
Professor: Which one?
Hannay: This one, I think. (He holds up his hand.)

The villainous Englishman Jordan isn't a Professor at all - he identifies himself as the master spy - the chief of the enemy espionage agents from a foreign country. He surprises Hannay by a theatrical gesture - he raises up his hand to display a deformed little finger (with the top joint missing) and asks: "Sure it wasn't...this one?" [Symbolically, his physical disfigurement also indicates his psychological deformity.] Hannay is frozen with astonishment at the revelation. The Professor grins back at his trapped prey. The Professor is distracted by a dull knocking - the intrusion of his wife Louisa as she attempts to open the locked door to announce the preparation of a meal: "Lunch is ready, dear."

The Professor tells Hannay how his presence puts his dignified, respectable lifestyle in the country in jeopardy. He gratuitously admits that he has already obtained the Air Ministry secrets that are ready to be smuggled out of the country:

Professor: Well, Mr. Hannay, I'm afraid I've been guilty of leading you down the garden path - or should it be up? I never can remember.
Hannay: It seems to be the wrong garden, all right. Well, what are you going to do about it?
Professor: That's just the point. What are we going to do about it? You see, I live here as a respectable citizen. And you must realize that my whole existence would be jeopardized if it became known that I'm not - what shall I say? - not what I seem. Oh, Mr. Hannay, why have you come here? Why have you forced me into this difficult position? I can't lock you up in a room or anything like that?...What makes it doubly important that I shouldn't let you go is, that I'm just about to, uh, convey some very vital information out of the country. Oh yes, I've got it. I'm afraid poor Annabella would have been too late in any case.

The ruthless leader of the spies suggests only "one way out." He proposes that Hannay be left alone with a revolver to conveniently commit suicide. After Louisa agitatedly interrupts one more time, and then leaves after gracefully choosing not to notice the revolver that her husband is holding toward Hannay, the Professor asks: "Well, what do you think, Mr. Hannay?" When Hannay doesn't answer, the Professor points the revolver at him and fires point-blank: "Well, I'm afraid you leave me no alternative." Stunned, Hannay freezes, closes his eyes, and drops face first to the floor - he is taken for dead. The scene fades to black - symbolizing his death. [But is Hannay dead, or only improvising his own death to save his life?]

The film continues with a close-up of a coat hook in the crofter's cabin. John asks his wife about the location of his hymnbook, last placed in the "breast pocket" of his overcoat. After confessing: "John, I'm afraid I gave it to that gentleman who was staying here that night," Margaret is savagely beaten, off-screen, by a menacing-looking John for giving the stranger the gift of life and re-birth.

Luckily for Hannay's sake, the bullet doesn't penetrate through the thick hymnal and miraculously saves Hannay's life. A transition cuts from Margaret's suffering cry of pain to laughter in a Sheriff's office. The officer laughs at the implausibility of Hannay's luck:

And this bullet stuck among the hymns, eh? Well, I'm not surprised, Mr. Hannay. Some of those hymns are terrible hard to get through.

The Sheriff opens the hymnbook (and removes the bullet from a bullet hole in the pages) that is inscribed: "To John from Margaret, The Lord bless thee and keep thee, Easter 1928." [A globe in the Sheriff's office, similar to the one in the Professor's house, links the Sheriff to the evil forces led by the Professor.] Hannay recounts the story of how he was shot by the Professor and then escaped. (After his body was dragged into a dressing room, he woke up, borrowed a suit of clothes and stole the Professor's car to drive to the local Sheriff's office.)

During his short detainment by the Sheriff, police detectives have been summoned to seize him as a "murderer" for the London killing. Hannay understands two things: (1) he is "under arrest" and subsequently handcuffed (one wrist only) to be taken to stand trial in London for Miss Smith's murder, and (2) the Sheriff doesn't believe his "cock-and-bull" story about his innocence and the Professor's guilt. The fugitive breaks away and escapes by leaping and crashing through the police station's front window with police in full pursuit (in a camera view shot from across the street). [Now his pursuers include both the police and Professor Jordan's men.]

A moment later, Hannay is seen from behind, falling in step as one of the marchers in a Salvation Army band parading down the street. [Fifth Identity] When he spots more police, he ducks away from the parade and enters a door off an alley. Only wishing to seek refuge from the chase, he is confronted by a woman who leads him straight into the backstage area of a conference assembly hall where a crowded political rally/meeting is being held. Offered a seat on the platform, Hannay finds himself mistakenly introduced as the overdue main speaker (the supporter of a local election candidate) and is invited to the lectern to deliver a supportive political speech. Hannay obliges by assuming another disguise as a politician to elude his pursuers. [Sixth Identity] He tells his audience that he is "delighted and relieved" to be in the local assembly hall before them:

Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for my hesitation in rising just now, but to tell you the simple truth, I'd entirely failed, while listening to the chairman's flattering description of the next speaker, to realize he was talking about me. As for you, may I say, from the bottom of my heart and with the utmost sincerity, how delighted and relieved I am to find myself in your presence at this moment...

Hannay's voice drops when he spots the blonde he kissed on the train (Pamela) in the audience, coming up the outer aisle - they both recognize each other. She has undoubtedly been reminded of the echoing falseness of his words - to both the assembly and during their first encounter when he kissed her on the train and said: "Darling, how happy I am to see you." He continues his satirical double-talk speech - a marvelously-truthful oration that means exactly what he says:

Delighted, because of your friendly reception, and relieved, because as long as I stand on this platform, I'm delivered from the moment (he catches himself from saying "of truth") - from the cares and anxieties which must always be the lot of a man in my position. When I journeyed up to Scotland a few days ago, traveling on the Highland Express, over that magnificent structure, the Forth Bridge, that monument to Scottish engineering and Scottish muscle, I had no idea that within a few days' time, I should find myself addressing an important political meeting. No idea. I planned a different program for myself. A very different program.

Offstage at a curtained doorway, he sees Pamela talking to people about him - and reporting him to authorities. One of the audience members shouts out: "You've been to the moors to shoot something!" Hannay replies: "Yes, or somebody - I'm a rotten shot." The responsive audience laughs. Meanwhile as he continues his speech, some of the Professor's men and other detectives begin to appear on the outskirts of the seated audience:

...speaking tonight in support of that brilliant young statesman, that rising...uhm...the gentleman on my right, already known among you as one destined to make no uncertain mark in politics. In other words, your future member of Parliament, your candidate, Mr...uhm...

Knowing nothing about the candidate about whom he speaks, he looks down in front of him to read the name of the candidate off the poster. But because the poster must be read upside-down, he mispronounces the name "McCorquodale" as "McCrocodile." This causes the audience to burst into laughter because "he doesn't even know the candidate's name!" Quickly apologizing to recover, Hannay remarks:

I know your candidate will forgive my referring to him by the friendly nickname by which he is already anticipation, mark you, at, uh, Westminster.

Pamela reappears at the curtained doorway, accompanied by the two agents who were supposed to take him to the police station. To stall for time, Hannay takes questions and discussion topics from the audience on the herring fisheries, unemployment, the idle rich. He addresses them with an impromptu, animated and rousing political address:

The idle rich? That's kind of an old-fashioned topic these days, especially for me because I'm not rich and I've never been idle. I've been very busy all my life and I expect to be much busier quite soon....And I know what it is to feel lonely and helpless and to have the whole world against me, and those are things that no man or woman ought to feel. And I ask your candidate and all those who love their fellow men to set themselves resolutely to make this world a happier place to live in, a world where no nation plots against nation.

He also speaks about an ideal, happier world filled with trust and one without suspicion or persecution. He ends his speech with a rally cry for a better world:

Where no neighbor plots against neighbor, where there is no persecution or hunting down, where everybody gets a square deal and a sporting chance, and where people try to help and not to hinder. A world from which suspicions of cruelty and fear have been forever banished. That is the sort of world I want! Is that the sort of world you want?

With the audience charmed, supportive and aroused by his heroic words, they approvingly applaud and rise to give him a standing ovation. The crowd pushes him back off the stage, where he backs up into the stationary camera and an agent's hand grabs him. As he is apprehended and led away, he approaches Pamela and berates her for not trusting him, and for stupidly and blindly turning him in:

Hannay: Couldn't you realize I was speaking the truth in that railway carriage? You must have seen I was genuine. Well, whether you believe me or not, will you put a telephone call through to the High Commissioner in London and tell him enormously important secret is being taken out of this country by a foreign agent? I can't do anything myself because of this fool of a detective. Has that penetrated?
Pamela: Right to the funny bone. Now tell me another one.
Hannay: Haven't you any sense at all? Put that call through, I beg you or refer them to me. Will you do this?
Pamela: No. Good night.

But because she now knows the intentions of the spies to smuggle top secrets out of the country, she is asked "to identify the prisoner formally," and they are both led away from the assembly hall. The audience sees them leaving and Hannay is given another round of applause - he waves in acknowledgment to his new constituency.

The two of them are apprehended and taken by the detectives' car - not to the local police station, but to the Inverary police station, about a forty mile drive away. As they are driven out into the countryside, Pamela questions why they pass the turn to Inverary. With a shifting back and forth of his eyes, Hannay signals his awareness that they are not going to the police station, but are wanted captives of secret agents (or spies) masquerading as police. [Seventh Identity] And they are on their way in the fog to the Professor's house. To test the detectives, he asks to see their warrant - but they refuse to show it. He begins whistling a tune [it is Mr. Memory's theme song], and then challenges Pamela to a bet ("Would you like to have a small bet with me, Pamela?"). When she coldly glares at him, he bets instead with one of the detectives, taunting him about his boss having a finger missing:

...I'll lay you a hundred to one that your Sheriff principal has the top joint of his little finger missing.

The detective slaps him hard in the face to her astonishment, and he smugly remarks: "I win." [Hannay's statement to Annabella - "I win" - is recalled.]

Thanks to an obtruction in the road of a herd of sheep ("Oh, it's a whole flock of detectives"), their car comes to a halt. To prevent the pair from becoming mobile, they are handcuffed together. They escape when an opportunity arises, with Hannay dragging her along:

Detective: (To Pamela) As long as you stay, he stays. (The detectives leave the car.)
Hannay: (To Pamela) Yes, as long as I go, you go. Come on.

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