Inspired by Dave Hicks’ excellent blog, I have decided to write about my favorite film for each year from 1926-2008.
1935: The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock)
This next pick probably illustrates, as much as any year, my distinction on this list of “favorites” versus “best.” I personally like the distinction, as some of the “best films” haven’t always moved me, and some of my favorite films aren’t necessarily considered the best. This Hitchcock film is considered by no one I’ve ever read as his best. And I’ll admit that it’s not near as deep or artful as some of his later work. However, it is, along with Rear Window, Suspicion, Shadow of a Doubt and Marnie, one of my favorites by the director.
Hitchcock has always had a playful streak, and it’s in full bloom here. The 39 Steps is sexy, full of twists and turns and just a purely fun romp. I’ll admit, I usually need my mind engaged to fully embrace a film. But, for some reason, I find this one so well-directed, the story so well-told, that I’m satisfied shutting off my brain and just letting one of the masters entertain me.
What moviemakers can learn: Try to find some moments, no matter what you are doing, to add something playful or funny. Giving the audience a break like this from time to time will probably allow them to connect more with the tension and heaviness when you do want to really ratchet it up.
Other contenders for 1935: As with other years, there are still some things I need to see. These include: Leo McCarey’s Ruggles of Red Gap, George Cukor’s Sylvia Scarlett and Mikio Naruse’s Wife! Be Like a Rose. There are two films I have seen that are strong runner-ups for my top pick: Jean Renoir’s Le crime de Monsieur Lange is another one of my very favorite by the director. And Mark Sandrich’s Top Hat may very well be my favorite musical of all time. I finally though gave the spot to the Hitchcock as I think it’s one of the most fun and purely entertaining films of this entire era.