'Examine the visual style, narrative form and thematic concerns of two of Hitchcock’s British thrillers (1927-38)'
During the period of 1927 – 1938, Alfred Hitchcock made a number of films in Britain including The Thirty Nine Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) which are part of his classic thriller sextet. Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol believe the sextet constitute a new cinematic genre; “This new genre – ‘le feuilleton d’espionage intelligent’ – produces a type of film characterisable in terms of an abundance of action, chases and journeys, a variety of locales, gloomy and macabre plots.”
The visual style of Hitchcock’s British thrillers is very realistic. Everyday locales such as the crofter’s cabin in The Thirty Nine Steps; a detailed depiction of a lower middle class setting, and the inn in The Lady Vanishes, are very authentic. Tom Ryall states that “Hitchcock’s early training as a set designer undoubtedly contributes to such a detailed use of the mise en scene to achieve surface realism.”
Tom Ryall notes another difference between these two films; “In The Thirty Nine Steps, the initial emphasis is on the male character (Hannay) with the woman (Pamela) a sceptical and unwilling partner in the adventures until the later stages of the film. The Lady Vanishes reverses this pattern with the woman (Iris Henderson) in the central position to begin with and the man (Gilbert) playing the sceptical and unwilling partner for part of the film.”
Although some of the films in Hitchcock’s classic sextet deviated from the spy thriller genre, the final film in the sextet, The Lady Vanishes saw a return to it. The Thirty Nine Steps and The Lady Vanishes have similar themes in that they are both espionage films with some comic and romantic elements, and they both deal with a conspiracy.
In both of the films, the role of the ‘hero’ is occupied by individuals who have been involved in the espionage situation by accident. Both of the protagonists are ‘ordinary people’ who have been drawn into the world of espionage by accident and they are somewhat forced to occupy these heroic roles because the real spies are unable to do so.