Thriller

How to Tell if Your Prisoner is Too Smart for You

Madeleine Carroll sees her chance to escape. Image: kdsjf eoifu asdkljf
Tip: Never allow a woman access to her handbag. Image: Explore BFI

Dear Movie Villains:

Becoming an Evil Villain is largely a matter of trial and error. As far we know, there is no correspondence course to guide you in becoming a dastardly mastermind.

With that in mind, we hope you’ll take some well-meaning advice from the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, The 39 Steps (1935)If there’s one take-away from this movie, it’s this: Know thy intellectual limitations.

In The 39 Steps, there are two people you need to defeat: The first one is Robert Donat, a bungler who believes he can outwit seasoned, professional villains.

The second one is more tricky. She is Madeleine Carroll, a smart and decisive woman who trusts no one except the blasted police.

The film, briefly, is about spies smuggling Government Secrets to a foreign power. Donat stumbles into the middle of this situation because (a) he believes what everyone tells him and (b) he thinks he can just pop into the spy business on a lark.

He ends up dragging no-nonsense Carroll into this mess, which is nearly his undoing – and is definitely the undoing of the poor, defenceless bad guys.

Dear Villain, we can tell you’re a bit anxious, and well you should be. How do you know if you have a Madeleine Carroll Smarty Pants Prisoner (SPP) on your hands? We’re glad you asked.

Who are you? Where are we going? Why do I have to go? Image: lkdsjf aoieuf sdjkf
Tip: A quizzical woman is already on her way to outsmarting you. Image: thefancarpet.com

Clue #1: An SPP will ask lots of questions, but don’t think this is the sign of a hysterical female. If you know what’s good for you, you’d better answer her with some believable baloney.

Example: In the film, villains tell Carroll and Donat they will be driven to a police station, but it quickly becomes apparent they are driving elsewhere. Carroll starts blasting the men with questions: How come they’re not going to the police station? Where are they going? Why are they going this way, not that way? You see, she’s already figuring out a way to escape and Do You In.

Robert Donat hides from the millions of coppers Carroll has alerted. Image: aksdj flkasdjf ksdjf
Tip: A woman who alerts 5 coppers will just as easily alert 5,000. Image: galleryhip.com

Clue #2: An SPP never misses an opportunity to tell the police anything. And not just one police officer, but as many as she can find.

Example: On the train to Scotland, when she first meets Donat and recognizes him as a fugitive, Carroll alerts every copper on the train – and there happen to be several to alert. Not only that, she’s gotten them so worked up they’ve phoned ahead to every train station in the U.K.

You think this person isn’t going to marshall an entire government against you, if so inclined?

In response to this threat, Carroll calls Donat a "big bully". Image: lskdjf aiefj
Tip: If a woman is calling you names, she’s not afraid of you – even if she’s in a chokehold. Image: movpins.com

Clue #3: An SPP may employ tough talk, but instead of masking an inner fear, it’s actually making her braver.

Example: While on the run, Carroll makes it clear to Donat that she doesn’t believe his so-called “spy story”:

Donat:    “Do you want them to hang me for a murder I never committed?”
Carroll:  “As long as they hang you, I don’t care whether you’ve committed it or not.”

Dear Villain, please take our advice and don’t let your ego sully your intellectual capacity. If you’ve gotten yourself entangled with a Madeleine-Carroll-type character, you need to admit defeat and back away slowly.

The 39 Steps: starring Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Charles Bennett and Ian Hay. Gaumont-British Picture Corporation Ltd, 1935, B&W, 83 mins.

This post is part of the MADELEINE CARROLL Blogathon, hosted by Tales of the Easily Distracted and yours truly. Click HERE for a list of all participants. Madeleine-Carroll-Blog-4_fix

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29 thoughts on “How to Tell if Your Prisoner is Too Smart for You

  1. Very clever! I don’t remember this film well at all, need to give it another look. There was a TV remake a few years back, starring Rupert Penry-Jones as Hannay with Lydia Leonard as the female lead. although it wasn’t the same character as Carroll’s.

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  2. Loved reading this post 🙂
    You know, despite the countless times I’ve watched this film, I’m always surprised that she decides to give Hannay up to the police on the train. It’s just not what the heroine does! Pamela is certainly more than a match for her ‘hero’, she’s certainly one of my favourite Hitch blondes.

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  3. Those SPPs sure are blabber-mouths, aren’t hey? And you are quite a SPB, my friend (smarty pants blogger). Loved your post, as always. Thanks for co-hosting this event and turning the spotlight on the coolest of cool blondes.

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  4. I love the term SPP!:) And also the caption that says if a woman is calling you names, she isn’t afraid of you. Very fun post! I know I saw this years ago, but don’t remember it very well. I need to see it again, especially now that you’ve pointed out Carroll to me. Thank you, Ruth!

    Like

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