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.
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.
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?
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.