But it’s the intermission that should interest spy buffs. In between the first and second acts, show host, film director Cecil B. DeMille, interviewed special guest Major C. E. Russell of U.S. Army Intelligence. At the time, the U.S. had no useful intelligence agencies in part due to public disdain for espionage—hence the use of terms like “secret agent” and “counter-spy.”
Russell’s interview was thus a bit of propaganda to sell the idea that “patriotic spies” and not “mercenary spies” provided important services to a country. Russell outline what he thought the key aspects of a good spy are, stating they had changed little over the centuries. Modern audiences will raise eyebrows when hearing his belief women make for lousy agents as they’re too passionate to think straight. The interview thus mixed entertainment, politics, and a touch of commercialism when Russell revealed new microfilm could be hidden on things as small as a flake of Lux soap, the show’s sponsor.
So, while The 39 Steps has been widely available on DVD for some time, the new special edition is indeed special. Reportedly, the Blu-ray version has enhanced sound, but I’m not sure that’s the major selling point most viewers will want. The film on its own is magic enough, but it’s all the bonuses that will have long-time aficionados going out to replace their copies despite the fact much of this material has been widely available in one format or another for some time. The Truffaut discussions, for example, appeared in his 1967 book, Hitchcock. Still, if you haven’t yet enjoyed The 39 Steps, this is the version for film students, Hitchcock fans, spy enthusiasts, and lovers of classic cinema. Did I mention the gorgeous Madeline Carroll is one of the most neglected screen beauties . . .?