Archive for May 12th, 2009

The 39 Steps posterAt least once a year, usually more, I watch Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps in the studio.  It’s one of his early films and has  a very dark look to it, pretty grainy which might turn off some who don’t appreciate the unique qualities of black and white films.  Like most Hitchcock films it’s suspenseful but with comic touches and moves along quickly as we follow the hero, played by Robert Donat, who is wrongly accused of the murder of a mysterious woman and pursued across Britain as he tries to find the real killers.  It serves as a loose framework for his later and better known North By Northwest, featuring the iconic scene with Cary Grant being chased down a prairie road by a plane.  It’s good fun and a great film  that I recommend highly, especially if you have any fondness for Hitchcock and his genre, which I certainly do.

 Robert DonatThe reason I mention this film is actually to mention Robert Donat, the star of the film.  He is probably totally unknown to most movie fans today which is tragic.  He was one of the most popular British actors of his time and died in the 1950’s at age 51 from asthmatic complications. He is probably for his portrayal of Mr. Chips in Goodbye Mr. Chips in 1939 for which he won the Oscar for Best Actor, beating out Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind, Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights.  Pretty stiff competition.  

I have to admit that I didn’t know a lot about Donat but over the years, as I continue to come across his films, I have come to really appreciate the greatness of his talent for communicating his roles on the film.  He had a very malleable look that could be very soft and foppish or could come across as strong and dashing.  He could play both poor or aristocratic characters with ease and gave all a great a depth.  I hope that more fans of movies will rediscover this now somewhat forgotten actor.  

 There are a lot of great actors out there who are very much like Donat in that they,too, are little remembered.  One of my favorites is Joseph Cotten who starred in scores of great movies like Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Third Man and Niagara just to scratch the surface.  He was always exceptional but, unfortunately, remains relatively unknown today.  But to those who have found him and Donat and many others, they remain huge talents whose body of work lives on today.  

They’re out there waiting to be found…

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