100 thrillers to see before you die: 1930s

From M to The 39 Steps: the best in suspense from the 1930s.

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Director Alfred Hitchcock

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

In this pre-war Hitchcock thriller, Margaret Lockwood is a tourist crossing Europe by train who suddenly notices that one of her travelling companions, an eccentric old lady, is missing. None of the other passengers recall having seen her friend before. Is she going mad, or is there a wider conspiracy at work? PHu

See also: Rome Express (1932); Night Train to Munich (1940)

M (1931)

Director Fritz Lang

M (1931)

The first true serial killer film, and one of the creepiest, M was Fritz Lang’s first sound film and shows a brilliant, intuitive use of the form. Peter Lorre gives an unforgettable, humane performance as a child killer stalking Berlin. His crimes are presented elliptically, but Lang lingers on the hysteria surrounding them, and the epic police manhunt. PHu

See also: M (1951); While the City Sleeps (1956)

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Directors Ernest B. Schoedsack and Irving Pichel

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

The most dangerous game is man, as heinous huntsman Count Zaroff discovers when he sets his sights upon island castaways Joel McCrea and Fay Wray. Using the same jungle sets built for King Kong (1933), this man-as-prey marvel forged the template for films including The Naked Prey (1965), Punishment Park (1971), Turkey Shoot (1982), The Running Man (1987), Battle Royale (2000) and The Hunger Games (2012). JS

See also: Terror Aboard (1933); And Then There Were None (1945)

They Drive by Night (1938)

Director Arthur B. Woods

They Drive by Night (1938)

Shorty (Emlyn Williams) can’t catch a break. Released from prison, he goes to an ex-girlfriend’s to find her strangled in her bed. Off he goes on the run, fleeing into a shabby, brutal world where the real killer moves on with his plan to rid London of undesirables. James Curtis’s source novel included prostitution and gore, police corruption and class prejudice. Woods’ film tones it down, but a shabby world of skin-of-the-teeth existence remains. HB

See also: The Last Journey (1936); Young and Innocent (1937)

The 39 Steps (1935)

Director Alfred Hitchcock

The 39 Steps (1935)

Adapted from the novel by John Buchanan, this black-and-white espionage thriller is an excellent example of the classic wrong-man scenario that director Alfred Hitchcock made his own. That man is Robert Donat as Londoner Richard Hannay, who goes on the run across the Scottish highlands when he is wrongly accused of murdering a spy. NB

See also: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934); Saboteur (1942)

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