"The 39 Steps" will never be called anyone's favorite Hitchcock film. He had not yet hit his stride, and many of the Hitchcock hallmarks had not yet been developed. Most famous in this film is the use of the "MacGuffin Principle," seen in movies such as "Pulp Fiction" and "The Maltese Falcon." There is something everyone wants, but what it is isn't really important. Still, it is an enjoyable movie and worth the time to watch it.
The film starts very slow, with an extremely contrived beginning catapulting our wayward protagonist into adventure and mystery. Robert Donat is very charming as the Canadian Richard Hannay, and he accepts the call to adventure readily. The trail leads him from England to Scotland, and there the story finally begins to come together.
Once in Scotland, Donat schemes and charms his way through an entertaining cast of characters, from the brusque Scotsman and his young bride, willing to sell Donat out for a few pounds, to the classical 4-fingered man, each moves the hero a few more steps along his dangerous path. Along the way, he ends up handcuffed to the lovely Madeleine Carroll, and then drags her along for the ride. How the movie ends...well, you certainly don't expect me to tell you!
If you do buy "The 39 Steps," definitely pick up the Criterion Collection version. The extras are deluxe, and well worth the extra cost. The Lux Radio presentation is a real gem. One of my favorite extras on the Criterion disks. "The Art of Film: Vintage Hitchcock" is an excellent documentary on Hitchcock's British films. As always, the commentary is also excellent.