Industry information at your fingertips
Over 200,000 Hollywood insiders
Enhance your IMDb Page
Go to IMDbPro »
Sign in with Facebook
Other Sign in options
The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for The Thirty-Nine Steps can be found here.
Richard Hannay (Robert Powell), a South African mining engineer on leave in London, becomes involved in an espionage plot when his neighbor Colonel Scudder (John Mills), actually a British secret agent, takes refuge in his apartment from some Prussian 'sleepers' whom he believes are planning to jumpstart a war with Germany by murdering a visiting prime minister from Greece. The next day, while Hannay is out purchasing train tickets to Scotland, Scudder is murdered and Hannay is framed for his death. Hannay goes on the run to expose the sleepers and prove his innocence. All he knows is that it has something to do with a small town in Scotland called Strathallan, 39 steps, and something called Ariadne's Thread.
The Thirty-Nine Steps is the third film version of the 1915 novel The Thirty-Nine Steps by Scottish adventure writer John Buchan [1875-1940], and the first of six novels featuring action hero Richard Hannay. The other five novels include Greenmantle (1916), Mr Standfast (1919), The Three Hostages (1924), The Courts of the Morning (1929), and The Island of Sheep (1936). The novel was adapted for the movie by British playwright Michael Robson, and the movie was directed by Hammer Studios director Don Sharp. It was preceded by Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935) and Ralph Thomas' The 39 Steps (1959) and followed by a TV version, The 39 Steps (2008). A fifth version, also called The 39 Steps is 'in development' with no date for release.
In the movie, the sleepers are Prussian sympathizers who can pass themselves off as native Brits. They are led by Edmund Appleton (David Warner), a successful businessman who has managed to hide himself in a high-placed position in the British government and who is friends with half of the British cabinet. The movie opens with the following note: Early in 1914, a coded cable was sent from a European power to a house in West London. Decoded, it read 'LET THE SLEEPERS AWAKE.'
They want to jumpstart World War I with Prussia during a time when Britain is unprepared. Their aim is to assassinate Greek prime minister Karolides at 11:45 am while he is addressing Parliament. Karolides' assassination will cause unrest in the Balkans and force Britain and Prussia to go to war.
In 1914, the year in which the film and novel are set, the Kingdom of Prussia covered most of northern Germany, Poland, and a small portion of Russia. Following World War I [1914-1918], the Kingdom of Prussia ended and was legally abolished in 1940.
Realizing that the only way to stop the bomb from going off at 11:45 is to stop Big Ben's minute hand from reaching 11:45, Hannay breaks a hole in the clock's face and climbs out on a ledge where he precariously hangs from the clock's minute arm keeping it from reaching the 45 minute mark (it currently reads 11:43). Meanwhile, inside the locked clock tower room, Appleton's two accomplices notice that the clock mechanisms are not advancing and search for the cause. They notice Hannay hanging from the clock arm and take a shot at him. Hearing the shots, Chief Superintendent Lomas (Eric Porter) shoots out the lock and storms the tower room. A gunfight ensues in which both of the accomplices are shot, one of them falling through the clock face to the ground below. Lomas disarms the bomb and hoists Hannay back inside the tower. He notices a river police jacket and realizes that Appleton is waiting on a police launch where he is holding Sir Walter Bullivant (George Baker) and Alex Mackenzie (Karen Dotrice). Hannay and Lomas apprehend Appleton. A text epilogue then announces that Appleton was convicted of treason in May 1914 and that, thanks to Richard Hannay, Britain gained valuable time to prepare for the war. In the final scene, Hannay and Alex are shown strolling together, arm in arm.
Find showtimes, watch trailers, browse photos, track your Watchlist and rate your favorite movies and TV shows on your phone or tablet!