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This 1978 version of "The 39 Steps" is an excellent film, well worth one's
time. The film follows the John Buchan novel closely, except for its climax
which, according to Halliwell, is taken from Will Hay's "My Learned Friend";
thus, there is little similarity in plot and characters between this film
and the Hitchcock version. There are no handcuffed characters racing about
(Thank God!) nor villains with truncated digits.
This film is well cast and performed throughout, with special mention of Robert Powell, John Mills, and David Warner. Made in color, it features beautiful scenery, especially the train trip to Scotland and Hannay's flight over the moors. It has fine period detail and costumes, the equal of anything in Merchant-Ivory films. And it has a lush, romantic score that swept me right along into the film.
The film does reference Hitchcock in a number of ways, most obviously in the plane search for Hannay, which recalls the plane attacking Cary Grant in "North by Northwest." And the climax that takes place on the face of Big Ben is exactly the sort of thing Hitchcock might have done, what with his fondness for using famous landmarks in his films.
The suspenseful climax is as good as anything Hitchcock ever did. But throughout, the film has good suspense. Hannay's escape from the train on the bridge here is better than the Hitchcock scene. And the terrorists' activities as shown here are very modern in that they are ruthless killers.
The people who were involved in making this film have nothing to apologize for. It's a fine film, and it's too bad that it has been overshadowed by the Hitchcock version. Don't miss this one.
I was never really crazy about the Hitchcock version of this story. Hitch too often "fiddled" with an original story, and although so often made a great movie, it was seldom true to the story as it was first written. The later remake with Kenneth Moore, was a little more glossy, but flat. But with this version, we finally get the story as it was written. Superior photography on location, really help to make this a real winner. Evenly paced, with fine acting performances by the entire cast, the whole film just flows. Excellent production values, recreate the period flawlessly. If I had a criticism, it would be of the rather fanciful climax, but it was still fun. This movie is for enjoying over and over again.
While it may not be the best version of the film, it is certainly the
best interpretation of Buchan's book.
I personally am not a great fan of Robert Powell, and it's this that may hinder this film, but I do believe he has caught the character of Richard Hannay, a cocksure South African mining engineer back in the 'old country' bored and ready to return when he meets a spy (Scudder) who is killed in his apartment.
The character of Scudder is excellently played by John Mills, and is a prefect recreation of the character in the book.
If you've not done so, read the book. There's no silly handcuffed love interest in it and is a fascinating read. Then, move onto "Greenmantle", and the rest of Buchan's books containing Hannay,
This is an exciting, well acted version of the Thirty Nine Steps. David
Warner is appropriately evil as the head of the Nazi's moles, Robert
Powell is a convincing reluctant hero who has been thrust into mystery
& danger, Sir John Mills is great as the voice of warning and reason
against the pending threat of war, and Karen Dotrice is very sweet as
the romantic interest now that she is all grown up. Compared to the
earlier Hitchcock version (which we also like) this story is much more
believable and less campy.
We love it and watch it every few months. Our only disappointment is that our VHS is getting worn and we can't find a replacement in either VHS or DVD.
It's hardly fair to compare this to the Hitchcock version (which was made when Buchan was not yet a well-known author). I think the Hitchcock film is the better as a film, although there are a few stodgy moments (with the crofter, for instance), but lots of lovely visual ideas to compensate (the Bridge scene, the missing digit, and the ending). But Hitchcock's is not a filming of Buchan's novel. It's something quite different. The first remake (with Kenneth More) was a remake of the Hitchcock film, not the book. With this version, we were told it would be faithful to the original, but, yes, the ending is stolen from an old Will Hay film (which was very much before its time, with its black humour). So this is not really a remake of the Hitchcock film, but neither is it faithful to Buchan (which I must re-read). But it is enjoyable, the period feel is good, and I personally like Ed Welch's concerto score.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
POSSSIBLE Spoilers This movie is awesome. Although I have not seen the
original I have heard this one is better. This movie is very
enthralling throughout. The best part is the cat & mouse which occupies
most of the film. Another good part of the movie is when he comes down
the stair drugged up on a wheelchair. I also liked setting of the
movie. Seeing Powell ramble through the our countryside was awesome and
adds quality to the movie.
The acting was very good. I thought Robert Powell was amazing and is one of the most underrated actors ever (cant believe hes down graded himself to Holby City). He was great in the detective's too with Jasper Carrot which is one of my fave shows ever.
Very good film and I recommend this for anyone.
Most of the people I spoke with about the 39 steps refer to the
1935 version as the best one. Well most of these people haven't seen the
1978 version. If any of you will have a chance to see it, don't miss it as
this version is story closer to John Buchan's book than Mr. Hitchcock's
Unfortunately, the 1978 version wasn't released on video in Europe (I believe it was released only in the US).
Robert Powell - stunning; David Warner - excellent; Prussian Agents - villains at their best.
b.t.w. very good music by Ed Welch.
The best-known film version of John Buchan's famous novel was made by
Hitchcock in 1935 but, although an excellent film in his typically playful
style, it actually had little to do with the book. Ralph Thomas's 1959
remake was a dull affair. Don Sharp does a much better
The film reverts to the book's Edwardian setting and opens with a striking scene beside the fog-shrouded Thames, which reminds one of Sharp's work for Hammer Films. Robert Powell is an agile and likeable hero, supported by a strong cast and the climax, cleverly borrowed from the Will Hay classic "My Learned Friend", has Hannay attempting (literally) to turn back time.
It was reported that, when this film premiered at a West London cinema, the audience burst into spontaneous applause at the end!
This is about as far removed from the Hitchcock version as you could
imagine. For starters, instead of a beautiful female spy you get John
Mills, (though his demise with a knife in his back in the arms of the
hero in a public place might be taken as a tribute to "North by
Northwest"; it's even got Hannay menaced by a plane on a lonely moor).
It is, in fact, a reasonably faithful rendition of the book where
Hitchcock's was a fanciful re-imagining, (and a good deal more fun),
but it's no disgrace. Indeed as a Boy's Own Adventure it's thoroughly
enjoyable; a Ripping Yarn in fact, with a splendid cast of British
character actors, good use of locations and a spiffing climax involving
Robert Powell's Hannay is considerably more po-faced than Robert Donat's, (he's too stiff to be a proper action hero), and comes over as a bit of a boor. Still, you wish him well and are happy to perch close to the edge of your seat as he dodges both the police and the dastardly Huns as he attempts to clear his name. Love interest, for what it's worth, is provided by Karen Dotrice, and whose character is an amalgam of Peggy Ashcroft's and Madeline Carrol's, but this is a film in which soppy girls needn't bother us; the heroes and villains keep it ticking along nicely.
Hitchcock would agree that Don Sharp did him one better in the 1978 remake of "The 39 Steps." Sharp's camera technique may not be as spare and precise as Hitchcock's but the overall blend of script, acting, character and plot development make this a truly delightful and fun film. Robert Powell sparkled in his role as a Richard Hannay from "down under." Great film meant to be viewed again and again. I do believe Hitchcock might have considered a request to pop out of a doorway or jump on a bus lending his profile in cameo to this film as he did in so many of his own.
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