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Escapist fun.
david-69716 April 2005
First things first, Hitchcock's 'The 39 Steps' is and always will be a classic of the British cinema and Ralph Thomas's remake (it's unashamedly a remake, rather than an adaptation of the novel) fails to equal it. However, once you get past that fact, on its own terms this is rather an enjoyable little movie.

Kenneth More is one of my favourite performers, perhaps not the greatest actor in the world, but one who has a charismatic personality. If he doesn't quite equal Robert Donat's original 'Richard Hannay', he comes close and invests the role with genuine warmth. Taina Elg's foreign heroine however, though very attractive is no Madeleine Carroll and is perhaps the movie's weakest link.

The stars are backed up by a splendid cast of familiar British character actors, ranging from Sid James's cameo as a truck driver, to Brenda De Banzie's turn as a friendly, man-hungry roadside café owner.

Another plus is the glorious Scottish locations (genuine this time, as opposed to the original's studio mock-ups), filmed in luscious 'Eastmancolor'.

All in all, while Ralph Thomas is no Alfred Hitchcock (but then, there's only one Hitch), the remake is ideal entertainment, perfect viewing for a dark winter's night, curled up in your armchair with hot coffee and toast by your side.
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Better than it's often given credit for
ADAM-5328 December 2002
Often criticised for being a shot-for-shot remake of the Hitchcock original, this film is in fact a perky little thriller which benefits from Kenneth More being a more sympathetic leading man than Robert Donat (he was somewhat aloof) in the '39 version. True, the film trades heavily off the script for the Hitchcock version, and true it does not go back to the original novel for context, spirit or historical setting in the way the '78 version does; but for me, the film is the jewel among the three. As well as a pacy and fun thriller, it catches the spirit of the England and Scotland of the time. It is also interesting to note the role of the two hit-men characters; they are shadowy background figures in the '39 version, but here they are more fully flushed out (and well played by Duncan Lamont and Michael Goodlife). In the '78 version (and the unofficial remake called North By Northwest) the role of the hit-men is further developed and the suspense increased as a result.

Other things to watch out for in the '59 version are Sidney James, Brian Oulton and a host of supporting players (not to mention Tania Elg's legs in the remake of the stocking-removing scene, all the more intriguing for being in colour). Long available on VHS in the UK, this film now sadly seems to be deleted and is much missed.
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Read the book
bondy-424 January 2001
Having recently re-read John Buchan's (short) novel "The 39 Steps" and already owning the 1935 and 1959 videos, a reappraisal seemed appropriate. While the '59 version is a delightful movie, it is a long way removed from the novel. On screen, Kenneth More is more Kenneth More than Richard Hannay. There are one or two "I don't think so" scenes such as Perce's (Sid James) attitude to a wanted killer. But we'll let that pass. You have to look at the production in its own right, because as a movie version of the book, it just doesn't make it. The Hitchcock version was much better in that respect. However, the Kenneth More film is utterly enjoyable as a bit of light drama. Certainly the underlying plot is worthy and overall, I'd give it 7 out of 10.
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Highly Enjoyable, Whatever they say
nicholas.rhodes21 August 2003
I have read all sorts of bad things about this film, not necessarily on IMDB, but in film guides etc. I have known the film for years, had it previously on VHS then lost it and just found it on DVD issued in England presumable in August. I do enjoy watching this film, the picture quality is excellent ( Eastmancolor ), lovely views of London and Scotland in the 1950's, plenty of humour, nice actors and a good plot which really keeps you guessing what it's all about for about 50 minutes. I have seen the original version by Hitchcock, its the same story but in black and white with awful picture and sound quality ( I have most of Hitchcock's films on DVD ) and there's no advantage to the Hitchcock film over this one - on the contrary this one is better. In addition to that we have some humorous touches absent from the original one. So I for one would thoroughly recommend this one - perhaps I am biased, for I consider the 50's as the "golden era". There was also a version made in 1978 which I will get down to viewing shortly.
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A Feast Of Cameos
robertconnor31 January 2007
From the perspective of 2007, British cinema in the 1950s appears more notable for its supporting players rather than its leading lights, and Thomas's remake of The 39 Steps is no exception... look beyond Moore's 2D Hannay and we find a delicious roll call of character turns: De Banzie's aging nympho', Brook's enigmatic 'spook', Cruickshank's foolish sheriff and especially Joan Hickson's hilarious turn as Miss Dobson, all giggling gawkishness with sensible hair and shoes (look at Miss Marple, and then review Hickson's cinematic career - a real unsung hero if ever there was one). Even the schoolgirls on the train are familiar (Carol White became Loach's Poor Cow; Stranks was a 70s 'Magpie' presenter).

Not a patch on Hitchcock's original nor the faithful 1978 interpretation, but as a snapshot of British 50s cinematic talent it's a must!
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This one is a bit sluggish, but if you like Kenneth More (and Brenda de Banzie) it's worth watching
Terrell-430 January 2008
It's quite possible to enjoy this 39 Steps, but it helps to see it fresh, without any recent memory of the 1935 Hitchcock version. That one is a classic of suspense, charm, testy romance, and surprises, abetted by two fine performances from Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. This 1959 Kenneth More vehicle maintains more-or-less the same plot line and contains some very good piece parts. While it doesn't add up to being in the same league with its elder sibling, it's good enough for a pleasant hour-and-a-half entertainment.

When a nanny Richard Hannay (More) had met accidentally earlier in the day is murdered in his rooms after telling him there is an international plot involving ballistic missiles, he realizes he will be blamed by the police. So, after looking through the dead woman's purse and discovering a map where Glenkirk in Scotland is circled, off he goes to see if he can discover the man behind the plot...a man with part of a finger missing. What Hannay encounters along the way is a suspicious school teacher, Miss Fisher (Taina Elg), who turns him in on the train going to Scotland; a fortune teller; an all too knowledgeable professor; two killers; a clever escape while handcuffed to Fisher and, finally, the secret only Mr. Memory, a music hall performer, can unlock.

The movie has several good elements, especially the charm and confidence of Kenneth More as Hannay; some wonderful Scottish scenery (the movie is in color); great train rides and one exciting train escape; a ripely eccentric performance by Brenda de Banzie as a fortune-telling realist who helps Hannay; a menacingly friendly appearance by Barry Jones; a funny performance by Joan Hickson as a twittering school teacher that reminded me of a middle- aged Miss Marple on amphetamines; and an all too brief performance by Faith Brook as the nanny. For nostalgia buffs, the movie opens with the great J. Arthur Rank gong doing its reverberating thing.

Sadly, there is little chemistry between More and Elg. She most often only looks irritated. The spirit of the movie aims for light-hearted charm mixed with thrills, something More was very good at. To make the movie work, however, director Ralph Thomas and his editor needed to bring more energy to many of the thrills. Often the music score is used to set the tone, which is not always matched by the pace of the movie. To give Thomas credit, he was capable of delivering some menacing thrills as well as some fine, broad comedy. If you can track them down, The Clouded Yellow (1951), for romantic thrills and menace, and Doctor in the House (1954) and Doctor at Sea (1955), for comedy, are well worth viewing.

If you like Kenneth More and don't mind a relatively undemanding but pleasant adventure, you might enjoy this movie. I did. If you are one of those movie goers who fixate on how awful remakes of classics are, and indignantly make comparisons, this one will probably give you conniptions.
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Here's to you Mrs. Robinson.
hitchcockthelegend30 August 2015
The 39 Steps is directed by Ralph Thomas and adapted to screenplay by Frank Harvey from the novel of the same name written by John Buchan. It stars Kenneth More, Taina Elg, Brenda De Banzie, Barry Jones, Reginald Beckwith and Faith Brook. Music is by Clifton Parker and cinematography by Ernest Steward.

Some found it hard to differentiate this interpretation of the classic novel from the superb Alfred Hitchcock version made in 1935. Which is a shame because on its own terms this is a fun packed mystery boosted by More's effervescent charm.

Story is a cracker, Richard Hannay (More) finds himself up to his neck in espionage after a mysterious lady is stabbed to death in is flat. Trying to get to the bottom of the mystery puts him in grave danger and takes him North to Scotland, where he hopes he can clear himself of the suspected murderer rap - and unravel the words he heard - The 39 Steps.

No! It isn't as good as Hitch's film, choosing to replace out and out suspense with a more humoristic approach, but the chase yarn aspects are briskly directed by Thomas, and the Scottish locations provided a wonderful backdrop to the fun drama. This same year Hammer Films put a different spin on The Hound of the Baskervilles, with fine results. So it be with the Rank Organisation and this take on the Buchan story. Good fun and well worth a look if you haven't seen it before. 7/10
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Does it matter if the film is not true to the book.
jon-28521 September 2001
An enjoyable adventure, notable for good location shots of London, not the obvious tourist's traps, and the highlands of Scotland. Having identifiable locations increases the local tourist trade, many people want to visit the"scene of the crime".

Does it matter that the film didn't follow the book too carefully. Was it entertainment in its own right, or do we want to follow the scenes and dialogue, like some old theatre and concert goers with their carefully annotated "libretti". No,the movie industry stands on its own feet, and of course it uses literature. Didn't the original author not take classical themes, innocent man accused of criminal activity, trustworthy persons in power turn out to be the baddies, boy meets girl, loses girl, refinds girl. There really cannot be total originallity in any modern work of creativity, all is based on what has gone before.

Thirty nine steps, a ripping good yarn, to be enjoyed in the spirit in which it was offered.
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Rank Bad Remake
Oct29 September 2004
Kenneth More was at his peak when "The 39 Steps" came out: trim and the right side of 50 but capable and sagacious, the paradigm of the modest, unflappable and humorous British gent.

But his chances were limited by the grey blanket thrown over the Rank Organisation's contract players by its calculating accountant boss, John Davis. More's loyalty to the uninspired producer-director team of Box and Thomas did him no favours either. Stodginess suffuses "The 39 Steps": it seems all too fitting that this must be one of the last action pictures whose hero wears a business suit and tie throughout.

As a modernised, colour remake of Alfred Hitchcock's classic, it makes the Highland scenery look good. And it follows the original (a cheerful travesty of Buchan's yarn) pretty closely save for a few pointless changes, such as making the hunted hero lecture giggling girls instead of a political gathering. Yet it is lifeless compared with More's previous and subsequent movies, "A Night to Remember" and "North West Frontier".

It's not Kenny's fault: he is Donat's equal in resourcefulness and blitheness. One flaw is games mistress and love interest Taina Elg, one of several drippy Continental misses imported to exoticise British films in those faraway days (cf Maria Schell, Anouk Aimee, Odile Versois). Ms Elg's mousy Finnish looks and manner cannot begin to compare with Hitch's haughty but seducible blonde, Madeleine Carroll: the stocking-changing scene, for instance, packs no heat.

But the big problem is Thomas's pedestrian handling. Toning down the erotic charge is only one way in which he garbles his tale. The constant flashes of imagination and twists which Hitch extracted from genre material-- such as the glimpse of the crofter and his young wife through the window after Hannay leaves, or the chorus line's legs kicking heedlessly behind the pitiable Mr Memory-- have all vanished, like a master-painter's brushwork obscured by clumsy retouching.

That poignant final scene in the music hall could serve as a film-school case study in the gap between genius and mediocrity. Thomas hustles us through it. Mr Memory has no time to display his skills, nor has Hannay time to work out the mystery, before the assassin strikes. Hitch's backstage show-must-go-on flurry is omitted; Thomas reproduces the famous hands-and-handcuffs shot, then tries to cap the scene with a silly epilogue showing More in a flat cap with a walking stick, strolling arm in arm with Elg by the river. A banal happy ending to a listless entertainment. Only Van Sant's misbegotten remake of "Psycho" served the Master's memory worse.
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Lackluster Remake
Theo Robertson1 October 2004
I can't remember much of the original film version of THE 39 STEPS but seeing this remake a couple of days ago I got the distinct feeling that it's rather inferior to the Hitchcock version . Much of the problem lies with the director Ralph Thomas who has a long and successful track record of making comedies and he seems unsuited for thrillers , everything seems a little too lightweight here and it's not helped by the cheery and jovial musical score or indeed Sid James playing a straight role as a lorry driver . It should also be pointed out that while Kenneth More plays an affable type of hero in Richard Hannay he lacks the dashing charm of Robert Donat in the original and is probably less effective than the slightly angry young man of Robert Powell in the latter 70s remake . More's Richard Hannay would probably have appeared too much of an old fashioned hero in 1959 to be taken entirely serious . He's by no means bad but remember DR NO was just around the corner and that movie turned the world upside down as to what made a cinematic hero . That's the problem , everything is too old fashioned from the polite tea parties to actresses in their late 20s/early 30s playing schoolgirls

There is another problem and that's the screenplay sticks to closely to the tone of the original . I dispute what it says in the IMDb trivia section about this movie being a shot for shot remake of the original Hitchcock version but it totally lacks an updated feel . War clouds were approaching when THE 39 STEPS was made in 1935 while the 1970s version used the approaching great war as its backdrop but does THE THIRTY NINE STEPS of 1959 feel like the West is engaged on a cold war crusade against communism ? There seems to be little sense of a political time and place with the bad guys coming across more of a criminal gang than traitors to the country . Unless I'm mistaken I don't think the word " Communism " features once

A very disappointing remake . I recommend the original or the 1978 version
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Slightly lethargic, but still a good version.
Bregelad3 March 2005
So far, there have been three film versions of this film, though there has been another announced for this year (2005). I can't really do any of the others down, and in fact the Hitchcock version starring Robert Donat is a classic. This is probably the least good of the three, due to the poor cinematography and lack of continuity in the lighting. That having been said, Kenneth More is really on form in this, and actually uses the dull background to great effect by allowing himself to become the focus of the film at all times. This is, of course, an ideal way to view the film as it fits the story perfectly. Not a film I can watch more than once a year, but definitely worth a viewing every twelve months.
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A Kenneth More Classic
david-potter-861-397264 December 2013
This is a good film, bringing up to date the previous Robert Donat version. Kenneth More, who seemed to appear in every British film I watched in the 1950s, is excellent as Richard Hannay. What I like about this film is the interlacing of humour as well as the sinister threatening of the enemy. The fact that we are never really told who the "enemy" is adds to the tension and the mystery, but the real strength lies in the humour - the impersonation of the whistling milk man, the handcuffing together of Hannay and Fisher, and the way that the landlady identifies with the "runaway couple" reminding "McDougal" of their own courting days. The climax in the theatre is a little unbelievable with the audience watching dancing girls minutes after the Memory Man has been shot, for example, and we are not told how Hannay and Fisher managed to get from Perthshire to London with every policeman in Great Britain after them! The authentic Scottish scenery, especially Waverley Station and the Forth Bridge, adds to the film. I first saw this film in about 1960; I have seen it about a dozen times since, and I keep enjoying it!
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Kenneth More saves the day!
g-hbe5 April 2010
I love this film, and have just taken the opportunity to watch it again on TV. I agree with many here who say the direction is a little stodgy and some of the changes seem pointless, but this film (like several others) is transformed from an 'also ran' to a rather jaunty thriller by the always-excellent Kenneth More. He may not have had a very wide range of characterisations, but he was superb as the indefatigable English everyman who could be relied upon to see the good in everything and always do his level best. The short appearances by Brenda de Banzi and Reginald Beckwith do much to lift this film to a higher level. You've only got to see More in action in such films as 'Reach for the Sky' and 'Genevieve' to observe a true pro in action. The Thirty-Nine Steps may not be the best film ever made or the best version of this story from a technical point of view, but I find it by far the most appealing.
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Trying to improve on Hitchcock's version was a vain endeavour
JamesHitchcock18 November 2008
Since Alfred Hitchcock's well-known version from 1935, there have been two further adaptations of John Buchan's "The 39 Steps". The 1978 version with Robert Powell kept the pre-World War I setting and was much more faithful to Buchan's plot than Hitchcock had been. The 1959 version, however, was a remake of Hitchcock's film, keeping much of the plot, and even some of the dialogue, of his version. (It came out in the same year as "North by Northwest", which can be seen as Hitchcock's own unacknowledged remake of his own film).

Just as Hitchcock updated the story to the thirties, so this one updates it to the fifties. Modern audiences tend to assume that the villains in the Hitchcock film are agents of Nazi Germany, although this is never made explicit and for thirties audiences Stalin's Russia might have suggested itself as an alternative possibility. In the 1959 film, made during the Cold War, there is little doubt that the villains are working for the Soviet Union, although again this is never explicitly stated.

In this version the hero, Richard Hannay, is not a Canadian (as he was in Hitchcock's film) but an Englishman, recently returned from working in the Middle East. (In Buchan's novel he was a Scot who had worked in South Africa). He meets by chance a woman who reveals to him that she is a spy, working for British Intelligence, and has uncovered a plot by a mysterious organisation known as "The Thirty Nine Steps" to steal the top-secret plans for a new British ballistic missile. (In Hitchcock's version the secret information related to a new aircraft engine). She tells Hannay that she must leave for Scotland immediately, but while he is out of the room, she is killed by two hit men. Fearing he will be accused of her murder, he decides to continue her mission and catches a train to Scotland. The plot continues along much the same lines as Hitchcock's, although there are a few changes. The heroine whom Hannay meets on the train is, for example, a sports teacher at a girls' public school. There are also some added scenes, such as the one where Hannay stays at an inn whose landlady turns out to be a spiritualist medium.

Hitchcock's film was a comedy-thriller which combined suspense with humour, and the remake was intended in the same vein. Ralph Thomas was known as a director of both comedies (such as the "Doctor" films) and thrillers (such as "The Clouded Yellow") so he doubtless seemed the right man for the job. Compared to the original, however, this film is a pedestrian affair. To be fair to Thomas, part of the blame lies with the actors. Kenneth More plays Hannay as the sort of decent, middle-class stiff-upper-lipped English gentleman which had become his stock-in-trade, a characterisation which seems stolid and uninteresting next to the panache of Robert Donat's dashing action hero. The casting of the Finnish actress Taina Elg as Miss Fisher was an unsuccessful attempt to inject some Continental glamour into the film. Elg always comes across as dull and unglamorous, especially when compared to Madeleine Carroll who played the equivalent role in the Hitchcock film, and her foreign accent makes it difficult to accept her as a British schoolmistress.

Some of the blame for the film's comparative failure, however, must lie with the director and scriptwriters. Some of the scenes, such as Hannay's escape on the Forth railway bridge, are indeed better done here than they were in the original, which is perhaps not surprising given that Thomas evidently had more financial resources available to him than did Hitchcock. The film as a whole, however, lacks the sense of movement and excitement which characterised Hitchcock's. The attempts at humour generally fall flat. The scene with the milkman is mishandled; in the original the humour arises from the fact that the milkman refuses to believe the truth but readily believes Hannay's false story about being a lover escaping from a jealous husband. In the remake Hannay simply comes out with the invented story without any attempt to tell the true one. The other comic high point of Hitchcock's film, the scene at the political meeting, here becomes an attempt to give a lecture to the assembled schoolgirls, and loses much of its point.

This is not a particularly bad film, and is certainly not the worst Hitchcock remake. (That dubious distinction must belong to Gus van Sant's horrible version of "Psycho"). Nevertheless, the filmmakers seem to have failed to realise that trying to improve on Hitchcock's version was a vain endeavour. Had they wanted to make a new version of "The 39 Steps" they should have gone back to Buchan, as the makers of the 1978 film did. 5/10
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Best of the lot.
mfweller20 December 2003
I have seen the three movies by this name and own copies of the other two. The A. H. Version is heavy handed and overly dramatic. The 1978 version is too quaint. This version has both the dramatic suspense needed combined with the light touch of romantic comedy the story requires to keep it from bogging down. Say what you will about the A.H. version, I found it a disappointment after seeing the 1959 movie first.
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Decent remake, but for me the Hitchcock film will always be better
TheLittleSongbird4 February 2010
As far as remakes go, this is not a bad one. It is infinitely better than the dreadful remake to Psycho, which quite frankly was pointless and was inferior in every possible way to the chilling (and traumatising) original. I will say right now I do prefer the Hitchcock film, which was really entertaining, suspenseful, well made and had believable chemistry between Robert Donat and Madeleine Caroll despite the deviations from the book. Plus it was Hitchcock, who directs while putting a lot of his fashioned touches that instantly made his directorial style recognisable.

This remake has its flaws, but there are worse remakes out there (ie.Psycho, Wicker Man). The pacing here is a tad sluggish, there are one or two drawn out scenes that drag a bit. Also Taina Elg looks rather uncomfortable here, no denying she is a lovely lady, but her chemistry with Kenneth More isn't always there. Plus I also felt the direction from Ralph Thomas was on the pedestrian side. I also felt the scripting on occasions lacked the wit and suspense that made the Hitchcock film so memorable.

Flaws aside, the plot is still good and intriguing enough, and so is the music which is quite stirring and the stylish camera work. Kenneth More, while he has acted better, is still very likable in the lead role of Richard Hannay, and the location shots of London are excellent, plus the Scottish scenery is stunning. The lighting is okay, could've been brighter in places but it was not distractingly bad or anything. Overall, this is a decent remake, but as I have accentuated many times, the Hitchcock film will always be better, no matter how much it is removed from the source material. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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Colour remake of a classic in black and white falling in the shadow of Hitchcock's black and white
clanciai3 May 2020
The colour version of "The 39 Steps" of 1959 is a remake of Hitchcock's black and white classic of 1935 and adds nothing new to the story or the film. There was even a third version on a high budget some 20 years later, and then another after another 20 years, but nothing beats Hitchcock. Kenneth More is good enough and well up to Robert Donat's original, but although in colour there is less blood in this version than in Hitchcock's with his special knack for suggestive innovations. If you don't know the story and haven't seen Hitchcock's version, it might be highly rewarding and exciting, but if you have been through Hitchcock's treatment you will yawn here. Ralph Thomas is no Hitchcock, although he was better than Hitchcock at comedies, and although all his films are good, it might have been a mistake to try to remake a classic Hitchcock film.
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Not quite a carbon copy of the Hitchcock version
MOscarbradley15 December 2018
If Hitchcock's version of "The 39 Steps" is the Mona Lisa then this version is the Mona Lisa painted by a second-rate art student or even a not-very-talented child. It was directed by Ralph Thomas, which says a lot, and written by Frank Harvey and they change things just enough not to make it a carbon copy, using actual Scottish locations and casting Kenneth More, who is a very different Richard Hannay from Robert Donat.

Actually More was a very personable actor and it's he, and he alone, who makes this as entertaining as it is; just don't expect too much from the poor man. Taina Elg is the pretty but pretty non-descript heroine though Barry Jones is an excellent villain and Brenda De Banzie does her best to banish thoughts of Peggy Ashcroft. Photographed in colour by Ernest Steward so its also quite easy on the eye.
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I didn't 'get' it.
poolandrews30 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The 39 Steps starts in Regent's Park in London where Richard Hannay (Kenneth More) witnesses a woman (Faith Brooke) with a pram knocked own by a speeding car, he rushes to the aid of the baby in the pram but only finds a gun inside which he keeps. Later that afternoon Hannay manages to meet up with the mysterious woman at a performance of Mr. Memory (James Hayter) at the Palace theatre, they start talking & the woman says she is a secret agent trying to stop the leaking of top secret Government information. Back at Hanny's flat the woman is murdered & Hannay know's the police will suspect him so he takes the gun & the few pieces of information that he managed to learn from the woman & head towards Scotland where she was due to meet her contact & expose the head of the enemy organisation who want to smuggle top secret plans for the 'Boomerang' defense system out of the country. Wanted for murder Hannay finds himself caught up in a plot that could threaten Britain & those who live there...

This British production was directed by Ralph Thomas was a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's earlier The 39 Steps (1935) which itself was based on the novel of the same name by John Buchan while yet another big screen version was made as The Thirty Nine Steps (1978) a couple of decades after this, while I liked The 39 Steps for most of it's duration as a fairly gentle & light hearted action adventure I simply didn't understand the end. Now I don't know if I missed something but I couldn't make sense of anything, what the bad guy's plans actually were or how it was all supposed to work. How did Mr. Memory get all the codes & formula's? Was he in on it? How was the guy with a finger missing going to extract the information he needed? Why not just kidnap Mr. Memory & get the information he wanted sooner? How did Hannay know what to ask Mr. Memory at the end? Was Mr. Memory in on it? If he was why didn't he just tell the guy the secret codes? If he wasn't how did Mr. Memory know those top secret things? It all seemed rather random & rushed, the ending should have been explained better & I am sorry if it's just me being stupid (it wouldn't be the first time) but I honestly didn't understand what was meant to be going on, what the bad guy's plan was & how it was all meant to pan out. If the bad guy's had planted the information in Mr. Memories head then why not just photograph it? Why not say it out loud & record it to tape? Why such a complicated & frankly silly plot? Until the last bewildering five minutes or so The 39 Steps had a been a perfectly likable adventure film that moved along at a decent pace, had a few amusing situations as Hannay met an odd assortment of people on his travels & even had some decent action too but that baffling ending ruined it all for me. Again, if it's just me being thick then I apologise but can someone explain what the bad guy's plan was meant to be? If it had worked properly how was it all meant to go down?

The 39 Steps looks nice enough, the colourful London & Scottish locations add to the film although maybe the special effects aren't the best, the shot of Hannay hanging on to the side of a speeding looks poor. Director Thomas keeps things moving at a good pace, there are some workmanlike scenes like the part when Fisher overhears the two spies expose their whole plan over a public telephone. Despite the title we never actually see the 39 steps that it refers to apart from when the opening credits play over a still of them. I have never seen Hitchcock's original or read the novel so I cannot compare how this stands up to them.

Filmed on location in Scotland & in the studio back in London, this is well made for the time although obviously it does look a bit dated today. It's interesting to see the leading man here, or the hero if you like as a middle aged rather ordinary looking man rather than a super fit, toned muscle bound twenty something that typifies the average action hero today. Legendary comedy actor Sid James has a great little cameo as a truck driver.

The 39 Steps is a perfectly good adventure mystery film until the end where it all falls apart, none of it made any sort of sense to me. Maybe I am just being stupid but I couldn't work any reasonable explanation out. I remember really liking the 1978 version with Robert Powell but haven't seen it since the 90's so I think I will watch that again soon.
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Flat remake of the original film that lacks any of it's excitement
bob the moo7 May 2003
Richard Hannay is in the park when he sees a nanny he was just talking to hit by a hit and run driver. He runs to her pram and finds only a gun. After she gets better he finds her again and she confides in him that her work is of national importance. While he is in another room she is murdered in his home. Hannay goes on the run from the police using the snippets of information she gave him to look for her contact. However he falls into danger and must race to uncover a spy ring before they can leave the country with sensitive information.

Rather than being an attempt to reinterpret the book for the screen, this is a reinterpretation of the original film. This means that it is essentially the original film with some changes to locations and characters. Sadly this is the film's failing – that it never manages to step out of the shadow of the original. The changes are slight changes in plot focus and the change in the nature of some of the characters and none of them really work very well. The humour is poor and the chemistry between Hannay and Fisher is non-existent. Other characters (like the Scottish spiritualist) are just out of place.

Worse than this is the fact that the film lacks real tension or excitement. Part of this lies with Kenneth More, who acts like he's out for a stroll. No part of his performance really makes you believe that he is in danger at any point – he never gets close to desperation. However the film itself is very flat and wandering. It lacks Hitchcock's tautness and it suffers even without the comparison. The Scottish scenery is overused. It looks great and is full of lush colours but this does two things that contribute to the weakness in the film. First the lush colours give the impression of calm and beauty whereas what was needed was more urgency. Secondly it does give the feel of a travelogue type film rather than a drama.

The rest of the cast are relatively impressionless. Elg is poorly cast and doesn't fit in. Jones is pretty much without menace, only a cameo by Sid James caught my eye – but that was only because of his presence and not his contribution.

Overall this is a poor re-make of the original film. The 1970's remake is much better than this as it doesn't just ape the Hitchcock version. This manages to retread a lot of old ground but make it less palatable – a flat, lifeless version that really lacks any excitement or tension.
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Light doesn't mean better
bkoganbing8 September 2015
For whatever reason when J. Arthur Rank decided to remake Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece The 39 Steps he opted for a much lighter approach. When Robert Donat essayed Richard Hannay in the original you were watching a most desperate man thrown together with Madeline Carroll running from the cops.

Kenneth More apparently decided he was Cary Grant and played it the way Grant did his last Hitchcock film North By Northwest. But what worked for Cary Grant did not work for Kenneth More. And Taina Elg was no Madeline Carroll, few women have ever been that beautiful.

Best in this rather tepid remake is Brenda Da Banzie as a most horny women who keeps dropping hints at More who seems completely oblivious.

This version of The 39 Steps isn't a patch on what Hitchcock did though it has its moments.
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Breezy adaptation.
rmax30482311 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
A zippy and enjoyable version of John Buchan's novel, far lighter in tone that Hitchcock's. The versions differ in more than tone. In Hitchcock's film, Hannay undergoes different sorts of divagations and dangers than he does here, in Ralph Thomas's film. There's nothing wrong with that. Neither film is a close adaptation of Buchan's book. If I remember, Hanny has a heck of a long time getting from place to place in the novel, at one point having to take a job as a ditch digger.

The color in the more recent film is easier on the eyes but adds a cheery note to the proceedings too, absent 1935's stark shadows. And there has been a good deal of location shooting in London and Scotland, so the one-lane gravel highland roads are no longer clogged with sheep and cloaked with fog, no longer so claustrophobic. Nor is Kenneth More what we usually think of as a brutishly dramatic actor. Like the earlier Robert Donat he seems like a rather likable guy, and there isn't a moment when we feel he's in fear for his life. Taina Elg has a plain-vanilla pretty face, suggestive of a high-school prom queen. This isn't an especially good thing, let's face facts. But her plump-lipped youthfulness, the hint of a Khalka Mongol in her Finnish eyes, and the fact that we know she is a ballerina adds a certain frisson of the exotic. What normal man wouldn't want to have a struggle with her in the back seat, as Kenneth More does? Thomas's film is not nearly as stark as Hitchcock's. It's almost sumptuous. Instead of that depressing encounter with the pecuniary Scottish farmer and his deprived wife, there is an abundance of Brenda de Banzie who, with the consent of her meek husband, offers Moore much more than a box bed and a meal of "the herring." And there is nothing like the scene between Anne Robinson and Robert Donat in Donat's first-floor flat, when she asks for something to eat and Donat prepares a huge slab of haddock in a frying pan. No veggies, no wine, no nothing. As he stands over the stove, Donat wears a heavy overcoat with its vast collar turned up around his ears, a cigarette in his mouth, the ashes perhaps filtering down into the frying fish. The place looks sterile, discomfiting, and cold as hell. More's flat, on the other hand, is colorfully decorated with alien objects from his travels around the world. The episode on the Forth Bridge is almost a duplicate of the original.

In one scene, though, Thomas and his writers out-do Hitchcock and his. More, like Donat, accidentally stumbles onto a stage and is forced to improvise a speech. In the original, it involved some palaver about local politics. Here, it is a lecture on "Woods and Wayside" in a girls' school, with the emphasis on a plant called the spleenwort. More stumbles a bit at first, chuckling over his own ineptitude, then tells a joke about "a Scotsman, an Englishman, and an Irishman." We only get to hear the punch line that suggests the story was slightly off color. The girls must have loved it because they're all giggling. Then More really gets into his pitch. He once had a parrot, he claims, that was allergic to spleenwort. "You had only to open a spleenwort in front of him for him to show his disgust. And I think we can all agree that there is nothing less pleasant than a disgusted parrot." As he's dragged from the lectern, More shouts out a summary of his lecture -- "Please, girls, don't fall by the wayside. And above all, stay out of the woods!" I smiled at Donat's impromptu speech but I laughed out loud through More's.

As I say, it's not nearly as dark as Hitchcock's vision. This is strictly a comedy with thriller undertones, rather than the other way around. You'll probably enjoy it.
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The director should be shot
touser200419 January 2021
Terrible copy of an absolute classic.Always liked More but he is not a patch on Donat and Elg is terrible.Everything that made the original great ,the tension ,humour and romantic chemistry between the lead actors is missing .Anyone who has watched the original couldn't give this more than 3 stars
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O.K. By Me
coolantic16 January 2021
As a one time Buchan fan (Buchan-eer?) I have read the book a dozen times. To be honest I don't think the text lends itself to a faithful cinematic rendition. For a start there are no principal female characters, so no glam or love interest. Secondly, most of the narrative takes place in Hannay's head when he is traversing the Scottish moorland and does not automatically translate into exciting action. Thirdly, what action there is tends to occur in the middle of the book. The finale, except for literally the final moment, is very slow and drawn out. Radio adaptations are able to follow the original story more easily, once the racism and absolute implausibilities have been removed. And radio can get away with the plot point that Hannay is unable to recognise the main villain, even after meeting him earlier face to face. Consequently I approach any new portrayal with a very forgiving demeanour. Personally I prefer the 1959 version to that of Hitchcock, mainly because it was the first one I saw, and it's in colour. The 1935 film appears very dull in comparison, although with repeated viewing I have to agree that it is a true thriller with the director's trademark quirkiness. I gather that Hitchcock never bothered to read the book. The 1978 version has Robert Powell as the most believable Hannay, and is set at the right time, but still ignores the book. Kenneth More plays his usual, amiable Englishman's Englishman, and you can imagine him relating the story as an after-dinner yarn. As frequently mentioned, this movie is basically a shot for shot remake of the Donat/Carroll effort, and I do agree that Taina Elg does seem miscast. However, the beautiful Scottish scenery is well shown off by the magnificent colour photography, and the inclusion of fifties faces Sid James, Brenda De Banzie, James Hayter et al add to the jolliness; as do the comic episodes such as the lecture in the girl's school, Reginald Beckwith's camp portrayal of Nympho Nellie's husband and the stocking removal scene. At this point I will indulge in my usual enthuse for steam trains and old British cars, lorries and buses. An undemanding film, but still very watchable. And it's on TV again next week!
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Buchan, terrible.
johnrgreen13 January 2021
Warning: Spoilers
More is a quintessential post war bluff young cove.A tweedy,public school type giving the only performance in his armoury,himself.All the drama is sucked out of this piece.The romantic episode relies on a massive coincidence .That he happens to stumble( as usual )into a lecture with the same girls school he encountered on the train,begins to detract from the credibility of the plot.Scotland is only a wee place,right? Great Joan Hickson appearance and for boys of a certain age, lush old Susan Stranks.Elsewhere a bizarre Brenda De Banzie, fruity old bird, with a camp companion, gives him some terrible sandwiches and a bike and the cast of Dr Findlay minus Janet and various other minor roles and the scenery are the only bright spots in this poor remake.
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