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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