45 user 6 critic

The Thirty Nine Steps (1978)

PG | | Crime, History, Mystery | 2 May 1980 (USA)
In March 1914, a mining engineer named Richard Hannay tries to prevent Prussian Agents from executing a political assassination designed to trigger World War I.


Don Sharp


Michael Robson (screenplay), John Buchan (novel)




Cast overview, first billed only:
Robert Powell ... Hannay
David Warner ... Sir Edmund Appleton
Eric Porter ... Lomas
Karen Dotrice ... Alex
John Mills ... Scudder
George Baker ... Sir Walter Bullivant
Ronald Pickup ... Bayliss
Donald Pickering ... Marshall
Timothy West ... Porton
Miles Anderson ... David
Andrew Keir ... Lord Rohan
Robert Flemyng ... Magistrate
William Squire ... Harkness
Paul McDowell Paul McDowell ... McLean
David Collings ... Tillotson


The year is 1914, and Richard Hannay (Robert Powell), a mining engineer who is visiting Britain for a short time before returning to South Africa, is shocked when one of his neighbors, Colonel Scudder (Sir John Mills), bursts into his room one night and tells him a story that Prussian sleeper Agents are planning to start World War I by murdering a visiting foreign Minister. However, Scudder is murdered, and Hannay is framed for the death by the sleepers. Fleeing to Scotland, Hannay attempts to clear his name and to stop the agents, with the aid of Alex Mackenzie (Karen Dotrice), but not only is he is chased by Chief Superintendent Lomas (Eric Porter) for Scudder's death, but by the agents, who are headed by Appleton (David Warner), who has managed to hide himself in a high-placed position in the British Government.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


John Buchan's classic adventure story. See more »


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


This movie had a Royal World Charity Premiere hosted in the presence of Mark Phillips and Her Royal Highness Princess Anne held on Thursday, November 23, 1978, with proceeds from the special launch event going to aid and benefit the Save The Children Fund. See more »


At the health resort where Hannay is drugged by the Prussian agents, a concert is taking place. As the guests assemble, we see a poster advertising the concert, which gives the date as Wednesday, 13 March 1914. 13 March that year was a Friday. See more »


Liberal Conference Audience Member: Why don't you stop asking questions and tell us something?
Hannay: Yes, I will tell you something. You're not awake! You wouldn't know if... if those two men who just walked in weren't German Sleeper Agents.
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Crazy Credits

SPOILER: Closing credits epilogue: Edward Appleton was convicted of treason in May 1914.

And thanks to Richard Hannay, Britain gained valuable time to prepare for The Great War. See more »


Referenced in Shanghai Knights (2003) See more »

User Reviews

As good as and often better than the Hitchcock original.
17 February 2004 | by fordraffSee all my reviews

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.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Release Date:

2 May 1980 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Thirty Nine Steps See more »


Box Office


GBP1,500,000 (estimated)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Color (Eastmancolor) (uncredited)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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