The Thirty-Nine Steps

Film and television productions based on the novel by John Buchan:

The 39 Steps (1935)
[SHOW CREDITS]
[HIDE]

Director Alfred Hitchcock; writer Charles Bennett; featuring Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll

The 39 Steps (1959)
[SHOW CREDITS]
[HIDE]

Director Ralph Thomas; writer Frank Harvey; featuring Kenneth More, Taina Elg

The Thirty-Nine Steps (1978)
[SHOW CREDITS]
[HIDE]

Director Don Sharp; writer Michael Robson; featuring Robert Powell

The 39 Steps (2008)
[SHOW CREDITS]
[HIDE]

Director James Hawes; writer Lizzie Mickery; featuring Rupert Penry-Jones, Lydia Leonard, Patrick Malahide

The Thirty-Nine Steps

COMMENTARY | MOVIES

The Thirty-Nine Steps scene 2008

Richard Hannay (Rupert Penry-Jones) runs from aircraft, among other things, in 2008's The 39 Steps.

Buchan sexed up

Speaking of North by Northwest, a scene from that movie in which the fugitive is chased by an aircraft somehow finds its way into the most recent video version of Buchan's thriller. In The 39 Steps of 2008, our hero Hannay (Rupert Penry-Jones) is inexplicably strafed by a biplane in the hills of Scotland.

It's one of several action elements that have been added to this latest adaptation of Buchan's book for BBC television to keep it from becoming as dull as the 1978 attempt.

Wealso get an escape accomplished by bomb blast, a shoot-out at a Scottish loch while a German submarine stands by, and a romantic fling with a suffragette. The time is supposedly 1914 and you may find a few anachronisms in all this, not to mention cars from the 1920s being used.

But it's all good clean fun, accomplished without straying too far from the book and, mercifully, without CGI special effects you might expect in a twenty-first century update of an original thriller.

The film was criticized for its anachronisms—mixed up periods for vehicles, styles and politics made it difficult to place the film in any particular decade. But that was something that bothered critics more than viewers who seemed to enjoy the film as an adventure taking place somewhere, anywhere, in the romantic past.

Even the addition of a love interest, the early feminist who may be something more than an innocent bystander (Lydia Leonard), brings much needed humour and romance to the otherwise earnest tale.

Sure, the blond and buff Penry-Jones is impossibly good-looking as Buchan's supposedly nondescript, everyman hero and his Hannay is given a background to explain his skilled and resourceful dealing with police and espionage agents. But the film keeps things moving along quickly enough that you don't have time to question it.

The only big credulity-straining lapse is at the end when...well, I won't give it away, but it's a doozy.

— Eric

COMMENTARY | MOVIES

missing graphic
The Thirty-Nine Steps (2008, DVD)
Get at Amazon
USCanUK

Follow on Twitter
Follow Editor Eric's Greatest Literature of All Time

Related:

Novels
The Thirty-Nine Steps

Author
John Buchan

See also:

Novels
Kidnapped

Author
Robert Louis Stevenson

Movies
Kidnapped

missing graphic
The Thirty-Nine Steps
Get at Amazon: USCanUK

missing graphic
North by Northwest (1959, DVD)
Get at Amazon: USCanUK