The Thirty Nine Steps (1978 film)
|The Thirty Nine Steps|
Original British cinema poster
|Directed by||Don Sharp|
|Produced by||Greg Smith|
|Written by||Michael Robson|
|Based on||The Thirty-Nine Steps
by John Buchan
|Music by||Ed Welch|
|Studio||Norfolk International Pictures|
|Distributed by||Rank Organisation|
|Release date(s)||November 1978 (UK)|
|Running time||102 minutes|
This version of Buchan's tale starred Robert Powell as Richard Hannay, Karen Dotrice as Alex, John Mills as Colonel Scudder, and a host of other well-known British actors in smaller parts. It is generally regarded as the closest to the novel, being set before World War I. The early events and overall feel of the film bear much resemblance to Buchan's original story, albeit with a few changes such as the re-casting of Scudder as a more immediately sympathetic character and the introduction of a love interest. It also introduces a different meaning for the "thirty-nine steps", although unlike its filmed predecessors it returns to Buchan's original notion of being an actual staircase. It is well remembered for the famous Big Ben end sequence, inspired by the 1943 film My Learned Friend, although this is its most fundamental deviation from Buchan's original story, which reaches its culmination in a coastal location in Kent.
In 1914, German spies are everywhere. After a spate of assassinations of important British politicians, a retired British intelligence officer, Colonel Scudder, realises his life and his mysterious black notebook are in danger. He turns to Richard Hannay, a mining engineer who is visiting Britain for a short time before returning to South Africa, who happens to live in a neighbouring apartment. Scudder tells Hannay of a plot by Prussian 'sleeper' agents, who are planning to pre-empt a war against the Triple Entente powers by assassinating a foreign minister of state visiting the UK.
Hannay reluctantly gives Scudder shelter in his apartment, despite his initial distrust of him. In the morning, Hannay leaves to purchase a train ticket to the village of Strathallan in Scotland. Scudder also leaves the apartment to post a parcel, but he is spotted and follows Hannay to the railway station to supposedly give him the black book.
However, before he can reach Hannay, Scudder is murdered and Hannay is framed for the death by the 'sleepers'. Hannay manages to get Scudder's notebook, but this turns out to be a dummy, with only a code in it to find his real book, which he has posted to Scotland. Hannay flees to Scotland on a train, but he is forced to make a daredevil escape on a bridge when police board.
Hannay attempts to solve the mystery whilst on the run from the police, led by Chief Supt Lomas (Eric Porter), and the Prussian agents, led by Edmund Appleton, a Prussian sympathiser highly placed in the British government.
With the aid of Alex Mackenzie and her fiance, David Hamilton, whom Hannay meets on the Scottish moors, claiming to be taking part in a wager, Scudder's book is found, the coded information partly deciphered and the true plans of the Prussian agents are revealed. The agents intend to murder the visiting Greek Prime Minister, leading to unrest in the Balkans and thus causing a World War, by planting a bomb in parliament. The "Thirty Nine Steps" refers to the number of stairs in the clock tower of Big Ben (from "Lauderdale Door to the clock itself") and Hannay realises that the bomb is to be set off by the clock at 11.45.
When he reaches the top of the clock tower, the agents have already planted the bomb and have locked the clock room. Hannay is forced to break the glass of the clock-face and physically stop the clock hands, leading to the iconic final sequence.
- Robert Powell as Richard Hannay
- David Warner as Sir Edmund Appleton
- Eric Porter as Chief Superintendent Lomas
- Karen Dotrice as Alex Mackenzie
- John Mills as Scudder
- George Baker as Sir Walter Bullivant
- Ronald Pickup as Bayliss
- Donald Pickering as Marshall
- Timothy West as Porton
- Miles Anderson as David Hamilton
- Andrew Keir as Lord R
- Robert Flemyng as Magistrate
- William Squire as Harkness
- Paul McDowell as McLean
- David Collings as Tillotson
A soundtrack album was released on United Artists Records. In addition to cues from the film, Ed Welch composed The Thirty Nine Steps Concerto, an extended piece for piano and orchestra in a vein similar to Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto. Christopher Headington was the soloist, with the Rank Studio Orchestra conducted by the composer. It has not yet reappeared on CD.
- The Thirty Nine Steps at the Internet Movie Database
- The Thirty Nine Steps at the British Board of Film Classification
- The Thirty Nine Steps at the British Film Institute's Film and TV Database
- The Thirty Nine Steps at BFI Explore film (BFI's new database)