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The Thirty Nine Steps (1978)

The Thirty Nine Steps 1978.jpg

By the way – I’ve brought you the announcement of your death. South African engineer visiting London, Richard Hannay (Robert Powell) gets caught up in an intricate spy plot when a British secret agent Scudder (John Mills) takes shelter in his apartment after witnessing a political assassination. When the spy is killed by a secret organisation, Hannay becomes its next target, and must flee to Scotland, where he may be able to uncover the mystery by locating a black book lost by Scudder.  He is pursued by the police and the killers and it is only when Chief Superintendent Lomas (Eric Porter, Soames from TV’s The Forsyte Saga) gets bona fides from Hannay’s employers that the Government tries to save him – by using him as lure. Aided by the lovely Alex Mackenzie (Karen Dotrice), Hannay figures out the organisation’s sinister scheme to launch WW1 and attempts to halt it… John Buchan’s classic novel has such good bones that any alteration merely enhanced its reputation, as Hitchcock’s adaptation proved. This, the third version, is a different proposition – more straightforwardly faithful and dramatic, less comedic, and very suspenseful indeed. Michael Robson’s interpretation cleaves to the novel and it’s still an exercise in tension using trains, boats, planes, taxis and bikes in a travelogue that spans from London to the Scottish moors. Hannay is a bit of a cold fish to begin with but defrosts when the bullets start skimming his legs and he meets Alex. It’s tautly told and acted and ironically there is a fantastically Hitchcockian climax on the face of Big Ben concluding a literal race against time. Directed by Hammer veteran Don Sharp, with a very tasteful score by Ed Welch.

About elainelennon

An occasional movie-watching diary.

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