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The 39 Steps

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ralph Thomas
Produced by Betty E. Box
Earl St. John
Written by John Buchan (novel)
Frank Harvey (adaptation)
Starring Kenneth More
Taina Elg
Brenda De Banzie
Sid James
James Hayter
Barry Jones
Reginald Beckwith
Music by Clifton Parker
Distributed by Rank Organisation
Release date(s) October 10, 1960 (US)
Running time 93 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The 39 Steps is a 1959 British thriller film directed by Ralph Thomas, starring Kenneth More and Taina Elg. It is a remake of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, based on the novel The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan.

It was the first colour version of the popular tale, and has much higher production values than the previous version, though several large setpieces (such as Hannay's escape from the train on the Forth Rail Bridge and the music hall finale) and much of the dialogue are taken from the original film. As with the Hitchcock version, the scenario was contemporary rather than the pre-World War I setting of the original.



Coming to the assistance of a nanny who is almost killed during a bungled hit-and-run assassination attempt, Richard Hannay (More) is surprised to find that there is no baby in her pram. Curious, he meets her at the Palace music hall where she has gone to see the act of Mr Memory (James Hayter). Afterwards, she goes back to Hannay's flat with him, where she reveals that she is a spy working for British Intelligence following a group called "The Thirty-Nine Steps"; all they know about their elusive leader is that he is missing the tip of a finger. The Thirty-Nine Steps are in possession of a set of top-secret plans for "Boomerang", a British ballistic missile project that could tip the balance of power in Europe. She tells Hannay that she must leave for Scotland immediately, but while Hannay is out of the room, she is killed by two hitmen.

Fearing he will be accused of her murder, Hannay decides to continue her mission and catches a train to Scotland from King's Cross railway station, evading the hitmen outside his flat by adopting a cunning milkman disguise.

During the journey, he has a chance encounter with Miss Fisher (Taina Elg), a netball coach at a boarding school for girls. He is forced to pretend they are lovers to avoid the police detectives who boarded at Edinburgh. However, Miss Fisher gives him away and Hannay jumps from the stationary train on the Forth Rail Bridge.

He then meets Percy Baker (Sid James), a helpful ex-convict lorry driver who advises him to stop at "The Gallows", an inn owned by Nelly Lumsden (Brenda De Banzie), who was once accused of practising the occult. She helps him pass the police patrols by disguising him in a cycle party she is accommodating and creating a diversion with her husband.

Hannay eventually finds the house of the man he thinks he is looking for, Professor Logan (Barry Jones), but finds out that he has been tricked; the man is actually the spy ring's leader. He escapes and informs the police, but is not believed and has to jump out of the police station window. Hannay escapes in the back of a passing sheep transporter. He then poses as a lecturer in a Highland girl's boarding school, coincidentally where Miss Fisher works, and ending up giving a bizarre lecture on the Woods and the Wayside in August. Miss Fisher recognises him and he is again taken into custody, but this time by the two assassins posing as detectives. After he shouts out to Miss Fisher to telephone Scotland Yard about the Boomerang, the assassins are forced to take her with them.

Hannay is handcuffed to Miss Fisher in a Ford Zephyr with the hitmen, who are taking them back to London. A burst tyre gives Hannay his chance to escape, but only having one hand to drive with, he crashes the car, forcing him to wander through the bleak Scottish Highlands handcuffed to Miss Fisher. Eventually, they chance upon a bed and breakfast run by Mrs MacDougal (Betty Henderson). Hannay hides their handcuffed condition and informs her that they are a runaway couple.

While Hannay sleeps, Miss Fisher frees herself from the handcuffs, but then overhears their pursuers inquiring about them and about The Thirty-Nine Steps. She realises her error and goes back to help Hannay, telling him the final rendezvous for the conspirators.

The finale is back in the Palace music hall where Hannay asks Mr. Memory where The Thirty-Nine Steps are, just as the police arrest him. Mr Memory has used his formidable memory to memorise the Boomerang plans. However, before he can reveal the secret, Memory is shot by the ringleader and the secret of the actual Thirty-Nine Steps remains elusive, although the main conspirators are either dead or in custody.

At the end of the film, Hannay and Fisher are walking through the same park seen at the beginning of the film. A man has a pram nearby. Hannay sees a rattle, like the one at the beginning of the film, and is about to give it to the man, but Fisher stops him: they have no idea where it came from.


More and Elg in a scene from the film


External links



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