The 39 Steps (1959)
This remake of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film comes by way of producer Betty E. Box and director Ralph Thomas. The same duo who teamed for titles including The Clouded Yellow, The Iron Petticoat and the Dirk Bogarde “Doctor” series. Knowing this is a remake of one of the Master’s early films, this isn’t to be read as a comparison to the early version. Strictly my first time viewing which features the stalwart Kenneth More in the leading role that just seems to cry out for Cary Grant.
“Where are the 39 steps?”
Espionage is front and center when the mild mannered but oh so nosy, Kenneth More takes a stroll through a park on a beautiful, sunny day in England. After conversing with a Nanny over a lost baby toy, she moves on her way only to be deliberately struck down by a car. When More fetches the runaway stroller to check on the child, he finds nothing but her purse and a hand gun under the baby blanket. Now this is where I’ll have to admit, if I were in More’s shoes, I’d turn the entire find over to the constable on the scene. But no, More pockets the weapon and takes the purse first before handing the stroller over.
More is a man looking for adventure and he’s found it when finally tracking the Nanny down after her short stay in a hospital. She may have escaped death once but won’t be so lucky the next time. She is soon to be murdered in More’s flat as she confides her mission to him. While in dire need of a tea (it’s no wonder we North American’s think that tea is the only drink the English partake in), More goes off to the kitchen only to return to the living room of his flat to find her with a dagger in her back. He’ll then take up her end of the mission for Queen and country only to find himself a wanted man for the Nanny’s murder by local police.
He’ll need to get to Glenkirk to foul up the opposing team of espionage agents and takes to trains, bicycles and hitchhiking a ride with a trucker played by Sidney James.
Along the way he’ll have a fun stopover with a pair of con artists played by Brenda de Banzie and Reginald Beckwith and a short get together aboard the train with Taina Elg who will figure prominently in the latter half of the film when the duo find themselves handcuffed together.
When things don’t go as planned in Glenkirk, More finds himself on the run from both police and enemy agents. It’s at this point that the film’s most enjoyable scene will play itself out when he seeks refuge at an all girls college where he is mistaken for a visiting professor and shuffled onto the stage to deliver a lecture. All the while, police are closing in. It’s at this point that he’ll run into Miss Elg once again and she will soon be joining him on his espionage adventure against her will.
Filmed in color, this version of the story plays well but I’ll admit to not finding it all that enthralling as a whole. It’s the sum of it’s parts along the journey that taken individually are quite enjoyable and while More is fine in the role, it really does have Cary Grant written all over it though if a star of his magnitude were involved, the whole budget would be blown out of proportion and a director of ……. yes a director of Hitchcock’s reputation would have to be brought on board. But then again, Hitch and Cary had a good thing going with that other espionage flick of 1959 didn’t they. I believe it was called North By Northwest.
Filmed at Pinewood, this is a passable adventure that has more than a couple scenes that will illicit a smile or two. Honestly, I’m not even sure I was aware of it’s existence until happening across a discarded copy on DVD at a local trade in shop. It was released by the fine folks at VCI if you intend to get a look at it yourself.
There has since been a 1978 filming of The 39 steps from Don Sharp that featured Robert Powell in the leading role. Haven’t seen it so feel free to let me know if I should track it down.