The 39 Steps

Master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock perfected his favourite thriller set-up – the innocent man on the run – with this adaptation of John Buchan’s classic adventure novel.

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Introduction

“In all its merry briskness, there’s hardly time to notice that our hero, Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), is about the best original of James Bond you’ll ever find.”
David Thomson, Have You Seen? 2008

Alfred Hitchcock and his frequent screenwriter Charles Bennett play fast and loose with the plot of John Buchan’s 1915 novel, as hero Richard Hannay flees London for the Highlands, evading the police in pursuit of a vicious foreign spy ring.

The 39 Steps established Hitchcock’s comedy-thriller template of set pieces – including a dramatic escape from the Flying Scotsman on the Forth Bridge – linked by a tenuous plot and laced with sexual tension, not least when Hannay finds himself handcuffed to Pamela (Madeleine Carroll). Pamela is the archetype of the cool blondes featured in so many of the director’s subsequent films.

This and The Lady Vanishes (1938) remain the best known of the films Hitchcock made in Britain before moving on to even greater success in Hollywood from 1939 onwards.

The 39 Steps was officially remade in 1959 and 1978, while Hitchcock himself deliberately reworked many of its elements in North by Northwest (1959).

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