The 39 Steps (1959)

The 39 Steps (1959)
 
 

39 More Steps

Kenneth More as Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps (1959)

Writer John Buchan's "The 39 Steps" was first adapted into a movie back in 1935 with Alfred Hitchcock directing, since then there have been various other adaptations including the 1959 version starring Kenneth More. Now I have yet to watch Hitchcock's take on Buchan's story but I would imagine it was superior to this version for the simple reason that everything in director Ralph Thomas's version rests on Kenneth More's shoulders and whilst he does a good job he is let down by a supporting cast. I would also hazard a guess that the tone maybe very different because again with this being a movie which relies on Kenneth More it has him playing his usual congenial easy going charmer with less focus on the actual excitement of the story. It makes it flawed but whilst flawed this version of "The 39 Steps" is still a lot of fun which almost sounds wrong for what is a thriller.

Whilst out for a stroll in the park Richard Hannay (Kenneth More - The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw) witnesses a Nannie (Faith Brook) knocked down in a hit & run and when he retrieves the pram he discovers a gun rather than a baby inside. Tracking down the Nannie after she leaves hospital he learns that she is a secret agent working to stop top secrets leaving the country but before she can tell him everything she is murdered in his flat. Forced to go on the run Richard travels to Scotland and takes it upon himself to try and prevent the top secrets from getting in the wrong hands and out of the country which leads him to take unwilling school teacher Miss Fisher (Taina Elg - The Mirror Has Two Faces) with him.

Taina Elg as Miss Fisher in The 39 Steps (1959)

Remembering that Hitchcock already did a version of the story when I say what "The 39 Steps" boils down to is an innocence man on the run shouldn't be a surprise. As such whilst we have Hannay trying to prevent the top secrets from falling into the wrong hands what we really get is him on the run, being followed by mystery men in rain coats and of course trying to prove his innocence when he is accused of the murder of the Nannie. If I said it was routine it may sound like I am being derogatory but I am not, it is a nice story which sees several close scrapes whilst Hannay uncovers a bit more of the truth but it is nothing that different to what you will see in many other innocent men movies.

The difference for me is the tone of this version because there is very little tension or atmosphere and more a stream of congenial fun which flows through the movie. From the first time we meet Hannay strolling through the park to the way he cheekily charms over Miss Fisher it is all played for fun, even the moments of drama often have a comedy tone to them. And to be honest it is good fun because there are few who were as good as Kenneth More at delivering this sort of character, the fun charmer.

The trouble is that it does seem like director Ralph Thomas over relies on Kenneth More to make it work and the supporting cast are for the most forgettable. Bad guys are anonymous, police men are caricatures and very few get any time to make any real impact. The only character which does make an impression is Miss Fisher played by Taina Elg and that is purely because she has a winning smile.

Now the thing is that this version of "The 39 Steps" seems almost to be playing it for laughs with the focus being on the fun and charming Kenneth More. But it does mean that if you watched it in hope of an exciting thriller with big drama you are going to be sorely disappointed. And that is most likely why many suggest it is a poor remake of Hitchcock's version rather than a version in its own right.

What this all boils down to is that this version of "The 39 Steps" is entertaining but not because it is a great thriller but because it is fun and that is really down to Kenneth More. Even so it does have various flaws none more so that a weak supporting cast and characters who are paper thin but for fans of More it will be worth a watch.

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