The Thirty Nine Steps (1978 film)

The Thirty Nine Steps (1978 film)

name = The Thirty Nine Steps

caption =Hannay (Powell) hanging from Big Ben
during the film's denoument
writer = John Buchan (novel),
Michael Robson (adaptation)

starring = Robert Powell,
David Warner,
Karen Dotrice,
John Mills,
Miles Anderson,
Timothy West
director = Don Sharp
producer = Greg Smith
associate producer = Frank Bevis
executive producer = James K Clarke
distributor = Rank Organisation
released = 1978
music = Ed Welch
runtime = 102 minutes
language = English

"The Thirty Nine Steps" is a 1978 thriller film directed by Don Sharp, based on the novel "The Thirty-nine Steps" by John Buchan.

This version of Buchan's tale starred Robert Powell as Richard Hannay, Karen Dotrice as Alex, John Mills as Colonel Scudder, and a host of other well-known British actors in smaller parts. It is generally regarded as the closest to the novel, being set before World War I. The early events and overall feel of the film bear much resemblance to Buchan's original story, albeit with a few changes such as the introduction of a love interest and a different meaning for the "39 Steps". It is well remembered for the famous Big Ben end sequence, inspired by the 1943 film My Learned Friend.

Powell later reprised the role in the ITV series "Hannay" in 1988 (six episodes) and 1989 (seven episodes).


In 1914, German spies are everywhere. After a spate of assassinations of important British politicians, a retired British intelligence officer, Colonel Scudder, realises his life and his mysterious black notebook are in danger. He turns to Richard Hannay, a mining engineer who is visiting Britain for a short time before returning to South Africa, who happens to live in a neighbouring apartment. Scudder tells Hannay of a plot by Prussian 'sleeper' agents, who are planning to pre-start World War I by murdering a foreign minister.

Hannay reluctantly gives Scudder shelter in his apartment, despite his initial distrust of him. In the morning, Hannay leaves to purchase Scudder a train ticket to Scotland. Scudder also leaves the apartment to post a parcel, but he is spotted and follows Hannay to the railway station to supposedly give him the black book.

However, before he can reach Hannay, Scudder is murdered and Hannay is framed for the death by the 'sleepers'. Hannay manages to get Scudder's notebook, but this turns out to be a dummy, with only a code in it to find his real book, which he has posted to Scotland. Hannay flees to Scotland on a train, but he is forced to make a daredevil escape on a bridge when police board.

Hannay attempts to solve the mystery whilst on the run from the police, led by Chief Supt Lomas (Eric Porter), and the Prussian agents, led by Edmund Appleton, a Prussian sympathiser highly placed in the British government.

With the aid of Alex Mackenzie and her fiance, David Hamilton, whom Hannay meets on the Scottish moors, claiming to be taking part in a wager, Scudder's book is found, the coded information partly deciphered and the true plans of the Prussian agents are revealed. The agents intend to murder the visiting Greek Prime Minister, leading to unrest in the Balkans and thus World War I, by planting a bomb in parliament. The "Thirty Nine Steps" refers to the number of stairs in the clock tower of Big Ben and Hannay realises that the bomb is to be set off by the clock at 11.45.

When he reaches the top of the clock tower, the agents have already planted the bomb and have locked the clock room. Hannay is forced to break the glass of the clock-face and physically stop the clock hands, leading to the iconic final sequence.

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