The 39 Steps
Robert Donat stars as “wrong man” Hannay in this, the most popular of all adaptations of Buchan’s novel, which found favour with the author himself despite its many liberties. Mmm… Donat. His crisp, creamy performance is what makes this film. A Hollywood cynic, the self-effacing actor relaxes into this role with a great sense of possibly tipsy fun. But for his modesty and mistrust of Hollywood, the versatile Donat could have had Olivier watching out for his job. As Hannay he’s thrust onto the stage as the world’s first truthful politician, disguised as a suspiciously dapper milkman, and woos his women with fried haddock and an irresistibly dry wit.
Among the many deviations from its source material, THE 39 STEPS features 62 sheep. They ate the scenery – literally – the shrubbery had to be replaced with fake foliage. The steps themselves become a MacGuffin; the added conceit of the handcuffed odd couple is a centrepiece, inspiring one of Hitch’s more predictable on-set practical jokes – “losing the key”, naturally. John “Dad’s Army” Laurie features as the bright eyed, doubting crofter whose wife’s Glaswegian accent is unconvincingly coherent. The couple exemplifies the tale’s main themes of trust and betrayal, and hosts a brilliantly awkward supper for our hero. The action is as nonchalant and as determined as Hannay, the most perilous moments delivered with thrilling clarity. The biggest home cinema in the world is no substitute – see it on Sawston’s silver screen (and spot Hitch as a litter lout, early on in the film).
THE 39 STEPS screens at The Marven Centre, Sawston Village College, New Road, Sawston, CB22 3BP at 18.30 on 13 September
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