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The 39 Steps

4.1 out of 5 stars 561 customer reviews

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Product Description

39 Steps, The (BBC/2008/DVD)

BBC's new adaptation of John Buchan's thriller is the best ever! Richard Hannay finds himself framed for a murder he didn't commit. Now he has to break a ruthless German espionage network to prove his innocence and, more importantly and patriotically, warn the admiralty that its plans have fallen to the enemy. Full of excitement, danger, fun and romance, The 39 Steps is a remarkable tale of an ordinary man who puts his country's interests before his own safety. themselves facing death together.



London 1914. Mining engineer Richard Hannay (a dashing Rupert Penry-Jones) is deathly bored, but his life is about to pick up some when a freelance spy is killed in his apartment and Hannay must elude the police before he is tried for a murder he did not commit. And that's just the first 10 minutes of this briskly paced espionage thriller based on John Buchan's novel that inspired the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock classic. Comparisons are inevitable and unfortunate, because except for a few missteps (the most grievous being heavy-handed narration that hammers home what viewers already know), this is still a ripping yarn and a fine romance between Hannay and Victoria Sinclair (Lydia Leonard), a suffragette who gets over her initial dislike of the chauvinistic Hannay ("Prehistoric bore!") to help him identify a British traitor and foil a German spy ring. Sticklers may balk at some glaring anachronisms, but rather than carp about the biplane that bears down on Hannay with machine guns blazing, it is better to smile at the playful homage to Hitchcock's North by Northwest. --Donald Liebenson

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Various
  • Directors: Various
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: BBC Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: March 2, 2010
  • Run Time: 85 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (561 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,833 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The 39 Steps" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Diplomat, intelligence officer, and adventure writer John Buchan's superb 1915 thriller "The 39 Steps" has been recreated several times on the big and small screens, most famously in Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 movie. The 2008 BBC production is now available on DVD. It stars Rupert Penry-Jones, familiar to PBS fans as Captain Wentworth in 2007's "Persuasion", as Richard Hannay, a resourceful Scottish mining engineer just returned from South Africa to the United Kingdom in 1914, as tensions rise with an aggressive Imperial Germany.

At loose ends, Hannay encounters a British Secret Service agent on the run, who imparts a notebook full of coded messages before being murdered in Hannay's London apartment. Sought by the police and the mysterious men who framed him, Hannay flees to Scotland. There, he manages to decode enough of the notebook to realize a deadly foreign conspiracy is afoot against Britain, and sets out to expose the conspirators and clear himself.

The story features a complicated espionage plot, some terrific location shooting in Scotland, an exciting action sequence involving a biplane (reminiscent of "North By Northwest"), and an unlikely but charming romance with a fiesty suffragette named Victoria Sinclair (Lydia Leonard).

This version of "The 39 Steps" is loosely based on the John Buchan original, as re-imagined by screenwriter Lizzie Mickery. It includes some new story elements, such as a two-part ending and Hannay's relationship with Victoria Sinclair. Viewer opinions may well depend on their attachment to earlier versions. This reviewer suggests enjoying "The 39 Steps" on its own terms for best results.
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THE 39 STEPS is one classy movie! There are few who can pull off this mixture of humor, suspense, intrigue, and subterfuge the way the best of the British films can. Lizzie Mickery's screenplay adaptation of John Buchan's novel tosses in a few unexpected ingredients and makes this early 1900s story blossom with suspense, hilarity, derring-do, and wonderful one-liners. Director James Hawes paces the film so that there is never a dull moment in this chase toward staving off Germany's entry into England in 1914. The acting is first rate and the cinematography (abetted by the beauty of Scotland) is sumptuous.

The story is both simple and complex - simple in that it is a case of British gentleman Richard Hannay (Rupert Penry-Jones) falling upon an intruder (a spy who is murdered after passing a secret booklet containing codes regarding German information about meetings and proposed invasions in Richard's hands) who begins his moments of chase and intrigue as he attempts to save Britain from war. Complex as along the way he encounters a suffragette Victoria Sinclair (Lydia Leonard) and her brother Hellory (Patrick Kennedy) and uncle Sir George (David Haig) all of whom play an integral part in the caper of the story. The entire cast of German spies and British counterparts is excellent and the story moves along with sufficient twists and turns (and a touch of romance) until a rather surprise ending.

Part of the joy of these British whodunnits is the elegance of the language and the manner in which the story unfolds - with just enough escapes and frightful incidents balanced by smart dialogue. Rupert Penry-Jones is a first class actor whose reputation should be assured with this film. Highly Recommended for those rainy nights at home...Grady Harp, March 10
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Format: DVD
Having seen and loved (and owning) Hitchcock's masterful 1935 version I wasn't sure that this was going to be all that. Happily I can write that this is all that and more. Covering the plight of one Richard Hannay, a Mining Engineer back in London from Africa on the eve of World War One and voice-overing that his life is just too dull. In one of those "watch what you wish for" deals, he's within minutes on the run from both the police who think he murdered the freelance spy who invaded his apartment asking for help and the German spies determined to get the notebook said spy left on him.

The film does have nods to Hitch's original: the milkman (in a delightful twist), the servant girl charmed by our man Hannay, new play on "Mr Memory" and a great nod to both "North by Northwest" and the helicopter scene in the original with an armed bi-plane. If you want to be didactic then there are some inaccuracies: most of the cars used are later than the period. But in this case I say get over it and enjoy the twists on both the book and the Hitchcock version. Heck, get both and have a double feature!
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It's hard not to bring up Hitchcock's adaptation, and I think any comparison to that 1935 classic simply sinks this 2008 BBC-produced rendition. But this new one still makes use of John Buchan's 1915 spy thriller as its backbone, although, again, certain liberties are taken. Rupert Penry-Jones is quite good as the lead character. He does that dashing, charming thing really well and he even almost makes that stereotypical British restraint seem like fun. There are chases and narrow escapes and espionage intrigue. There's a dose of stiff upper lip derring-do and a spirited romance. And I'm still not trying to bring up Hitchcock's adaptation.

1914 finds British newspapers ominously hinting of a looming global war. It also finds Richard Hannay back home but quite fed up with England, or at least its dull, stuffy London men's club. But then intrigue surfaces in the shape of a fearful "freelance agent" (read: spy) who bursts into Hannay's room claiming that two German operatives are closing in from the outside. Hannay is incredulous, that is until the spy is fatally shot, prompting Hannay to go on the run, framed for the muder. But Hannay gets ahold of the flick's McGuffin, an enigmatic code book desperately sought by the villains. Top secret British military plans are compromised. The fate of England is at stake. A network of sinister enemy spies is operating on English soil. And Richard Hannay isn't bored anymore. Especially when the sexy, outspoken suffragette enters the picture.

As mentioned, Rupert Penry-Jones is very serviceable as the resourceful hero, and there's a spark between him and the fiery Lydia Leonard, with whom he shares caustic banter that sometimes feels very screwball.
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