(This is the second of my reviews for the Period Drama Challenge.)
The 39 Steps is a remake of an old Hitchcock film, starring Rupert Penry-Jones (Persuasion, 2007). A bored young man in London just before the beginning of World War I suddenly finds himself thrust into a thrilling adventure with murder, spies, a notebook containing a secret code of vital importance, and of course, an attractive young woman.
I first saw this movie when it came on Masterpiece a few years ago... I don't think I saw it as early as 2007, so it wasn't when it was first aired, but it has been a while since I'd seen it. I remember watching it and the classic Hitchcock and not enjoying either of them as well as I had expected. When Sarah decided to watch it again, I figured I may as well, since I couldn't remember what I hadn't liked about it.
It starts out nicely, when a terribly bored Hannay coming home after a night out is burst in upon by Scudder, a British Secret Service agent who is being chased by German spies. He gives Hannay his notebook with encoded details about what he's discovered, and charges him to deliver the notebook to his superior, Captain Kell. Minutes later, the German spies rush in and murder Scudder in Hannay's living room. Hannay escapes, and runs into a police officer who immediately comes back to the scene of the crime with Hannay, but doesn't believe his story. Hannay is accused of murder, on the run from the law in his own country, and chased by the German spies, who want the notebook.
Unsuccessful at contacting Captain Kell, Hannay flees with the notebook, where the chase scenes become almost ridiculously numerous. Police on the train, cops with bloodhounds, agents in a car and even a biplane. I thought the scenery during these sequences was quite lovely.
Enter the attractive young woman, suffragette Victoria Sinclair (Lydia Leonard) and her brother, aspiring politician. When they nearly run him over as he tumbles into the street in front of their car, Hannay immediately pretends to be the political man they ask about so that he can escape his pursuers.
The story continues with more chases, threats, capture, explosions. There is one excruciatingly drawn-out and over-dramatized scene at a home where Hannay and Victoria stay while they're running. They pretend to be married so they can get a meal and sleep indoors, out of the rain. They change into pajamas and tend to each other's scrapes while suggestive music plays, but nothing inappropriate occurs. There is another uncomfortable scene with a great deal of kissing, but nothing worse.
Intriguing plot twists abound at the end, all very interesting, but it feels rushed; I think it would have done better with more than 90 minutes. It is based on a novel, which would be interesting to read and compare. I imagine that the 1935 Hitchcock is more true to the original story.
Overall, I think the acting was kind of bland, but it's an interesting little action/adventure, and I enjoyed it more the second time. It's worth watching once, at least as long as you don't expect too much.