Directed by: Ralph Thomas | 93 minutes | action, drama, comedy, adventure, crime | Actors: Kenneth More, Taina Elg, Brenda De Banzie, Barry Jones, Reginald Beckwith, Faith Brook, Michael Goodliffe, James Hayter, Duncan Lamont, Jameson Clark, Andrew Cruickshrank, Leslie Dwyer, Betty Henderson, Joan Hickson, Sid James
It is, of course, sacrilege to “remake” a Hitchcock classic like “The 39 Steps”. Or at least a bad idea, since a comparison with that original almost always works out badly for the new version. You can go in different directions with such an editing, but the most sensible thing to do seems to be not to copy too much of the original film and to show your own vision. (And if you did choose this, it might be best to make it some sort of experiment, like Gus Van Sant did with the almost shot-by-shot remake of “Psycho”). Fortunately, Ralph Thomas, the director of the first remake (one more would follow in 1978 and one in 2008), understood this well. He faithfully follows the main paths of the original, so that the story remains at least recognizable, but at the same time he deviates from this enough to allow the film to have its own face.
From the beginning you sit and watch another “The 39 Steps”. The film opens with a scene in a park. A man takes his miniature boat out of a lake and waves to some people on the other side, a woman is waiting with her pram, and another man, protagonist Hannay, is watching all this. After an action-packed, exciting denouement of these first moments, during which it becomes somewhat clearer what – or at least that – these people have to do with each other, the setting changes to a familiar scene: the performance of “Mr Memory” in a large theater . In this film, however, it is not only here where Hannay meets the female spy, he has already done this before, in the park, which gives both Hannay and the woman a little more background, and a little more reason to join after the performance. meeting him at home (unlike the original, where she accosts him after the performance and asks if she can come with him). It is less mysterious and exciting, but also pleasant. The same actually applies to the entire movie. In the theater it is immediately clear that the woman is being watched by men, who are also interested in Mr Memory. And later on the film also opts more for humor than for carefully constructed tension or stimulating dynamics between characters, as was much present in Hitch’s film.
However, this slightly different tone is not a major problem. Kenneth More is a sympathetic and charming Hannay and the antics he has to deal with are funny and action-packed (such as a chase or escape on a racing bike and a visit to a somewhat floaty woman, who thinks can predict everything with a glass big, but in the meantime has the facts about the murder from the newspaper (and secretly hopes to be able to share the bed with Hannay).
The schoolteacher who first wants to betray him but later – reluctantly – becomes his partner to solve the case is quite a nice appearance, but the interaction she has with Hannay is a lot less interesting than in Hitchcock’s film, where the woman offered a bit more resistance and caused erotic tension. The dialogues they have together, while chained in the meadow, now feel a bit too obligatory (because literally taken from the original) and do not seem to stem from the characters of the characters.
All in all, this new “The 39 Steps” is a fairly entertaining, if of course inferior, remake of Hitch’s classic. Great for a drizzly Sunday afternoon, or to play a fun “spot-the-difference-with-the-original” game.