The 39 Steps by John Buchan

The 39 Steps

This novel is different to the film adaptations I had seen of this novel. I rather liked the tone and pacing of it. It’s a thriller written at the time of World War I and while there are some contrivances, it’s a bit like watching a good action film, you don’t really care because you become invested in the protagonist’s adventure. There are no female characters in this book other than “extras” which is fine by me, but surprised me after I saw the movies. I read that this book was popular in the trenches of the war when it was published in 1915, and I can see why. This style of thriller writing, spies, and men who are innocent but capable, was new at the time. I quite enjoyed myself, partly because the writing made me feel I was in 1914. Richard Hannay is also a  rootable character even though he’s not exactly an everyman. I am tempted to read the rest of the Hannay books.

The 39 Steps

For a short time, I actually thought I read this book around the time I watched the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock adaptation when I was a teenager. It’s a fairly short novel so I wondered why I hadn’t read it; I must have almost taken it out from the school library. The 1935 film is one of my favourite Hitchcock films and allowed me to discover Robert Donat, who is underrated as an Old Hollywood actor probably because of his early death in the 1950s. There was a 2008 BBC TV version starring Rupert Penry-Jones which I remember mostly for being different than the Hitchcock version and for the cheesy ending. Now I understand why it felt that way since there was no romantic subplot in the original book itself. There is a girl in the Hitchcock version, but it feels a bit more streamlined into the plot. The other thing I remember a lot from the 1935 version was that they made Hannay Canadian. At the time of the movie, John Buchan was Governor General of Canada so this could have been a shout-out? It amused me more that Donat was not Canadian; you don’t see a lot of Canadians featured in old Hollywood or British movies. I had a similar feeling watching Bogie as a Canadian in The African Queen. I digress, but I recommend the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock The 39 Steps especially if you like Hitchcock but haven’t seen his pre-140s work. The movie is similar to North by Northwest and made even more classic by its black and white cinematography.

Read January 30th, 2012.

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