Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Thirty Nine Steps

Christmas is becoming a blur as I turn my mind towards the New Year, work priorities and trips.

The event of the day was a new production of the Thirty Nine Steps on BBC Channel 1. It is only a matter of days since I saw the original film again and so fresh in mind I wondered what kind of approach would be taken by the BBC and how I would react. I did not enjoy this version which seemed to impose 2008 attitudes on 1915 but maybe I am being unfair. It is such a long time since I read the book. I decided to check out to see if it is available line and find a copy within seconds. Wunderbar.

If the latest version grated on me then the book was so disappointing until I remembered I had read it as a school boy. I can just about understand that the book was popular with men in the trenches as it harks back to the golden age of British Gentlemen adventurer with a great sense of chivalry and honour.

There is no female interest in the book and although he travels to Scotland, his birth land, to get away from the police, he takes the West coast route and heads of Galloway and Dumfries where he obtains help from a local politician. He is being chased by those who want the notebook given to him by the independent murdered spy/counterspy although how they were able to track hum down raises questions. He is then sent south to see someone in government and from that point it is Hannay who works out that 39 steps is where the escape will be made after killing a Greek politician and making off with the British defence plans and that the location fits in to a property on the Kent coast because of information about the High Tide. The 39 steps were the number of steps in the nursing home where John Buchan was recuperating and counted out by his six year old daughter to her brother when they visited. When this home was demolished the steps were sent to Buchan who used them from his house down to the beach and they are still there although replaced by concrete. Buchan described the book as a shocker because the story stretched credulity.

In the great version, the Hitchcock- Robert Donat film made in 1935, Hannay goes to Scotland because he is given a map by the murdered female spy/counterspy of the person she needs to contact and he takes the Kings Cross East Coast route getting off the train on the Firth of Forth Bridge and making his way with an overnight stop to the Loch Tay Killin Kenmore area, and area which I have stayed close by holiday and in the wider area of a period of decades 1974-1990. In the book he is less of a fugitive and more of traveller making contact with local people including an overnight but friendly stop. There is no reference to the kissing of female passenger to escape the police interest or the subsequent stop over at the Inn with the woman handcuffed to her and posing as runaway lovers in the book and in this first black and white film the 39 Steps is the name of the Organisation and secret defence plans are memorised by musical Hall turn Memory Man with the individual to be taken out of the country. The Hitchcock film is set in pre second world war Britain and not the first. A key moment in the film is when he is thought to be a politician come to help at local by-election and tries to give a speech before being chased by the police and the villains.

I have also recently seen the colour remake of 1959 which follows the Hitchcock film on most of its points including the use of the Forth Bridge, the purpose for the trip to Scotland and the return to the music hall in London to stop the Memory man escaping with the plans,(this time a secret weapon development). The film with Kenneth Moore in the role of Hannay is less serious with several moments of intended humour and with the speech being given to a girl’s boarding school. The ending is something of an anti climax. James and Brenda de Banzie have parts,

The 1978 film version is closer to the book than the first two films although the 39 steps become those inside the Big Ben Clock, in the Houses of Parliament. The basic plot involves the murder of political figures with the a bomb to kill a visiting Greek politician and Hannay manages to stop the clock before the strike which would set off the bomb. The spy/counter spy Scudder is played by John Millis and the chief policeman by Eric Porter. David Warner, Timothy West and Karen Dotrice have roles. Robert Powell who plays Hannay then started in TV follow up stories with two series and 17 films in total. Given the ending of the new TV film I wonder if a similar series of follow up adventures is planned?

In 2006 a comic theatrical version was created which ram for sometime in London before transferring to New York where a ticket costs just under 100 dollars. The play as won several awards and is to transfer to another theatre in 2009.

In 2006 a new film version was also commenced, is now in the process of completion with a planned release in 2009.

After the death of Scudder in the London flat the rest of the film BBC film takes place in Scotland where it was shot on location Many of the previous ingredients are there including the coded black book, the giving of a speech at a political meeting, the young woman who does not believe him and the overnight stay at an Inn. However the young woman is a real British counter spy and she does not know is that her guardian relative is the traitor and that he, like she, has a photographic memory and having sat in at a meeting where the British defence plans are revealed and discussed he is taking the knowledge out of the country by U boat. The film has a shock ending, nearly.

So altogether there is one book, one comic stage production, one black and white film and two colour versions with a third in the making. There is one made for TV film and 17 previously screened follow up TV shows. This is surprising for such a dodgy story and cannot be regarded as among the great Hitchcock suspense thrillers,

This brings me to the lunchtime film on Monday, the Hitchcock thriller Notorious with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman together with Claude Rains. Ingrid plays a high class playgirl whose reputation for promiscuity and excessive alcohol is the one aspects which does match Ingrid in or out of character. When her father is sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for being a spy for the Nazi regime of Germany Federal agent Grant is told to try and persuade the woman to help them work out what a friend of her father, and one time suitor, played by Claude Rains, is doing in Rio De Janeiro with other known former Nazis and Nazis sympathisers. She only consents because of an attraction to Grant and the key moment in the film is when she is asked by Grant on instruction to become Rain’s lover. She only agrees because she believes Grant wants this, whereas Grant hopes that she will refuse and thus indicate that his feelings for her are reciprocated. He therefore turns cold with her when she not only confides that she had become Rain’s lover but he has asked her to marry him.

This coldness does not prevent Grant with Ingrid’s help discovering the nature of one of the activities although this leads to Ingrid’s life being put at great risk. Being Hitchcock there is a feel good ending and with Grant, Bergman and Rains on screen there is some great acting which makes the film fresh and believable sixty years later.

Just as believable but not in the least entertaining is the news that Mr Ashley has taken Newcastle off the market and is hoping the public will support his continuing plans for the club. I predicted this would be the outcome. Newcastle lost 5.1 to Liverpool at home yesterday before an excellent Christmas home game crowd. Michael Own has indicated he will not sign a new contract and which enables him to leave when his contract ends this summer. I was tempted to watch Newcastle live as Mr Kinnear appeared to be the right man for the present crisis, but no long term if the club is to get into Europe and the big time once more. Now I will stay away just as I refuse to listen to the Legends on 606 after the way two of those on the programme responded to the departure of Kevin Keegan earlier in the year. The Liverpool game was on TV at lunchtime and was embarrassing to watch such was its one sided nature. Steve Gerrard, the captain and England International who scored two goals was home in time to go out for an evening meal with friends in Southport. He has been arrested following an serious assault incident and is yet to be discharged.

I had also hoped, without much conviction that the appointment of Ricky Spreggia as Sunderland manager for the rest of this season and for this to lead to a goof performance good performance at Everton. Alas the team lost.30 and Everton had only their second home win of the season. All three North East teams are likely to struggle for the rest of the season although Sunderland has the best opportunity to finish mid table or a little higher.

Having consumed the defrosted food, Sunday was the opportunity to roast one of the two chickens which were at the back of freezer with roast potatoes, followed by ice cream, and then for the evening have a plate of the remaining salami, a slice of ham, olives and cheese for the evening, with a soup and a banana with half a packet of custard. It was enjoyable, naughty but nice. I had a can of Fosters, deciding that I would save the remaining Peroni until the Foster’s bought in nearly a year ago is finished. There seven Peroni and 10 Fosters left, plus nine bottles of red including two Beaujolais and three Asti. The plan is for this supply to last a minimum of three months and to try and stretch to six without buying in further. The Asti will be drunk at the New Year and the dreaded 70th birthday. Oh what a terrible thought is that 70.

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