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The Thirty Nine Steps - Review By David Pickerill


I’ve been a fan of this film since I caught it one Sunday morning on the BBC years ago, it was great to suddenly become aware of David Warner, it’s a brilliant feeling when you start to become aware of onscreen or off-screen talent it’s like unlocking a wealth of material you can walk through at your leisure especially when it’s somebody like Warner who as such an impressive back catalogue.

David again showed amazing forethought to be involved in a project that not only had great legs in its own right but one would be referenced for years to come. This seventies version was the third cinematic interpretation of the original Hitchcock classic, a fourth version is planned for 2011 and there was a recent television version also.

This film is ridiculously entertaining with action scenes straight out of a modern blockbuster starting with the Lost Boys style stream train/railway bridge sequence, the James Bond style ambush with the guys with some of the most unique weaponry in film history i.e. rifles with telescopic sights which are only about 10% shorter than the gun itself. This all builds to the frankly mind blowing Houses of Parliament set piece which see a lone protagonist going out on to the hands of the clock itself to stop the clock striking a specific time which in turn would set off a bomb.

The sense of jeopardy is almost unbearable and it doesn’t matter if you suffer from vertigo or not even the most jaded and desensitised viewer will surely skip a heart beat during this master class in how to film a movie climax.

This film is one of the ultimate Saturday matinees or bank holiday films, on the one hand easy on the eye, yet compelling and taunt. The film comes in at a fighting fit ninety eight minutes any dead weight cut away to leave the audience enjoying a thrilling and fascinating movie. Joining David Warner in the cast are two great actors Robert Powell who not only played Jesus but as also worked with Jasper Carrot, talk about diverse. Plus Sir John Mills an English acting Legend and for some who would class this as a mere remake they sure upped the ante and delivered the goods with style and grace.

The films pacing is near perfect giving you plenty of plot points without being boring and lots of action without feeling forced. Amazing to think how many filmmakers struggle to balance it out but here like a decent whiskey it really is a perfect blend. Talking of blending it feels like some of the best that as gone before but it still as a freshness and vitality, and for a film released in 1978 it sure zips along. In fact it puts me in mind of the film Moonraker which was released just one year later; it feels virtually identical in terms of the tone of the film and just the general vibe. Coincidence or not both films sure are a lot of fun.

This film is part Hitchcock, John Glen and a pinch of Michael Bay it’s amazing how modern this film is but with its roots firmly in the past, kind of like a classical guitarist playing heavy metal to a mainstream crowd. It’s a shame this film will probably never be as recognised as the original but it really is their loss if people don’t take to this movie, it really is just like a great cover version of a song or a subtle update of a classic video game you’d be mad to miss this.    

If the next version(s) of this film are half as good as this one we are all in for a treat, in fact the only weak link, even though very small I could find for this film is the original U.S one sheet poster (the excellent English quad is used at the top of the review), and you know what they say about judging a book by its cover?


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