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The Spectator (1999) - Opposite attractions




Steyn reviews "The Thirty-Nine Steps" directed by Alfred Hitchcock.


Do yourself a favour and get over to the Barbican this weekend: even if you're in Scotland, on the lam from the cops, handcuffed to a woman who doesn't trust you, hop on an express train to St Pancras and come on down. Alfred Hitchcock's The Thirty‑Nine Steps (1935) isn't much to do with John Buchan, but it's closer in spirit than either the 1960 Kenneth More remake ‑ a masterclass in how to make a thrill‑free thriller ‑ or the 1978 Robert Powell version, which restores Richard Hannay to his original first world war setting but junks absolutely everything else.

Buchan is the only Spectator man to become governor‑general of Canada (I have a casual ambition to be the second) and Hitchcock's film appeared more or less when he was setting sail for Ottawa. By 1935, Buchan's metamorphosis into the viceregal Lord Tweedsmuir was almost complete: the 'shockers' ‑ the ripping yarns ‑ were behind him; after 21 years, Richard Hannay, the archetypal clubland hero, formally handed over to the younger generation in The Island of Sheep; in the last years of his life Buchan would write essays, memoirs, a history of the reign of George V, and bequeath Canada the Governor‑General's Literary Awards, for which Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler, Robertson Davies et al should be properly grateful. At any rate, Hitchcock's film marks the moment that comes to every great fictional character, when he slips free of his creator and has to survive on his own.

Buchan and Hitc...

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