Miss Annabella Smith
Smith was a creation for the film, replacing the character of freelance spy Franklin P. Scudder in Buchan's novel.
Miss Annabella Smith — a false name to protect her real identity — is a foreign freelance spy currently working for the British ("...not because I love England but because it will pay me better that way") who is attempting to stop a network of spies known as the "39 Steps", led by Professor Jordan, from taking British military secrets out of the country.
Tailed by Jordan's henchmen in London's East End, she tries to hide out in a crowded music hall. As the henchmen close in, she pulls out a gun and shoots into the air to create a diversion. In the ensuing chaos, she slips out of the hall with the stampeding audience, seeking protection from a tall Canadian man (Richard Hannay) who seems not to be panicking like everyone else around them. Keen to get away from the henchmen, she asks if she can go home with Hannay. He agrees but prophetically replies, "it's your funeral."
Back at Hannay's sparsely furnishes flat, she gives her name as "Annabella Smith", which Hannay jokes sounds like the name of a clergyman's daughter. As Hannay cooks her some food, she explains that she is a spy who is being tailed. At first Hannay mocks ("Have you ever heard of a thing called persecution mania?") before beginning to believe her story when he sees the two henchmen lurking outside on the street.
Before retiring to bed, she explains that she intends to travel to Scotland to meet a man and warns Hannay that he should beware of a man who has part of his little finger missing. She promises to tell Hannay more in the morning.
In the middle of the night, the henchmen gain entry to Hannay's flat and a knife is plunged into her back. Clutching a map of Scotland with Alt-na-Shellach circled, which is situated close to the ironically named town of Killin, she staggers into Hannay's room and gasps, "Clear out, Hannay, they'll get you next!" before collapsing dead.
Mannheim was a leading German actress but, as a Jew, she was forced to stop working in Germany in 1933 and went into exile. After a brief spell in Czechoslovakia, she moved to Britain, where she remained until 1948. During the war she took part in anti-German propaganda, including singing a memorable anti-Hitler version of "Lili Marleen".
Her role in The 39 Steps marked her debut in a British film and her portrayal of the exotic and alluring spy Annabella Smith provided a memorable start to Richard Hannay's adventures.
In his book on the film, scholar Dr. Mark Glancy notes the interesting gender role-reversal during the kitchen sequence — as Mannheim sits at the kitchen table waiting for food, Hannay fusses over the kitchen stove cooking her meal.
Notes & References
- The 39 Steps: A British Film Guide (2003) by Mark Glancy, page 47