Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The 39 Steps

Thirty-one years ago, on April 29, 1980, Alfred Hitchcock passed away, leaving behind him a legacy of cinematography that has yet to fade. Take, for instance, the longevity of his film Psycho, or The Birds, which only this week was screened at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. Personally, I find his style rather addictive, and I jump at any opportunity to view one of his works. Imagine my delight, then, when I saw that Godine publishes one of the many titles adapted for the screen by Hitchcock, The 39 Steps (the short story is contained in Four Adventures of Richard Hannay by John Buchan). If you are interested in making a comparison between the story on the page and on the screen (as I am), then you will be pleased to know that Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film is conveniently available on

My relationship with the story is a bit backwards: I was first introduced to it through the stage production spoofing Hitchcock’s film adaptation when it was performed at the Huntington Theatre in 2007 (On a side note: The 39 Steps is still playing at the Criterion Theatre in London’s West End). I laughed my way through a very amusing show, and, curious to know what it was based off of, followed my trip to the theatre with a viewing of the black and white movie. This too proved to be very enjoyable and marked the start of my fascination with Mr. Hitchcock. Based on this interest, I recently began to read the original work that sparked both the movie and the play as well as a darker 2008 BBC television adaptation. Already, I am wrapped up in the story, holding my breath and wondering if Mr. Hannay, the main character, will survive his next dash from one windy Scottish hilltop to the next, or whether his disguise will fool the nefarious crew that is hot on his trail.

I guess the moral of this story is that it is the story that counts. I am sure that Hitchcock’s treatment of the tale brought a great deal of publicity to John Buchan’s writing (that is how I first heard of him), but the endurance of the story must be attributed to the author himself. You can be sure that once The 39 Steps is completed, I will devour the remainder of the collection. On my list of future reads: John Buchan: The Presbyterian Cavalier – I’m bound to learn something interesting about the man who was able to weave such an engaging narrative. So, thank you, Mr. Hitchcock, for turning my eyes in the direction of Mr. Buchan: I have been quite entertained by the roads that this connection has led me down.

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