Thursday, March 11, 2010

Masterpiece Theatre: The 39 Steps

After two of the last bonnet dramas that we will see for awhile, Masterpiece Classic serves us the newest remake of the classic Buchan spy novel: The Thirty-Nine Steps. The film stars Rupert Penry-Jones (of Persuasion and Spooks) as Richard Hannay, a bored young man who suddenly finds himself caught up in the tumult of pre-WWI England. This film has a lot to live up to, for not only must it be compared to the original novel, but also to Hitchcock's early masterpiece. So, did it stack up in the end? Well.....

....not exactly. I mean, it was a half decent way to spend an evening, but nothing special. This version follows the book more closely than most, and normally that would be enough to raise it in my opinion. But here, it just doesn't seem to work right. What should have been a quick-paced plot often drags into something a bit more boring. The romance was just plain unnecessary to the story, and wasn't half as funny as Hitchcock's romantic addition. It kind of slowed everything down if you ask me. Penry-Jones, though a good actor, just seemed constantly bored and never quite got us whole-heartedly rooting for his character (plus, he was kind of unconvincing as a man who had just returned from years in the African bush). And then there were the historical inaccuracies. The obvious use of 1920s style cars for a film set in 1914 detracted from the atmosphere. And can someone please explain to me how in the heck a German U-boat ended up in a fresh water loch? I mean, Nessie would have seemed more "in place" than that! And then there was that ending. That horrible, horrible ending. When will directors learn that if they are going to kill someone they need to leave them that way? Just plain ridiculous!

Now, for some of the good stuff. The production qualities themselves were pretty good. The actors all did their best with what was given, the scenery was phenomanal, and the bi-plane (ala North by Northwest) was a nice little touch. It's really not a bad production, just not good. In the end, I think I'll be sticking to Hitchcock and the original novel, both masterpieces and pioneers in their fields.

Up Next: Sharpe's Challange

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