Third big-screen adaptation of John Buchan's classic novel. Mining engineer Richard Hannay (Robert Powell) is on a brief visit to England when his neighbour Colonel Scudder (John Mills) warns him that foreign 'sleeper' agents are at work, planning to pre-empt global war by murdering a foreign dignitary. When Scudder is murdered by the agents Hannay finds himself under suspicion by the police, and goes on the run in a bid to both prove his own innocence and expose the enemy spies.
It's not the 1935 Hitchcock classic, but this sturdy 1978 adaptation of John Buchan's The Thirty Nine Steps is still a rollicking good adventure. In keeping with the Boys' Own derring-do of the story (set in Edwardian London and the Scottish Highlands), the movie maintains a brisk pace that's interrupted only for tea or cocktails. Robert Powell is Richard Hannay, the man who unwittingly becomes embroiled in a dastardly Prussian plot to assassinate the Greek Prime Minister. Framed for murder, Hannay must flee to Scotland and attempt to clear his name whilst outwitting the prune-faced Prussian agents. Among all the deftly choreographed action sequences and careful period settings there's a strong vein of humour in the film, and if it wasn't for the numerous murders there would be little reason for PG certification. The grand dénouement comes with the realisation that the predicted time for the assassination is linked to Big Ben; unlike the earlier movie this version climaxes memorably with Powell hanging from the clock's minute hand. It might not be Hitchcock behind the lens, but it's still jolly good fun. --Joan Byrne
The 39 Steps  is a thrilling spy mystery based on John Buchan's classic novel, which was first adapted for film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935. Like its predecessors, Don Sharp's 1978 film tells the story of an innocent man, Richard Hannay (Robert Powell), who struggles to prove he is not guilty of committing the murder for which he is being held accountable. Richard got much more than he bargained for when he brought home a mysterious woman, who later confessed to being a British agent on the hot trail of a dangerous spy ring. After the woman is killed in Richard's apartment, he immediately finds himself on the run, burdened with the charge for her murder and the dangerous knowledge of her clandestine mission.