THE THIRTY NINE STEPS (1978)

GB
1978
1hr 42mins
Dir: Don Sharp
Starring: Robert Powell and Karen Dotrice

A further remake of the famous Buchan thriller

This film is generally regarded as the closest to the book, even sharing its full title and not the number 39 instead. It is also set during the same time as the novel was, pre-Great War, but it still bears little resemblance to Buchan’s original story. The railway scenes are also quite different as it was clearly no longer possible to use the Forth Bridge so Rank used the Victoria Bridge on the Severn Valley Railway instead. As elegant as it is, it’s not quite the real thing. None the less, despite the obvious inaccuracies regarding the railway journey the scenes in the film are actually pretty good, and it has the most in the way of railway footage of the three listed here. Robert Powell boards a train in London at what is supposed to be St Pancras station, but what is in fact a heavily dressed up Marylebone. The departing train though was filmed on the Severn Valley Railway and as Powell walks down the corridor GWR coaches are visible through the window. All other railway scenes used the preserved line, and there are some really nice run-bys. The train itself used BR Ivatt Class 2MT 2-6-0 No.46443, painted all-over black and numbered 644, hauling five coaches of the line’s LMS maroon running rake with ‘MIDLAND’ legends on their sides and mock BR-style ‘First Class’ totem stickers in some of the windows (Open third No.27218, ‘Porthole’ design Corridor Composite No.24617, and ‘Porthole’ design Brake Third Corridor No.26986 are all identifiable). Shots of the train en route include several passing through the countryside and one of it crossing the five-arch Oldbury Viaduct near Bridgnorth. The main station scene on the line was filmed at Highley and there are also interesting shots of a fast run through both Arley and Bewdley stations, fast runs are rare on preserved lines. The film is set in 1914 and the train is highly anachronistic. The loco was built at Crewe in 1950 and the earliest coaches of the rake were not built until 1945! Lastly, Robert Powell’s return journey from Scotland uses a stock shot of a night express hauled by a rebuilt ‘Royal Scot’ Class 4-6-0 and a brief glimpse of a drivers-eye view on the approach to a tunnel at dusk. The shot of the ‘Royal Scot’ is that which has also appeared in The Set Up, Heavens Above! and From Russia with Love (all 1963), Night Train to Paris (1964), and Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), whilst a shot of the Ivatt passing through Arley reappears in the 1980 movie The Elephant Man (qv), only in black and white.

This, believe it or not, is Marylebone. Although playing the part of St. Pancras the huge ‘Midland Railway’ signs seem a bit heavy handed and rather out of place. I have yet to see a station more heavily dressed up than this.
Another view of Marylebone’s transformation
The film features many decent shots of the train, hauled by BR Ivatt Class 2MT 2-6-0 No.46443, painted all-over black with the only embellishment being its white cabside number 644. Here we see it passing through the countryside.
And crossing Oldbury Viaduct
Passing in close up
Before being captured crossing a shallow embankment
No 46443 speeds through Arley station. This shot was reused two years later in the 1980 film The Elephant Man (qv), but in black and white.
Before speeding through Bewdley station in the rain. This shot was taken from the station footbridge.
A delightful period scene at Highley station on the Severn Valley Railway. The ‘MIDLAND’ branding on the coaching stock isn’t exactly subtle and could surely have been less obtrusive.
The excellent railway shots continue with this really good close up view of ‘644’ pulling away from Highley
From a similar angle No.644 runs on to the Victoria Bridge across the Severn
No.644 is now at a stand
The train on the bridge
The train moves off after its enforced stop and without Robert Powell aboard
This shot has been included as it ties in with the previous two films quite nicely. Robert Powell can be seen making his escape.
Later in the film we see this stock shot of a ‘Royal Scot’, thought to be No.46157 The Royal Artilleryman. This shot first appeared in The Set Up, followed by Heavens Above! (both in black and white) then From Russia with Love ( all 1963). After this it appeared in Night Train to Paris (1964 in black and white), and Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965). However, for The Thirty Nine Steps the shot has inexplicably been reversed!!!
The final railway shot is this darkened glimpse of the approach to a tunnel. Among the shadows on the right is another pair of tracks, which means this is almost certainly a pair of twin track tunnels on the East Coast main line. Could this therefore be a shot taken for the 1971 movie Get Carter?