[[quoteright:190:http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/the39steps_9818.jpg]]

What are the thirty-nine steps? A question that almost every adaptation answers differently.

John Buchan was one of the world's first spy novelists, and did a similar job for the genre as Creator/JRRTolkien did for fantasy. ''The Thirty-Nine Steps'' is his most famous work, published in 1915 and set during the run-up to WorldWarOne. It was a huge popular success and owed much to its 1903 predecessor, Erskine Childers' ''The Riddle Of The Sands'', and the adventure stories of Creator/HRiderHaggard. Buchan began his writing career as a journalist, but enlisted at the start of the First World War, working away from the front lines producing propaganda for the War Office. His experiences of the war, interwoven with a strong sense of national pride, a love of Africa and a belief in the strength of the British character, are themes in many of his novels.

Unfortunately in later years he has not enjoyed similar popularity, though according to TheOtherWiki his works have been seeing a resurgence in more recent times.

Adapted four times for film, once for TV, once for the stage, and at least once for radio.

(NB: The book is ''The Thirty-Nine Steps''. The 1978 film is ''The Thirty Nine Steps''. The other adaptations are ''The 39 Steps''.)
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'''The original novel'''

It's May 1914. Richard Hannay has just returned to London from Rhodesia. A man called Scudder meets him and tells him the tall tale of an international conspiracy determined to start a war. The conspirators are on Scudder's track and his only hope is to stage his own suicide and lie low for a while. Hannay agrees to hide Scudder in his London flat, but a few days later Scudder is murdered there by enemy agents and Hannay realizes he will be accused of the crime. Hunted by both policemen and enemy spies, Hannay takes to the Scottish moors in a desperate bid to stay one step ahead of the enemy until he can thwart their evil plans.

In this original version, the 39 steps are [[spoiler: steps down to the sea which identify a villa along a stretch of the Kent coast where the final confrontation with the German agents takes place]].


[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder: The sequels are: ]]

* ''Greenmantle'': Hannay and four friends make their way through wartime Europe to Turkey, searching for the truth behind the rumours of a German secret weapon that could throw the entire Muslim world into the war on the Germans' side. Sometimes considered to be one of the best books Buchan ever wrote; Hitchcock wanted to film it for years but never got around to it.
* ''Mr Standfast'': An old enemy reappears and in the last pivotal days of WorldWarOne on the Western Front, Hannay wages a battle of wits. ''Finally'' introduces a LoveInterest (she's worth the wait).
* ''The Three Hostages'': With WorldWarOne over, Sir Richard and Lady Hannay are enjoying a quiet life in the country, but when three young people are kidnapped and a mind-controlling genius starts [[CriminalMindGames leaving cryptic clues behind]], the pair of former spy-hunters have to go back to work.
* ''The Island of Sheep'': Set roughly fourteen years after ''The Three Hostages''. Hannay and his son Peter John Hannay have to protect an old friend from fortune-hunters.
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!!This book and its sequels contain examples of:
* BadassNormal: Compared to the villains and even some of the good guys--including the LoveInterest--Hannay's intelligence is average, but he takes down world-ruling geniuses simply by [[{{Determinator}} refusing to give up]].
* TheBaroness: Hilda von Einem from ''Greenmantle''.
* BerserkButton: Hannay has several. Bribe him, bully him, or turn traitor, and you'll see. Or don't. It never ends well.
* BewareTheNiceOnes: Mary Hannay in ''The Three Hostages''
* BondVillainStupidity: In ''Mr Standfast''. Apparently Creator/IanFleming was a fan of Buchan's. And how it shows. [[spoiler: If you're going to pinion the hero in a DeathTrap and declare that you have a VillainousCrush on his girlfriend, as an absolute minimum you should take his gun away before you head off leaving him completely unguarded. Otherwise you only have yourself to blame when he shoots himself free and turns up at the denouement.]]
* BittersweetEnding: ''Mr Standfast''
* CaptainCrash: Almost every car that Richard Hannay gets into ends up either careering off the road or pre-emptively breaking down.
* ChasteHero: Beyond the obvious lack of time for philandering in the first couple of books, Hannay is till his marriage ''terribly'' shy around women.
* TheChessmaster: John Blenkiron among others.
* ChestOfMedals: Hannay's is alluded to in ''Mr Standfast''--especially funny if you've ever read [[Literature/TheBible Exodus28:15ff]].
--> They gave me my battalion before the Somme, and I came out of that weary battle after the first big September fighting with a crack in my head and a D.S.O. I had received a C.B. for the Erzerum business, so what with these and my Matabele and South African medals and the Legion of Honour, I had a chest like the High Priest's breastplate.
* ClearMyName: ''The Thirty-Nine Steps'' and ''Mr Standfast''
* ConspiracyTheory: One involving vengeful Jewish financiers in the first book, [[spoiler:but this is later jossed in-universe when it turns out that the man who told this to Hannay wasn't 100% sure if he could trust Hannay with his findings on the ''real'' conspiracy (which didn't involve Jewish people at all) and instead just made something up using the prevailing bigotry of the time]].
* ContrivedCoincidence: The series is known for its many improbable coincidences.
** Out of the entire housing stock of Scotland, Hannay just happens to enter the house being rented by the spy ringleaders. [[spoiler:And the room they lock him in just happens to have explosives in the cupboard.]]
** In ''Mr Standfast'' the remote and inaccessible Scottish cave Hannay is staking out [[spoiler:is visited on that very evening by a possible antagonist from earlier in the book. He turns out to be a complete innocent who likes mountain climbing and just happens to be in the area]].
* CoolOldGuy: Peter Pienaar, who taught FourStarBadass Hannay most of what he knows about disguise, spying, and veldtcraft. Will calmly walk into occupied Germany or across No Man's Land if necessary. Especially good at breaking out of prison, knocking you out with a well-aimed tea-tray, snuffing the lights in a public-house with a revolver, or rescuing your kidnapped LoveInterest. Eventually discovers his life's calling as an elderly RAF air ace.
* CriminalMindGames: In ''The Three Hostages''
* DeliberateValuesDissonance: Scudder presents the conspiracy as being masterminded by the Jews, but it's later revealed that this is a flight of fancy based on his own prejudices.
* {{Determinator}}: Probably Richard Hannay's defining character trait as well as his preferred modus operandi, both mental and physical--he will keep running long after anyone else would have lain down and died from exhaustion, exposure, injuries, or being blown up.
* EarnYourHappyEnding: In ''Mr Standfast''.
* FakeDefector: Various characters in ''Greenmantle''
* FiveManBand:
** The Hero: Richard Hannay
** The Lancer: Peter Pienaar
** The Smart Guy: Sandy Arbuthnot, John S. Blenkiron
** The Big Guy: Blenkiron, Geordie Hamilton
** The Chick: Mary Lamington
* FourStarBadass: Hannay's rapid promotion to Major-General is entirely due to him being one determined BadAss.
* GentlemanAdventurer: ''The Thirty-Nine Steps'' takes place after Hannay has retired from a busy and dangerous life as a mining engineer in Africa; he does have the leisure to pick up Scudder's adventure, but rather [[JumpedAtTheCall jumps at the opportunity]] because the idleness is driving him crazy. Then it's averted in the sequels, with Hannay becoming a hard-working Army officer.
* GentlemanSnarker: Richard Hannay may be something of an idealist, but like all Britons he is perfectly capable of a few zingers.
--> He was a man of remarkable qualities, which would have brought him to the highest distinction in the Stone Age.
* GoodOldFisticuffs
* GoSeduceMyArchnemesis: Mary has to play along with the bad guy wooing her in ''Mr Standfast''.
* HappilyMarried: ''The Three Hostages'', ''The Island of Sheep''
* HeroicRROD: Happens around once per book. That's what happens when you're a {{Determinator}} not MadeOfIron.
* HeroicSacrifice: There's at least two in ''Mr Standfast''
* HeroicSelfDeprecation: Hannay would like you to think that he's a [[CowardlyLion 'cunning coward']], despite all the crazy things he's done.
--> I'm not in this show for honor and glory, though. I want to do the best I can, but I wish to Heaven it was over. All I think of is coming out of it with a whole skin.
* HonorBeforeReason: With a lampshade! [[BerserkButton Offer Richard Hannay a bribe]] so he'll look the other way while you make your country pay twice for the munitions it's going to use to bomb the hell out of the Anzacs at Gallipoli, and he'll make damn sure you don't get away with it... Oh wait, poor Anzacs. Especially impressive because it means Hannay's disguise as barge foreman is working so well he's even convinced himself he's working for the Germans!
* HospitalHottie: Again, Mary
* HumbleHero: Richard Hannay would like you to believe that he's a coward who only does awesome things when his temper gets the better of him. To be fair, he's actually pretty convincing.
* [[ICantBelieveAGuyLikeYouWouldNoticeMe I Can't Believe A Girl Like You Would Notice Me!]]
* IWantMyBelovedToBeHappy: ''Mr Standfast''
* ImDyingPleaseTakeMyMacGuffin: Scudder
* JamesBondage: ''Mr Standfast''. [[spoiler: From which he extracts himself with a combination of astronomy, trajectories, brute strength and really good shooting.]]
* KarmicDeath: [[spoiler: Medina]] in ''The Three Hostages'', [[spoiler: who would have survived if he hadn't just disabled Hannay, the one man able to save him.]]
* LadyOfAdventure: Mary, when duty calls.
* LockingMacGyverInTheStoreCupboard: Locking a former mining engineer in a basement that happens to contain high explosives wasn't the best plan.
* MajorlyAwesome: Hannay, during ''Greenmantle''.
* MasterOfDisguise: The BigBad of ''Mr Standfast'' and Sandy Arbuthnot in ''Greenmantle'' and ''The Three Hostages''. To a lesser extent, Hannay and his friend Peter Pienaar in ''Greenmantle''.
* MayDecemberRomance: Hannay and Mary.
* MistakenForCheating: Utterly, totally averted in ''The Three Hostages''
* NiceGuy: Richard Hannay is a rare protagonist example.
* NoCelebritiesWereHarmed: Several, but especially Karolides (for Franz Ferdinand) and Sandy Arbuthnot (for [[LawrenceOfArabia T.E. Lawrence]]).
* NoHoldsBarredBeatdown: In ''Greenmantle'' Hannay begins to unload one of these on Stumm. Averted in that his UnstoppableRage evaporates once the fight is won:
--> I had no particular ill-will left against Stumm. He was a man of remarkable qualities, which would have brought him to the highest distinction in the Stone Age.
* OfficerAndAGentleman
* PaperThinDisguise: Justified good and proper. Taking on a new ''personality'' is more effective than new clothes. The only problem is that to successfully pose as [[ObfuscatingStupidity harmless idiots]] the characters run the risk of BecomingTheMask and losing their intellectual edge!
* ProperlyParanoid: Even the [[ReasonableAuthorityFigure Reasonable Authority Figures]] find it difficult to believe Hannay's wild story in ''The Thirty-Nine Steps''.
* RageBreakingPoint: In ''Greenmantle'', Hannay's disguise as a backveldt Boer is given away when Stumm's bullying, intimidation, and insults finally push him beyond this.
* RippedFromTheHeadlines: Karolides (whose real world equivalent is Franz Ferdinand) and real life figures Kaiser Wilhelm and Ismail Enver all make appearances.
* SlidingScaleOfIdealismVersusCynicism: Definitely on the Idealist end of the scale owing to Buchan's convictions about the war. However his idealism need not be mistaken for ignorance or shallowness. The books treat Germans sympathetically (including the Kaiser) and Buchan witnessed trench warfare firsthand as a newspaper correspondent.
* TheSoCalledCoward: Lancelot Wake is a sensitive artistic pacifist unable to handle himself in a fight--so naturally Hannay views him with contempt. Turns out he's a pacifist for truly idealistic reasons and is quite possibly the bravest person in the book.
* SpyFiction: Basically invented the trope; the Beer and Martini elements both have roots here.
* TheSpymaster: Sir Walter Bullivant, John Blenkiron and Mary Lamington for the allied cause, and [[spoiler:Moxon Ivery alias der Graf von Schwabing]] for the Germans.
* SternChase: It's just not a Buchan novel if at some point there isn't an awesome SternChase.
* TheyLookJustLikeEveryoneElse: Those two young men playing lawn tennis? Members of a sinister international conspiracy. That airplane in the sky? Just sent someone to kill you. That nice old buffer? Evil incarnate. No wonder even Hannay begins to wonder if he's paranoid.
* ThisIsNoTimeToPanic: Repeatedly invoked as Hannay finds himself trapped, alone, and helpless.
* UnstoppableRage: Hannay can be pushed into this with severe bullying, as Stumm finds out in ''Greenmantle''.
* WorldWarOne: ''The Thirty-nine Steps'' takes place in the run-up to the war, and both ''Greenmantle'' and ''Mr Standfast'' are set during the war.

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'''The 1935 Creator/AlfredHitchcock film'''

A loose adaptation of the book, moving the setting to the 1930s, turning Hannay into a Canadian (a possible nod to original author Buchan being made Governor-General of Canada in 1935), Scudder into a female spy of Central European origin and changing the nature of the secrets (a formula for a silent aircraft engine). Starring Robert Donnat, it also adds a love interest to the story. In this version the 39 steps are a ring of foreign spies intent on stealing military secrets.

This is the best known version.

!!!This film contains examples of:
* AdaptationDistillation - Hitchcock addressed the biggest flaw of the novel's plot: In the novel Hannay heads to the Scottish countryside to hide from both the police and the foreign agents pursuing him in London, and out of sheer bad luck walks right into his enemy's headquarters. The film gives a reason why Hannay heads right to the enemy's stronghold.
* AlmostDeadGuy: Annabella makes it back to Richard's room and manages to tell him to run before keeling over with a knife in her back.
* AnonymousRinger: The unnamed country is pretty clearly meant to be Germany.
* ArcNumber: The numbers 3 and 5 appear quite frequently. A couple examples include the numbers 5 and 10 (5 x 2) appearing in the corners of the film, the title being "39" (3 and 3 x 9, or 3 x 13), and the scenes being roughly 3 - 5 minutes in length. The significance is not present in the film itself, but a theme of bread and fish is seen throughout the film as an alleged reference to The Bible, where Jesus Christ takes 3 fish and loaves of bread to feed 5,000 people.
* BrandishmentBluff: Richard tells Pamela that the tobacco pipe in his coat pocket is a gun.
* ChainedHeat: Only for a couple of scenes, though. Pamela and Richard have been handcuffed together by the bad guys, but manage to escape. They make their way to a hotel, where they have to conceal the fact that they are cuffed to each other. Pamela manages to work her smaller hand out of the cuffs that night.
* ChekhovsGunman / ChekhovsSkill: Mr. Memory is performing at the vaudeville hall where Richard meets Annabella in the opening scene. It seems like an espionage version of MeetCute. Then in the last scene Mr. Memory pops up again, and Richard realizes that Memory is working for the 39 Steps and has memorized the secret information.
* ClearMyName: Richard has to prove he didn't murder Annabella.
* CreatorCameo: As required in an Alfred Hitchcock film. Here he is seen taking out a cigarette and throwing the empty pack on the ground as Richard and Annabella board a bus.
* DeadpanSnarker: Hannay, like when Pamela refuses to believe he's innocent, so he instead invents a whole criminal career.
* DreamMelody: Richard can't get a jingle out of his head. He realizes at the end that it's Mr. Memory's stage music.
* FakeOutMakeOut: Subverted. The police are hunting for Richard on the train. He dives into Pamela's cabin and kisses her in an effort to hide his face. She then turns him in.
* HumanHardDrive: How the 39 Steps are getting the information out of the country, by having Mr. Memory memorize it.
* LeaningOnTheFourthWall: Richard's reaction to Annabella's tale of espionage.
--> "A beautiful mysterious woman pursued by a gunman? Sounds like a spy story."
* MacGuffin: In true Hitchcock fashion, it's something that isn't really explained very much--"a secret vital to your air defense", apparently a silent plane engine.
* MatchCut: From a cleaning lady screaming after finding Annabella's corpse to a train whistle's shriek.
* MistakenForSpecialGuest / PushedInFrontOfTheAudience: Richard, running from the cops, dives into a building. He winds up on the stage at a political rally, where he's mistaken for the guest speaker. He gives a RousingSpeech.
* OohMeAccentsSlipping: Robert Donat starts out trying to sound Canadian. By the end, not so much.
* PocketProtector: Hannay is shot square in the chest by the bad guy, but he's saved by the Bible that was in his coat's pocket.
* ScienceMarchesOn: The secret being smuggled out is implied to be a silent bomber engine, useful at a time when the only means of detecting attacking bombers was [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acoustic_location acoustic location]]. As it happened though there really ''was'' a secret being protected at the time that would make such an invention obsolete -- radar.
* SmithicalMarriage: Pamela and Richard have to pretend they are married to get a room in an inn.
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'''The 1959 film'''

Colour remake of the Hitchcock film, starring Kenneth More, moving the setting to the 1950s and changing the secrets to [[spoiler:plans for a British ballistic missile]]. Nobody really remembers this one. In this version, the 39 steps [[spoiler:are again a ring of foreign spies intent on stealing military secrets]].

This film contains examples of:
* TheCameo (a lot of them)
* [[spoiler: UltimateDefenceOfTheRealm]]
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'''The 1978 film'''

A more faithful adaptation of the novel, moving the setting back to 1914. This one is best remembered for Robert Powell, playing Hannay, hanging off the minute hand of the clock on [[ClockTower St. Stephen's Tower]] (aka Big Ben). Also has a love interest. The 39 steps are [[spoiler: a flight of stairs in the clock tower of the palace of Westminster, better known as 'Big Ben' (this name actually refers to the bell in the tower rather than the tower itself)]].

Inspired a TV series, ''Hannay'', also starring Robert Powell in adventures not based on any of Buchan's other novels.
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'''The 2006 play'''

A four-actor comedic theatrical adaptation of the Hitchcock film, which has been shown in the West End and Broadway. To give an idea of the style, the Forth Bridge train is a model train on a track at the back of the stage and pretty much everyone plays at least a dozen roles. In this version, the 39 steps [[spoiler:are again a ring of foreign spies intent on stealing military secrets]].

!!!This play contains:

* BreakingTheFourthWall: [[{{NoFourthWall}} All. The. Time.]]
* IdiotBall: The stile scene.
* LoadsAndLoadsOfRoles: Four actors play every role in the movie, sometimes having to play two characters in the same scene. Traditionally it's one actor for the main character, one actress for all the attractive women, and two other actors for ''everything else''. [[spoiler: Scenery not excluded.]]
* ShoutOut: To Film/NorthByNorthwest, The Alfred Hitchcock Show, and pretty much every other Creator/AlfredHitchcock work.
** "Through the door?" No! Through the RearWindow!!"
** Lampshaded in one instance when two characters come to a ladder and the woman won't go up. "Why no- oh, [[CollectiveGroan don't tell me]]. ''[[spoiler: Film/{{Vertigo}}.]]''"
* ThoseTwoGuys: Because there are only two guys other than Hannay, this pops up a lot. Examples include the underwear salesmen, the police officers, the heavies, the Sheriff and Chief Inspector, Dunwoody and McQuarrie, and Compere and Mr. Memory.
* UglyGuyHotWife: Hannay initially mistakes the Scottish farmer's wife for his ''daughter''.
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'''The 2008 [[MadeForTVMovie TV Movie]]'''

For the 2008 Christmas season, TheBBC did another adaptation of the book, but added another love interest and moved the setting very slightly forward (it's now June 1914). The 39 steps are [[spoiler:steps leading down to a Scottish loch]].

Rupert Penry-Jones (Adam Carter in ''{{Spooks}}'') plays Hannay in this one.

!!!This [[MadeForTVMovie TV Movie]] contains examples of:
* [[spoiler: DisneyDeath: Victoria]]
* {{Homage}}: The scene with the plane is a homage to that other Creator/AlfredHitchcock classic ''Film/NorthByNorthWest'', even though it's...
* JustPlaneWrong: Hannay is chased by an aircraft not in service in 1914
* ShirtlessScene: It's got [[MrFanservice Rupert Penry-Jones]] in it, what do you expect?
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