The Thirty Nine Steps (1978)

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Released 15-Jun-2010

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Featurette-On Location (with Robert Powell)
Theatrical Trailer
Gallery-Stills and Publicity
Gallery-Photo-Behind the Scenes
Gallery-Original Brochure
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1978
Running Time 98:46 (Case: 102)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Don Sharp

Madman Entertainment
Starring Robert Powell
David Warner
Eric Porter
Karen Dotrice
John Mills
George Baker
Ronald Pickup
Donald Pickering
Timothy West
Miles Anderson
Andrew Keir
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $14.95 Music Ed Welch

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes

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Plot Synopsis

     In 1914 with Europe on the brink of war, retired British Secret Service agent Colonel Scudder (John Mills) discovers a plot by Prussian “sleepers” in England and gatherings the evidence in his notebook. Lead by British traitor Sir Edmund Appleton (David Warner) (this is not a plot spoiler – we know in the first 3 minutes Appleton’s true colours), it seems the Prussians intend to assassinate the Greek Prime Minister as he addresses a joint sitting of the British Parliament, thus destabilising the Balkans, and to gain intelligence about the British High Seas Fleet that will affect its ability to be ready for war. However, no-one in British Intelligence believes Scudder. Sought by the Prussians, Scudder hides in the apartment of Richard Hannay (Richard Powell), a mining engineer recently returned from South Africa. When Scudder is murdered, Hannay is the chief suspect of Chief Superintendent Lomas (Eric Porter). On the run in Scotland, Hannay finds unexpected help from David Hamilton (Miles Anderson) and his fiancé Alex Mackenzie (Karen Dotrice). Hunted by both the police and the Prussians, Hannay must try to recover Scudder’s notebook to clear his name and to decipher the secret of the 39 steps, which just might prevent an assassination and the start of a Great World War.

     In The Thirty-Nine Steps published in 1915, John Buchan created a tale that has struck a cord with film makers. There have been at least four film versions, including Hitchcock’s 1935 film staring Robert Donat, a 1959 version starting Kenneth Moore and a 2008 made for TV version shown recently on the ABC. There is also a version in pre-production due in 2011 to be directed by Robert Towne, better known as a writer of such films as Chinatown (1974) and Mission Impossible (1996). This 1978 version, while a bit old fashioned, is still quite fun. It moves along well, there are some funny sequences, the Scottish scenery, full of mists and barren moorland, is beautiful, and there is a definite romance in seeing steam trains, vintage cars and a mono-winged aircraft in action. On the other hand, the acting for the most part, especially from Richard Powell, Karen Dotrice and David Warner, is quite bland and the direction by Don Sharp indifferent. The result is that the film lacks sparkle and never quite gets to the excitement level it should. However, John Mills and Eric Porter are better and the climax on the face of Big Ben is well worth the wait.

     This 1978 version of The Thirty-Nine Steps is a reasonably entertaining, fast paced thriller; a bit old fashioned perhaps, but with beautiful scenery, vintage machinery, steam trains and a climax on the face of Big Ben that is well worth the wait.

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Transfer Quality


     The Thirty-Nine Steps is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, close to the original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

     This is an acceptable print, although not great. Sharpness is not particularly good, with some scenes quite fuzzy while shadow detail is indifferent in some scenes. However blacks are OK and colours natural but flat, although occasionally contract and shin tones vary. There is mild grain, some edge enhancement but I saw no film artefacts.

     There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The original soundtrack for the film was mono and this is what we get here, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 224 Kbps that is effective. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, and the effects work well. Some music did end up in my surround speakers, although the sub woofer was silent..

     The music by Ed Welch was OK without being memorable.

     Lip synchronisation is fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


On Location (with Robert Powell) (13:02)

     Actor Robert Powell takes a superficial look at some of the locations used in the three film versions (to that date) of The Thirty Nine Steps. Some footage from the earlier films is included.

Theatrical Trailer (2:33)

Stills and Publicity

     88 mostly B&W stills from the production. No music, the frames advance automatically.

Behind the Scenes

     40 B&W behind the scenes stills. No music, the frames advance automatically.

Original Brochure

     17 B&W stills covering publicity, premier tickets, film synopsis and brochure. No music, the frames advance automatically.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region 2 UK version seems similar to our Region 4. There does not appear to be a Region 1 release. No reason to go beyond our version at this low price.


This 1978 version of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps is not as exciting as it should be but is nevertheless fun. The video is not great but is acceptable and the audio does what is required. The extras are OK, and they are probably more than one would expect from a low price DVD, so are to be applauded for that.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Friday, July 16, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

Other Reviews NONE
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On Location extra - REPLY POSTED