The Trains Scene, Flying Scotsman

After escaping his apartment, Hannay heads for the train, the Flying Scotsman.   In this clip, see Hannay is aboard the train in the station, and two men are in pursuit of him.  But they stop as the train is pulling away.  Again, no faces are shown, and the camera focuses on their legs as they come to an abrupt halt as the train moves away.   Are they police?  The evil agents?

Somehow, police get aboard the train at another stop, and Hannay enters a compartment with a woman and kisses her, then explains to her that she must help him and tells her his situation.   The police come into the car and ask her if she saw any strangers, and a moment passes and she turns in Hannay and says he is the one they are after.   Hannay climbs out the door of the train, hanging on tot he outside of the train enters in another compartment and starts running down the narrow halls to escape once again.   The woman will become an important player in the film.

This is the first of many train scenes (chases, fights, key meetings) we will see in spy movies to come!  (Just a few to think about: Secret Agent, From Russia With Love, Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy, Mission: Impossible 1,  Casino Royale,  Skyfall,  Mission: Impossible Fallout and others). Here, for the first time, is the original chase scene on the train – with tense moments, intense drama, and a man, Hannay, trying to escape from the officials who are after him, who think he killed the woman spy in his flat.

Just pay attention to the clanging of the wheels, the lighting on the train, the bridge,  the pursuit – all part of the blueprint for future spy movies.  Two gentlemen read a newspaper across from him on the train about the murder and how Hannay is wanted by the police.  The police are aboard the train after a stop and are looking for him.   He enters a compartment and kisses a strange woman, who turns him in – but later becomes an ally. The bridge in the movie is the Forth Bridge in Scotland, which opened in 1890, and it is still around and can be visited.  The foot chase on the train creates tension and distress.  Hannay, who is innocent, is trying to escape.

The chase is a foreshadowing of future chase scenes and fight scenes on trains as we will see in Spy Train, From Russia With Love, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy, Mission Impossible 1 and others.   His escape to the bridge, Forth Bridge, is electrifying and for the viewer, a relief.  The train is stopped on the bridge as the police look for him.  This somewhat foreshadows View to a Kill bridge scene in San Francisco for Roger Moore’s Bond.  Here, the police re-board the train thinking Hannay got back on, but Hannay did not.

Wandering now around Scotland, he stops and talks to a man, and asks if there are any newcomers around – he says yes an Englishman, a professor, and yes, he is near the town that the spy was to go to.  Hannay must stay the night at this farm, meets the man’s wife, who misses Glasgow where she is from.  He flatters her.  She seems to like him.  This scene is important because, as Hannay reads the newspaper he sees that the murderer has been traced to Scotland.  He knows they are on him.

The wife knows that he is the man they are after.  In fact, she awakes in the middle of the night, her husband notices, and she tells Hannay the police are coming and he better hurry.  The husband thinks they are making love but Hannay tells the husband the police are after him and pays the man 5 pounds.  But when the police come to the door, the wife knows her husband will turn Hannay in.   Margaret (she reveals her name) gives him her husband’s “Sunday” coat.  Her husband is a religious man, and his “Sunday” coat will play a significant role in saving Hannay’s life!

With police still in pursuit, he runs.  A small gyroplane/helicopter is looking for him too – ah, remember we will see more helicopter pursuits in spy films, like in From Russia With Love!  In the book, it is a plane that is heading toward him.  He runs and is running along a river  – the Forth Bridge transverses the estuary (Firth) of the River Forth – so this is probably the River Forth, not far from Alt-Na-Shellach (now we think it is called Achnashellach) – a large estate that he was looking for.

The Theater Finale

Back in London, Pamela goes to Scotland Yard – she had phoned from Scotland (unbeknownst to us or Hannay).   Scotland Yard is not believing her.   They want Hannay.  She goes to the theater.   They follow.  Hannay is in the theater too.   The tension is high, and the police are following her to get to Hannay.   Hannay sees someone up in a box, borrows specs and sees a hand with the top knuckle of the little finger missing!

Mr. Memory is now on stage!  Hannay figures it out – Mr. Memory has committed all the secret plans to memory and Hannay thinks Professor Jordan will get him out of the country after the show.  Hannay is cornered by the police and he shouts out to Mr. Memory, ”What are The 39 Steps?”  Mr. Memory starts to speak, “The 39 Steps is an organization of spies collecting information on behalf of the foreign office of . . .” and he is shot by Professor Jordan, who leaps from the box and eventually onto the stage (ala John Wilkes Booth) and is caught.  Hannay: “Mr. Memory – what is the secret formula  you were taking out of the country?” Mr. Memory:   “The first feature of the engine is….renders the engine completely silent.”   And he dies.  The secret is safe!  Hannay is innocent!

Again, this is considered by many to be the first spy movie.  And here we see an innocent man, not a spy, as the leading character in the movie, along with a strong female ally.   The photography is spectacular, the directing by Hitchcock flawless, and the impact on future spy movies is deep.   Of course, other Hitchcock movies will have similar themes – like North By Northwest, Notorious, and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

This is a great watch for all spy movie fans.   The entire movie is available on YouTube.  We at SpyMovieNavigator would highly recommend every spy movie fan to view this film.  It’s less than an hour and a half long and is must-see for spy movie fans.

From the book, “The 39 Steps,” by Mark Glancy – a British Film Guide – he indicates that in 1999,  The 39 Steps was voted 4th in the top 100 British Films of the 20th century – one of only three films made before 1940 to be on the top 100 list.

It was an instant success in Britain because the stars, Robert Donat and Madeleine Carrol were huge stars there, and Hitchcock was extremely popular.  It did well in Canada too, and in the US was successful too, but it took time since it was in competition with huge Hollywood films of 1936.

In the movie, The 39 Steps is the spy organization, and maybe the steps to build a secret engine, in the book, they are actually 39 steps leading down to a beach where the spies will meet – but it really does not matter to the story.   The film version, we think, is a lot more of a thriller than actual steps!

As the first spy movie, The 39 Steps is a must for all spy movie fans.   It is a fast-paced story, that holds your interest, and prepares the way for many more spy movies to come.


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