The Thirty Nine Steps (1978)

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Country: United Kingdom
Director: Don Sharp
Starring: Robert Powell, David Warner, John Mills, Eric Porter, Karen Dotrice, George Baker, William Squire, Timothy West
Music:Ed Welch
Based on the novel by John Buchan

Because Alfred Hitchcock’s version of The 39 Steps is considered one of the greatest movies of all time – a point of view that I fully concur with, this version of The Thirty Nine Steps is often written off as rubbish, or as an un-necessary remake. Nothing could be further from the truth. Firstly, it is not rubbish – it’s actually a finely crafted thriller that had me riveted from beginning to end. And secondly, it is not a remake. Hitchcock didn’t adhere too closely to John Buchan’s novel. This film, while it too takes its artistic liberties, is a far more faithful rendering of Buchan’s novel.

The film opens with a brief message on the screen. It says, ‘Early in 1914 a coded cable was sent from a European power to a house in West London. Decoded it read: LET THE SLEEPERS AWAKE’.

In London three men are meeting on a boat on the Thames. One man is Scudder (John Mills) and he is a secret agents. He has gathered information that suggests that a political leader in the Balkans is about to be assassinated. This assassination is only the tip of the tentacle, as this murder is intended as a prelude to war. The two men that Scudder is reporting to are Lord Harkness (William Squire) and Sir Hugh Portan (Timothy West). Both men agree that war is coming but not for some time. They dismiss Scudder’s theories as wild and unsubstantiated.

On the shore, watching discreetly is Sir Edmund Appleton (David Warner). Appleton, despite his upper class veneer is actually a Prussian spy. Gathered around he has assembeled a band of cronies who have to silence Scudder. And now that he has told Harkness and Portan they are targets too. As Scudder’s meeting with Harkness and Portan comes to end, he leaves the boat. Waiting for him is one of Appleton’s assassin’s but he cannot take a clean shot due to a particularly thick pea-soup fog.

Appleton decides to take care of Harkness personally and meets him as he walks home that evening. As they walk, Appleton pulls a knife from his cane and stabs Harkness.

39Steps1The next day, Scudder reads about Harkness’ death in the newspaper and rushes to warn Portan, but he only gets close enough to witness his assassination. The unusual thing about the killing, is the second before Portan was shot, Appleton grabs his arm, holding him in place. Scudder sees Appleton and realises he is behind the plot. Scudder scurries off into the crowd and heads back to his apartment.

Appleton is no fool and sends two men to Scudders apartment and they arrive as Scudder is trying to leave. With the stairs blocked and no way to go down, he chooses to go up and knock on the door of the gentleman upstairs. This gentleman happens to be Richard Hannay (Robert Powell). Scudder tells his story and Hannay gives him sanctuary for the night.

The following morning, Hannay has to leave Scudder. Hannay is on his way to South Africa and has a train to catch. He leaves Scudder in his apartment, but it doesn’t take long for the Prussian agents to work out where he has been hiding. They come for him. Scudder escapes via the fire escape window and makes his way to the train station. As he makes his way onto the crowded platform, he spots Hannay and calls to him. Hannay turns and comes to meet him, but in the few metres between then, one of the Prussian agents catches up to Scudder and sticks a knife in his back. Scudder falls forward into Hannay’s arms. As he falls he tries to pass over a diary with important information about the assassination plot, but the diary falls to the ground and then is unwittingly kicked under a set of scales by a passer-by.

Hannay tends to Scudder and as he turns him over, notices the knife in his back. That too, is when the bystanders on the train platform notice that Scudder is dead. All they see is Hannay standing over a dead man with a knife in his back. They falsely believe that Hannay is the murderer. It’s not an isolated view either. Hannay is taken into police custody, and without the diary as evidence, he is quickly tried and sentenced for murder. His penalty is to be hung by the neck until dead.

As Hannay is being transported from the court, Appleton’s Prussian agents rescue him at gunpoint and spirit him away to Appleton’s palatial headquarters. Appleton enquires about the whereabouts of Scudder’s diary. Hannay claims to have no knowledge of the diary. Appleton almost believes him, but still has him locked away. But he makes it rather easy for Hannay to escape. Hannay needs Scudder’s diary to prove his innocence, so Appleton assume that if Hannay were free, he would search for the diary.

In time, Hannay does escape, and Appleton has his men discreetly follow Hannay who returns to the train station and starts searching high and low for the missing diary. From there on it begins to fall into line with other filmic incarnations of the tale – that is, until the climax, which I won’t spoil here – but the film posters tend to give a lot away.

The Thirty Nine Steps is a brilliant old-fashioned thriller. Sure the politics at the start are a little confusing but they don’t really matter. This is first and foremost a chase film, and this film provides one hell of a chase, culminating in a spectacular climax with Richard Hannay dangling from one of the hands of the Big Ben clock face. This film may not have the same reputation as Alfred Hitchcock’s version, but it is still a film well worth investing your time in.

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The Thirty Nine Steps (1978)

Covert Ops: Tear Down the Wall

Gemini

Last week I talked briefly about a new project from Pro Se Productions called Covert Ops: Gemini, which is fashioned on the sixties and seventies TV series, Mission Impossible. The anthology contains three stories, The Havana Protocol, by J. Walt Layne – Romanoff and Juliet, by Tim Lasiuta – and “Tear Down This Wall!” by Wesley Smith.

Recently, I asked Smith about how he approached his contribution to the project.

CovertOpsGeminiIt’s difficult to explain why I approached this project in the way that I did. Coming up with ideas from scratch is difficult for me. There are infinite directions in which to go, and I can never choose just one. Throwing in random elements requires more creativity. Tell me to write any kind of story that I want and I’ll lock up. But if you tell me to write a western that includes the USS Constellation, Jefferson City, Missouri and the Monkees… Now that’s a challenge.

That’s how I started “Tear Down This Wall!” I pulled out 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and landed on the entry for The Brandenburg Gate. If my finger had fallen on The Blarney Stone or the Drakensberg Mountains, the story would be unrecognizably different.

Once I saw the picture of the Brandenburg Gate, I knew that the story I would write would be named “Tear Down This Wall!” (taken from Ronald Reagan’s speech in the shadow of the Berlin Wall itself) and that the climax would be on top of the gate itself. The basic plot came together from there.

Outside of the basic plot, what was eventually published beared almost no resemblance to the story I had intended to write. Since I had never attempted a 10,000 word story before, I grossly over-plotted it. My original vision could easily have been 50,000-60,000 words longer. It included a team twice the size of the one that saw publication, had subplots about human trafficking and blackmail. Like William Goldman’s / S. Morgenstern’s classic The Princess Bride, what you read in “Tear Down This Wall!” is truly the good parts version.

One of the things I enjoy most when writing is when the characters take the story in an unexpected direction. Furman Valero was like that. Before I started writing the scene where he was introduced, he was simply “Thug #1.” Again, I chose his name from a couple names list websites and was immediately had vision of who Valero would be: a brooding, somber, former Mexican wrestler who had fallen on hard times and was trapped in Germany with no easy way out. And instead of being a minor character, he suddenly became the emotional center of the story.

Things came quickly after that. I already had the climax of the story, but I wanted scenes worthy of an action movie. Since “Tear Down This Wall!” is set in Germany, a car chase on the Autobahn was required, and the fight in the meat packing plant was built around a couple specific images that came to me.

I am extremely proud of “Tear Down This Wall!” I always try to create something I’d enjoy reading. “Tear Down This Wall!” certainly succeeds on that level. This may sound corny, but if the readers enjoy “Tear Down This Wall” half as much as I enjoyed writing it, I’ll be happy.

Wesley Smith started creating stories when he was five,and hasn’t stopped since. He has lived in St. Louis, Omaha, California wine country and Memphis before settling in the central Ohio area, with each city bringing a new set of experiences to draw from. He and his beautiful wife/editor live in a 120-year-old farmhouse with three wonderful girls and a boy. When he’s not losing sleep over his next story, he’s losing sleep while taking care of his new baby girl.

Covert Ops: Gemini is available from Amazon.

Covert Ops: Tear Down the Wall

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond

Fans of Eurospy films may want to check out Matt Blake’s new book Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond. Matt was one of the co-authors of the Eurospy Guide and really knows his stuff. Here he presents an overview of one of the most popular Eurospy stars, Giorgio Ardisson.

As a refresher, here are my reviews from Passport To Hell (1965) and Operation Counterspy (1966).

Here’s the spiel.

ardissonGiorgio Ardisson might not be the best known actor in the world; outside Italy his name was almost totally unknown and even in his own country his brush with fame was short-lived. But his career, which lasted from the end of the 1950s to the early 1990s, was fascinating. Not just because of the sheer variety of films and filmmakers that he was involved with, but because in many ways his story is also the story of Italian film itself.

He started out in the glory years of cinema in Rome, when it was the glamorous centre of a thriving and much respected industry, working in a variety of popular genres including peplums, swashbucklers and comedies. While the films of Sergio Leone were propelling Italian popular cinema onto a world stage, Ardisson carved out his own niche with a series of exceedingly profitable spy films which sold across the world. For a few years he was much in demand with producers looking for a lead actor with an American look. But then, with the arrival of the 1970s, things changed. Budgets dried up, genre lifespans reduced drastically and distribution networks collapsed. There was less call for good looking leading men as a grittier, more downbeat trend took hold of Italian cinema. So Ardisson re-crafted himself as a supporting actor in an increasingly peculiar selection of weird and wonderful films. Many of these were seen by almost nobody, many are still impossible to find and many of them are entirely rubbish.

This book is the first detailed look at the curious career of Giorgio Ardisson, including reviews of his most important films, interview material – much of which is published in English for the first time – and contemporary reviews. It’s lavishly illustrated throughout, including eight pages in full colour.

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond is available from the Wild Eye Shop.

Giorgio Ardisson: The Italian James Bond

Fist of Africa

Just a heads up for those following Fight Card, that February’s title, the fourth in the MMA series Fight Card MMA: Fist Of Africa from Balogung Ojetade has just been released. The cover illustration is by Carl Yonder.

Here’s the spiel:

FIGHT CARD MMA: FIST OF AFRICA

<a href="Amazon“>Fist Of AfricaNigeria 2004 … Nicholas ‘New Breed’ Steed, a tough teen from the mean streets of Chicago, is sent to his mother’s homeland – a tiny village in Nigeria – to avoid trouble with the law. Unknown to Nick, the tiny village is actually a compound where some of the best fighters in the world are trained. Nick is teased, bullied and subjected to torturous training in a culture so very different from the world where he grew up.

Atlanta 2014 … After a decade of training in Nigeria, a tragedy brings Nick back to America. Believing the disaffected youth in his home town sorely need the same self-discipline and strength of character training in the African martial arts gave him, Nick opens an Academy. While the kids are disinterested in the fighting style of the cultural heritage Nick offers, they are enamored with mixed martial arts. Nick decides to enter the world of mixed martial arts to make the world aware of the effectiveness and efficiency of the martial arts of Africa.

Pursuing a professional career in MMA, Nick moves to Atlanta, Georgia, where he runs into his old nemesis – Rico Stokes, the organized crime boss who once employed Nick’s father, wants Nick to replace his father in the Stokes’ protection racket. Will New Breed Steed claim the Light Heavyweight title … Or will the streets of Atlanta claim him?

Fist of Africa is available from Amazon

And don’t forget to check out the other MMA titles.

Chain Link Fence

Fist of Africa

Covert Ops: Gemini

Last week, Pro Se Productions released their latest spy anthology, Covert Ops: Gemini, which is in the style of the Mission: Impossible television series – wherein a team of specialist agents take on a dangerous mission that nobody else could accomplish. I have started reading it, and so far it is pretty good. I couldn’t help but smile when I read that the team leader is named Steven Graves!

Expect a full review in a week or two, but until then, here’s the promo spiel.

CovertOpsGeminiIn a world where no one can be trusted and no one is safe, spies are everywhere. In the kitchen of the small house on the corner. High above a city at the top of a skyscraper under construction. In the checkout line at the local grocery. People with skills unheard of by most normal citizens living normal every day lives as accountants, teachers, plumbers, and more. Every day existence is their only battle…until a lone voice on the other end of the phone or in the static of a radio or even whispering in their ear from over their shoulder welcomes back to the war. Their own personal codename followed by one word – GEMINI. And then the housewife, the normal joe, Mr. and Mrs. America become the deadliest espionage agents this country has ever created, members of the top secret initiative known by very few as COVERT OPS: GEMINI!

Pro Se Productions, concept creator Tommy Hancock, and authors J. Walt Layne, Wesley Smith, and Tim Lasiuta proudly presents COVERT OPS: GEMINI.

In the tradition of Mission: Impossible, COVERT OPS: GEMINI delves into the world of international espionage and looks at the men and women who make up the deadliest team of spies ever. Led by Steven Graves, roguish and calculating agent, and overseen by the mysterious Officer James, members of Covert Ops; Gemini live regular lives, hold down normal jobs, build families and careers, until they are needed. Then they step away from their desks, their aprons, their very existences and put skills outside of their normal persona into use as they were trained to. What follows for them may be failure or even death. But, if they succeed, not only does the world go on, but they get the one thing back they value most- their covers.

Classic Spy Fiction at its best. COVERT OPS: GEMINI from Pro Se Productions!

Covert Ops: Gemini is available from Amazon and the usual affiliated outlets.

Covert Ops: Gemini

Swamp Walloper

SWAMP smallAuthor: Paul Bishop
Published: October 2013

Swamp Walloper is the follow up to Felony Fists, the first book in the Fight Card series written by Paul Bishop. Fists saw L.A. cop, Patrick ‘Felony’ Flynn fighting on two fronts, first corruption on the streets, and then duking it out with one of gangster Mickey Cohen’s minions – it was a fantastic, uplifting story with a knockout ending.

Walloper heads in a different direction, and sees Flynn plying his skills – as a cop first and as a fighter second – in the Crescent City, N’Awlins, and in the croc infested Bayou Sauvage. The villain of the piece is a crooked prison warden named Lucas Trask – a man steeped in dark voodoo rituals.

The tale is pure pulp, dripping with steamy New Orleans atmosphere, and featuring great characters – heroes you want cheer, and villains you want to hiss. The action packed climax will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Like Felony Fists before it, Swamp Walloper punches above its weight and recommended to all fans of rapid-fire adventure.

Swamp Walloper