Richard Hannay Returns in “Greenmantle”

13 05 2010

One year after the success of the novel “The 39 Steps,” John Buchan brought back his hero, Richard Hannay, in a new adventure called “Greenmantle.” Alfred Hitchcock had hoped to make “Greenmantle” into another spy movie, this time starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, but, reportedly, Buchan’s estate wanted too much money for the rights to the story.

The adventure begins in 1915, as Hannay and his friend, Sandy Arbuthnot, recover from wounds received in the Battle of Loos. Sir Walter Bullivant, who had appeared in “The 39 Steps,” summons Hannay to the Foreign Office to send him on a mission to stop the Germans and Turks from causing an uprising throughout the Muslim world. Bullivant supplies Hannay with a few clues to the truth behind the rumors, which were gotten by Bullivant’s own son, who was killed in the execution of his duties.

Hannay joins forces with an American, John Blenkiron, who is considered neutral, as the U.S. had not yet joined the conflict. In Constantinople, a fourth adventurer joins their cause: Peter Pienaar, a Boer whom Hannay knew from his mining days in Africa.

Without giving away too much of the story, Hannay and his allies follow clues, operate in enemy territory at their own peril, and eventually locate plans created by the religious leader called Greenmantle, who is reported to be on his deathbed. By the time they reach his stronghold, however, Greenmantle is dead, and it falls to Arbuthnot to impersonate the leader so that the uprising can be thwarted.

Buchan based the character of Arbuthnot on his friend, Aubrey Herbert, a British diplomat and intelligence officer, and also on T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, who was an active force on the international scene in at this time.

Richard Hannay would return for his next adventure in the 1919 novel “Mr. Standfast.”

You can download “Greenmantle” free from Project Gutenberg here, or you can find it in various editions on Amazon, including several that collect all the Hannay stories together.


Hitchcock Guru Adam Philips Live On Stage in New York!

11 05 2010

It’s official! On Monday, June 7, I’ll be appearing on stage for a talkback session at New York’s New World Stages following that evening’s performance of “The 39 Steps”!

I’ll talk about “Hitchcock and Me,” as well as the many aspects of “The 39 Steps,” and it looks like I will also have the chance to chat with the cast of the show and take questions from the audience. I’m very excited about this, as you can imagine – and you can read more about this special night here.

Don’t forget, if you want to see the show that night (or any other night!) you can buy tickets with the special “Hitchcock and Me” discount code TNHHC210! I hope to see you there!

Alfred Hitchcock: A Portrait in Film

10 05 2010

My friend Steve Bates sent me this one: Artist Erika Iris Simmons creates amazing portraits in film – that is, she recycles old film and other kinds of tape to create portraits in what looks like a cross between collage and sculpture.

Here’s what she did with our favorite director, Alfred Hitchcock, in a piece titled “The Birds.” Click on the image to enlarge for a better look.

There are lots of other portraits at her website, here, including Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Patti Smith and more. Check it out!


A 21st Century Version of “The 39 Steps”

7 05 2010

The most recent film adaptation of “The 39 Steps” was produced in England by the BBC and broadcast on PBS in the United States earlier this year. Directed by James Hawe, the film stars Rupert Penry-Jones as Richard Hannay, and while it is still set in the days before World War I, our hero is in many ways a Hannay for the 21st century.

Things get off to a fast start as Hannay, bored and alone in London, is accosted by a freelance secret agent called Scudder (Eddie Marsan), who seeks refuge in Hannay’s apartment. Scudder explains that he’s being hunted because of the secrets he’s learned, but before Scudder can spill all he knows, he’s killed by a pair of German agents who have invaded the premises.

While Hannay tries to find help, the two agents disappear, leaving Hannay with the corpse on his living room floor and the police beside him. Hannay breaks away and quickly boards a train to Scotland, where, Scudder had said, some of the clues would lead.

The plot moves ahead quickly, as Hannay must abandon the train, is chased by the agents and shot at by a biplane. Tumbling down a hillside, Hannay narrowly avoids being hit by a car, and the driver and his passenger assume that Hannay is the man they’re looking for – a political spokesman come to speak on the driver’s behalf at a rally. Hannay plays along, but the passenger, who is the driver’s sister Victoria (Lydia Leonard), ends up at his side through the rest of the movie. She is introduced as a suffragette, and Hannay wins no points with her when, at the rally, she asks “Where do you stand on women?” and Hannay replies, “I try not to stand on women at all.”

Their initial antipathy turns to attraction soon enough, as Victoria reveals herself to be more than she seemed at first. They piece together Scudder’s puzzle, working out the coded notes he left behind and finding the 39 steps he hinted at – in this case, steps leading through a castle to a loch where a German U-boat waits. They foil the German plot, but at a great cost.

This Hannay is a somber soul; he’s restless and not sure what it is he’s looking for, and when Victoria shows up, he lets her lead him into danger. She is not embarrassed when they are forced to share a hotel room and undress in front of each other, and later, when she asks to stay with him for the night, it is he who says no in the hope that they can avoid falling in love.

This version of “The 39 Steps” also lays off the colorful Scottish characters of the original novel, putting the emphasis instead on Hannay and Victoria, with their German pursuers on their heels almost from the moment they meet. Hannay is knowledgeable, but not enough to figure out the final turns of the plot. He reacts angrily when he realizes that he’s been kept in the dark by Victoria. To some degree he reminded me of the Daniel Craig James Bond – he’s physically capable, but others underestimate his intelligence, which leaves him with a sour outlook on the world that needs him.

Still, it’s a fast-paced, exciting version of the familiar story, and the modernization of the characters, if not the plot, probably serve to make the tale more relatable to today’s viewers.

Here’s a look at the trailer… keep your eyes open, as it will probably show up on PBS again sometime.

Dana Carvey Spoofs “The 39 Steps”

6 05 2010

Hey, remember “Clean Slate,” the 1994 comedy starring Dana Carvey, with an awesome cast including Valeria Golino (“Big-Top Pee-Wee,” “Rain Man,” “Hot Shots!”), James Earl Jones (“Star Wars,” “Coming to America”), Kevin Pollack (tons of movies), Michael Gambon (the second movie Dumbledore), Olivia D’Abo (lots of animation voiceover work), Christopher Meloni (“Law & Order”), Bob Odenkirk (“Mr. Show,” “Tom Goes to The Mayor”) and Ian Abercrombie (Elaine’s boss on “Seinfeld” who ate candy bars with a knife and fork)?


Remember when Dana Carvey made movies?

Not so much?

Okay, you do remember Dana Carvey, right? Funny guy, did a great George Bush impression? No, not that one – the first George Bush.

That’s right, the guy who played the Church Lady and Wayne’s sidekick Garth and sang about broccolli. I remember one time on Saturday Night Live he played a weird Chinese pet shop guy who told people not to keep chickens as house pets.

Okay, so in 1994 he starred in this movie, “Clean Slate.” There’s a scene in that movie that’s a parody – really, it’s more a replication – of the scene in “The 39 Steps” when Richard Hannay finds himself on stage at a political rally.

Hilarity ensues…now:

Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Well, that’s it for tonight. Tune in again tomorrow for more coverage of “The 39 Steps.”


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