Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Books to Films

From: Stephen Burridge (
Date: 29 Jun 2007


I think "Saboteur" and "North By Northwest" are too far from "The Thirty-Nine Steps" to be considered versions of the same source material, even if the form of the story is roughly similar.

Which indirectly leads to the issue of how faithful a movie should be to the novel on which it's based and from which it takes its title and characters etc. I gather from your posts to this list that you feel passionately about this issue in the case of "The Long Goodbye". I'm on the other side of that question: I like both the novel and the quite different Altman movie and I have no problems with the liberties Altman took. I think the movie maker is entitled to do as he wishes with the source material.

However, I have to admit that in the case of "The 39 Steps" I had to watch it a few times before I was able to get past its differences from the novel. I read the book for the first time when I was pretty young, and knew it well by the time I saw the film. I'm a fan of Buchan's stories, with all their weaknesses and ugly aspects. I think this is the root of my sense that the novel is "better". The movie, for all its energy and humour and cleverness, doesn't deliver the storytelling magic I associate with the book. And the screwball comedy-type "romantic tension" is utterly alien to the spirit of Buchan.

So, rather than argue the point in any kind of analytical way, I'll just leave it at that. For me at bottom I think it's a matter of my affection for the book, and perhaps disappointment that the movie is so different. However inconsistent I'm being. I do also like Hitchcock a lot.

Stephen Burridge On 6/29/07, JIM DOHERTY <> wrote:
> Stephen,
> Re your coment below:
> "Buchan's 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' is a classic of its
> kind (not hard-boiled or noir) and I'd say it's highly
> arguable whether the excellent and quite different
> Hitchcock film is superior."
> I never meant to imply that Buchan's novel was bad.
> In fact, I quite agree that it's a classic, and I've
> also enjoyed the other books in the Hannay series.
> Nonetheless, I think Hitchcock's version is a better
> film than the novel is a novel. Better crafted, better
> written, wittier, plus it has a romantic tension
> totally lacking in the book.
> I also regard Hitchcock's two uncredited remakes,
> SABOTEUR (not to be confused with SABOTAGE) and NORTH
> BY NORTHWEST as superior to Buchan's novel. I didn't
> include them in this discussion, despite their clearly
> being loose remakes of THE 39 STEPS, because they're
> "officially" original screenplays and, consquently,
> don't credit Buchan as the author of the source
> material.
> I never meant to imply that any of the source books of
> the films I listed were bad. Just that the films were
> better.
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