In what was already a very dramatic film, Alfred Hitchcock’s, “The 39 Steps” transformed from its filmed medium to a visually live medium through exaggerated comedic twists reflective of the originals subversive take on humor and drama in the 1930s.
The movie and play adaptation were very similar and almost identical in script with similar dialogue and similar gestures, keeping to Hitchcock’s original plot line filled with intelligent twists. For example, in the beginning of the London adaptation, when Annabella and Hannay first meet in the theater, she immediately insists on being taken to his home, mirroring the movie exactly. However, in the play version, the actor’s playful facial exaggerations and embellished accents and tones of voice helped add the skepticism modern day society envisions with the posing of such a question. Additionally, in the movie version, once Annabella enters the house and Hannay goes to turn on the lights, she stops him, makes sure no one is watching her, and then tells him to turn them back on. In the play, in order to produce a more obvious comedic affect, Annabella’s accent is much more pronounced, not only making her hard to understand, but also adding humor. The first time she told Hannay to, “shut the blinds,” she said it so quickly and with such an exaggerated accent that it was apparent not even the audience understood what she said. In order to emphasize this confusion and incorporate it into the humorous tone, Hannay stayed silent for a moment, along with the rest of the audience. Hannay then broke the silence with one short question; he asked the girl what she had said, and it was then that the audience broke out in laughter as the confusion was confirmed in the tone and voice of the person they had been so involved in watching thus far.
Another illustration of the play using exaggeration is when Annabella dies. In the movie, Annabella opens the door to Hannay’s room, tells him he is next, and then falls on top of him dead with a knife sticking out of her back. This is obviously a very dramatic scene, even in this day of age. The play, however, adds even more drama to the scene with an exaggerated comedic element. In the play, Annabella falls on top of Hannay, but instead of dying and just lying there, she experiences a series of seizure-like symptoms while awkwardly lying across him on an armchair before completely passing on. After the seizures stop, Hannay is then stuck underneath her and cannot get out, while in the movie there is no issue of entrapment. The play exaggerated the already very exaggerated scene to begin with, and this comedic, blunt style is what makes it so entertaining and visually stimulating.
Additionally, the whole play consists of four actors portraying the roles of 150 characters. With this kind of set up, you as the audience are already given a basic comedic tone just with seeing a man wear half a trench coat with a fedora on one side of his body, and an all black police uniform with a police cap on the other so that his two characters can talk to each other. It was absolutely brilliant in that it added even more exaggeration to an already exaggerated plot sequence. This repeated notion truly enhanced the play and made its transformation to the live medium a success without losing Hitchcock’s original story line.