Monday, November 18, 2013

#1,190. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart, Doris Day, Brenda de Banzieh

Tag line: "A little knowledge can be a deadly thing!"

Trivia: In 1965, Alfred Hitchcock and James Stewart filed a $4,000,000 lawsuit against Paramount Pictures, arguing that their eight-year agreement with the studio had ended and that Paramount had breached their copyright by televising the film

When discussing the 1932 British version of The Man Who Knew Too Much and its 1956 American remake, Alfred Hitchcock (who directed them both) called the first movie the work of a “gifted amateur”, while the second was made by “a professional”. And as much as I love the original, there’s no denying the latter film is the better of the two.

As the movie opens, Dr. Ben McKenna (James Stewart) and his wife Jo (Doris Day), along with their son Hank (Christopher Olsen), are enjoying a family vacation in Morocco. The fun and frivolity ends abruptly, however, when Louis Bernard (Daniel Gélin), who they had recently befriended, is stabbed to death in a marketplace in Marrakesh. 

Before dying, Bernard tells Ben about a plot to assassinate a foreign diplomat based in London. But Ben never gets a chance to pass this information on to the police. Hank is kidnapped by the very people that killed Louis Bernard, who tell Ben that, if he wants to see his son again, he’d better keep his mouth shut. In desperation, the McKennas head to London, where they'll do everything in their power to locate Hank and, if possible, stop the assassination.

Whereas the 1934 film is more compact, squeezing its tale of intrigue into a brisk 75 minutes, the remake (clocking in at 2 hours) benefits from the wonderful performances delivered by James Stewart and Doris Day, playing worried parents drawn into something they don’t fully understand. Day, whose character gave up a show-biz career to become a full-time wife and mother, even gets to belt out a tune, singing the now-classic "Que Sera Sera" (which took home that year’s Academy Award for Best Song). 

The remake also features a number of well-staged sequences, chief among them the showdown in the Royal Albert Hall. While the 1934 movie rushed through this scene (though, in truth, it was still effective), the ’56 version lingers there a bit longer, favoring imagery over dialogue as it builds the suspense to an almost fever pitch. In the original, the Albert Hall sequence was an exciting aside; here, it’s a tense, emotionally draining experience.

1934’s The Man Who Knew Too Much will always be a special movie for me. Along with being one of the very first Hitchcock films I ever saw, it shows the director early in his career, delving into a genre he would dominate for decades to come. But if I was forced to choose between the two, the remake would win every time.

1 comment:

beep said...

For the longest damned time, I thought that the symphony being played was Beethoven. Ok, maybe Wagner. A friend had to point out Bernard Hermann is actually on the marquee some where in the film. At least I think I know have it right :)