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Both versions of Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" have their strong
points, and are well worth watching. This 1950's remake is carried mostly
by its star power, with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day being convincing and
very sympathetic as the parents of the kidnapped child. It also has more
lavish settings and better (not just because it is color) photography than
the earlier version. On the other hand, it lacks the wittiness of the
British version, and moves more slowly.
The remake spends much more time setting up the story than the original did, with the family spending a lot of time on their vacation in Morocco before the crisis occurs. It makes possible some colorful scenery and settings, and allows you to get to know the family a bit more, although the quicker pace in the original established more tension and kept your attention throughout. The Albert Hall sequence works well in both films, with this one having the added bonus of allowing the audience to see Bernard Herrmann, who wrote so many great scores for Hitchcock's films, conducting the orchestra.
Despite having essentially the same story, the two versions of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" have a much different feel. Which one you prefer is largely a matter of taste - while neither is usually considered among Hitchcock's very best, they are both good movies with a lot of strong points. Take a look at both if you have the chance.
The original The Man Who Knew Too Much brought Alfred Hitchcock acclaim
for the first time outside of the United Kingdom. Of course part of the
reason for the acclaim was that folks marveled how Hitchcock on such a
skimpy budget as compared to lavish Hollywood products was able to
provide so much on the screen. The original film was shot inside a
For whatever reason he chose this of all his films to remake, Hitchcock now with an international reputation and a big Hollywood studio behind him (Paramount)decided to see what The Man Who Knew Too Much would be like with a lavish budget. This is shot on location in Marrakesh and London and has two big international names for box office. This was James Stewart's third of four Hitchcock films and his only teaming with Doris Day and her only Hitchcock film.
I do wonder why Hitchcock never used Doris again. At first glance she would fit the profile of blond leading ladies that Hitchcock favored. Possibly because her wholesome screen image was at odds with the sophistication Hitchcock also wanted in his blondes.
Doris does some of her best acting ever in The Man Who Knew Too Much. Her best scene is when her doctor husband James Stewart gives her a sedative before telling her their son has been kidnapped by an English couple who befriended them in Morocco. Stewart and Day play off each other beautifully in that scene. But Doris especially as she registers about four different emotions at once.
Day and Stewart are on vacation with their son Christopher Olsen in Morocco and they make the acquaintance of Frenchman Daniel Gelin and the aforementioned English couple, Bernard Miles and Brenda DaBanzie. Gelin is stabbed in the back at a market place in Marrakesh and whispers some dying words to Stewart about an assassination to take place in Albert Hall in London. Their child is snatched in order to insure their silence.
For the only time I can think of a hit song came out of a Hitchcock film. Doris in fact plays a noted singer who retired from the stage to be wife and mother. The song was Que Sera Sera and I remember it well at the age of 9. You couldn't go anywhere without hearing it in 1956, it even competed with the fast rising Elvis Presley that year. Que Sera Sera won the Academy Award for Best Song beating out such titles as True Love from High Society and the title song from Around the World in 80 Days. It became Doris Day's theme song for the rest of her life and still is should she ever want to come back.
In fact the song is worked quite nicely into the plot as Doris sings it at an embassy party at the climax.
Instead of doing it with mirrors, Hitchcock shot the assassination scene at the real Albert Hall and like another reviewer said it's not directed, it's choreographed. You'll be hanging on your seats during that moment.
This was remake well worth doing.
Alfred Hitchcock's more assured telling of a film he made twenty-one
years earlier is infinitely superior to the original. Hitchcock said
himself that his first version was the work of an amateur, and although
it certainly isn't a bad film, he does appear to be right. That being
said, this remake, although definitely better, still isn't among
Hitchcock's best work. That's certainly not to say that it isn't good,
it's just more than a little overindulgent, and that drags it down.
Hitchcock seems all too keen to drag certain elements out, and these
are parts of the film that aren't entirely relevant to the plot, which
can become annoying. Some of these dragged out sequences, such as the
one that sees James Stewart and Doris Day eating in a Moroccan
restaurant are good because it helps establish the different culture
that our American protagonists have found themselves in, but for every
restaurant scene, there's an opera sequence and it's the latter that
make the film worse.
The plot follows a middle-aged doctor and his wife that go to Morocco for a holiday with their young son. While there, they meet a French man on the bus and another middle-aged couple in a restaurant. However, things go awry when the French man dies from a knife in the back, shortly after whispering something to the doctor. The holiday then turns into a full blown nightmare when the couple's son is kidnapped, which causes them to cut it short and go to London in order to try and find him. The film has a very potent degree of paranoia about it, and it manages to hold this all the way through. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that this is the most paranoid film that Hitchcock ever made. Like most of Hitchcock's films, this one is very thrilling and keeps you on the edge of your seat for almost the entire duration, with only the aforementioned opera sequence standing out as a moment in which the tension is diffused. There is also more than a little humour in the movie, which gives lighthearted relief to the morbid goings on, and actually works quite well.
The original version of this story was lent excellent support by the fantastic Peter Lorre. This film doesn't benefit from his presence, unfortunately, but that is made up for by performances from the amazing James Stewart, and Doris Day. James Stewart is a man that is always going to be a contender for the 'greatest actor of all time' crown. His collaborations with Hitchcock all feature mesmerising performances from him, and this one is no different. (Although his best performance remains the one in Mr Smith Goes to Washington). Stewart conveys all the courage, conviction and heartbreak of a man that has lost his child and would do anything to get him back brilliantly. In fact, that's one of the best things about this film; you are really able to feel for the couple's loss throughout and that serves in making it all the more thrilling. Doris Day, on the other hand, is a rather strange casting choice for this movie. She's definitely a good actress, but she's more associated with musicals and seeing her in a thriller is rather odd (even if she does get to flex her vocal chords a little).
As I've mentioned; this is not Hitchcock's best film, but there's much to enjoy about it and although I'd recommend many Hitchcock films before recommending this one, I'll definitely give it two thumbs up as well.
When you start watching the 1956 version of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, you'll think it's a minor work by Alfred Hitchcock. The countless scenes showing a lovely, but buffoonish vacationing American couple (James Stewart, Doris Day) seem to lead nowhere. But, hold on, about thirty minutes into the film, during a very dreamlike murder sequence (which takes place in bright sunlight, and involves blue paint) the film really takes off. Personally, I find the opening "character development" sequence between protagonists James Stewart and Doris Day very charming. It sets you up for the second and third acts of the film. You get to like this couple so much, you are raelly rooting for them as they try to rescue their kidnapped son amidst a plot to assassinate a visiting diplomat. Of course, the high-point of the film is the assassination itself, a twelve minute wordless sequence. Hitchcock beautifully brings us back to silent film! The ending, which involves a rescue at an embassy, is wonderfully silly and tense. For those not familiar with Hitchcock, this is Hitchcock's own remake of a film he made under the same title in 1934 in England. This is one of my favorite Hitchcock films. It's proof that this master loved his audience and wanted to keep them thrilled!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Many people have the irritating habit of dying before completing a
vital message, thus confusing the hero, not to mention the audience...
Dr. Ben McKenna (James Stewart) and his wife Jo, a former musical star (Doris Day) are vacationing in Morocco with their son, Hank (Christopher Olsen), when they meet Mr. and Mrs. Drayton, a British couple (Brenda de Banzie and Bernard Miles). They are also befriended by a charming Frenchman, Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin), who invites them to dinner but then cancels at the last minute...
The MacKennas go to a restaurant and end up having their meal with the Draytons, when they spot Louis Bernard...
The next day in the market place, they are caught in an assassination intrigue... While they are wandering in the local market, the crowds suddenly scatter to reveal an Arab fleeing from his pursuers... Dr. McKenna stands amazed as the Arab falls into his arms, a knife sticking out of his back...
Gulping his last breath, the dying man mutters some words and collapses... Dr. McKenna is completely taken aback when the Arab's hood falls from his head and he is revealed as Bernard in disguise... McKenna is left knowing too little, but as far as the assassins are concerned, too much...
To prevent Dr. McKenna from revealing what he knows, the conspirators kidnap his son as a hostage... The film is primarily concerned with the dilemma of kidnappinghow to get the little boy back safely... The subplot about the assassination is just the setup...
The film is a breathless escapade... The death of Bernard comes suddenly and points out that death comes when we least expect it...
Stewart is charged with emotion as the Midwestern doctor, accidentally involved in political intrigue... His perceptive facial expressions and indignant delivery made him convincingly humana person we could easily identify with... It is his temperament that actually sets the pace for the entire film...
By 1956, the lovely Doris Day had won increasing esteem as an actress as well as a singer... She had been particularly strong opposite James Cagney in the Ruth Etting's biopic, 'Love Me or Leave Me,' but she was still unsure of her basic Thespian talents...
The casting of character actor Reggie Malder as the assassin, is brilliant... The man looks like a menace and his effusive portrayal radiates evil...
All the trademark Hitchcock elements are in place yet again, for a
example of crowd-pleasing from the man who knew better than anyone just
to work an audience. James Stewart, everyone's perfect everyman returns to
familiar ground, with the perfect wife (Doris Day, perfect casting), and
perfect family. Into this chocolate box world is thrown some dangerous
information, and a downward spiral of kidnap and murder.
As usual, there are the elaborately staged set-pieces, and the intimate psychoanalysis that you would expect. Here, the assassination sequence in the Royal Albert Hall provides the former - a beautifully choreographed blend of music and images building to the pivotal crash of cymbals, and the scenes in Morocco the latter, as our couple become obliviously embroiled in international espionage. It is hard to find fault with any of Hitchcock's contrivances (using the Oscar-winning 'Whatever Will Be' as a plot device to get Doris singing is almost too much, but forgivable), and the the whole cast are superb, giving incredibly naturalistic performances - see the scene in the Moroccan restaurant, which almost seems ad-libbed.
One of Hitchcock's best.
Alfred Hitchcock saw this remake of his 1934 film as a more
professional job, and thus an improvement. It's certainly more
polished, and pitched for maximum audience engagement, yet also a tad
off the high standard the Master was setting for himself by the 1950s.
Dr. McKenna (James Stewart) and his wife Jo (Doris Day) are vacationing with their boy in Marrakesh when they become witnesses both to a murder and to a secret so dangerous their boy is kidnapped to secure their silence. Can they save their child by themselves? And will they be able to prevent the crime from happening without costing their son his life?
It's tough to discuss this movie, since so much that happens in it is better seen for the first time with minimal foreknowledge. Rest assured that there are some fine setpieces on display, and that Hitchcock is indeed very clever with his camera and his way of building suspense.
Yet the film seems less than completely successful. For one thing, there's an unusually slow build-up, almost a Hitchcock loyalty test, in the first thirty minutes of the film, with some particularly strained bits of comedy around a Moroccan restaurant. There are more than the usual number of plot holes and improbable coincidences on display here.
The biggest problem I have are with the two leads. While Day shows us she can be more than a perky comedienne in her more demanding scenes, both she and Stewart seem uncomfortable in their roles. The McKennas appear at times to be a singularly unhappy couple: he a domineering type who doesn't like the fact his wife was a famous singer known by something other than his last name; she a paranoid hysteric prone to winding her husband up unnecessarily. The idea of their domestic misery is gently presented ("Ben, are we about to have our monthly fight?") and then just as quickly abandoned, ironically after a scene where he arguably pulls a rather cruel stunt to keep her in line.
I'm not sure if this George-and-Martha-type film would have been better than the one I actually saw, but it would give us more of a rooting interest in the McKennas getting their act together while saving their son. Here, in the main, they are played so squarely they seem more likely to hail from Disneyland than Indianapolis.
But give the second hour credit for being one of Hitchcock's best. It could have used a bit more humor, but there's ample misdirection and a mischievous spirit guiding the proceedings. Add to that one of the great climaxes of any suspense film here, ironically not a climax here but a set up for another which is almost as good. The villains are appropriately seedy, if lacking the menacing charm of Peter Lorre in the 1934 version.
If you are a fan of Doris Day or her hit song "Que Sera, Sera," you may enjoy this film even more than I did. As a Hitchcock enthusiast, I was entertained enough not to mind the feeling of shallowness. Hitchcock was a master of surfaces as well as depth; you get a riveting example of the former here.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Unlike most people I actually feel that "The Man
" is at its strongest
in the Morocco sequences at the beginning of the film (particularly the
wonderful restaurant sequence much of which seems have been ad-libbed
but probably wasn't). Once the son of Stewart and Day has been
kidnapped and they fly to London, the film becomes messy although the
Albert Hall sequence is admittedly well executed.
Most of my criticisms of the film revolve around the plot (not to mention Day's interminable singing of Que Sera Sera), such as why does Louis Bernard (when he is dying) not tell James Stewart about the English couple (Mr & Mrs Drayton) but only tell them the name of the chapel in London where they live? I suppose the answer is because Stewart and Day would not have allowed Mrs Drayton to then take their son and there would have been no kidnap and no film. Also, the information that Stewart has about the assassination ceases to be important once he and Day confront the Draytons at the chapel and Day calls the police. At that point in the film Stewart has actually passed on everything he knows to the police, i.e. the name of the chapel and the fact that someone will be assassinated. Why do the kidnappers still need his son? He has nothing left to say.
With regard to the chapel itself, there is the ridiculous confusion regarding the name Ambrose Chapel. Any right thinking person would realise it is a place and not a person. Yet Stewart thinks Ambrose Chapel is a person and amazingly manages to find the name listed in the telephone directory (doctors in Indiana obviously don't have to be too bright). The film then goes through the pointless confrontation at the Taxidermists between Stewart and TWO men named Ambrose Chapel how stupid.
Notwithstanding these problems "The Man " is a decent film. Stewart puts in a very good performance (as always) and there are some nice scenes but this is well short of Hitchcock's best films and even some of his less regarded films such as "Rope". I haven't seen the original 1934 version of "The Man " so I don't know how it compares to the 1956 remake. The general consensus is that the remake is far superior if that's true I don't think I'll be rushing out to see the original any time soon, even if it does star Peter Lorre.
Alfred Hitchcock shows originality in the remake of his own 1934
British film, "The Man Who Knew Too Much". This 1956 take on the same
story is much lighter than the previous one. Mr. Hitchcock was lucky in
having collaborators that went with him from one film to the next, thus
keeping a standard in his work. Robert Burks did an excellent job with
the cinematography and George Tomasini's editing shows his talent.
Ultimately, Bernard Herrmann is seen conducting at the magnificent
Royal Albert Hall in London at the climax of the picture.
James Stewart was an actor that worked well with Mr. Hitchcock. In this version, he plays a doctor from Indiana on vacation with his wife and son. When we meet him, they are on their way to Marrakesh in one local bus and the intrigue begins. His wife is the lovely Doris Day at her best. She had been a well known singer before her marriage and now is the perfect wife and mother. The film has some good supporting cast, Brenda DeBanzie, Bernard Miles, Daniel Gelin, Alan Mowbray, among others, do a great job in portraying their characters.
Although this is a "light Hitchcock", one can't dismiss it as a failure. "The Man Who Knew Too Much" is a change of pace for Hitchcock's fans.
I'm not sure why I didn't have a more enthusiastic reaction to The Man
Who Knew Too Much. Hitchcock is the director that got me interested in
classic cinema, and Rear Window, Notorious, Psycho, The Birds, Rebecca,
and The Lady Vanishes are all among my favorite movies. It's a
globe-trotting adventure with all the tension, intrigue,
assassinations, conspiracies, and suspense you could want, but there's
something about it that just didn't really catch my interest until the
last 30 minutes, or so. The ending is great, but the rest of the movie
was just missing something, in my opinion.
The problem certainly wasn't with the two lead actors. James Stewart gave another great performance under Hitchcock's eye (he was my favorite Hitchcock leading man), and Doris Day was charmingly determined and convincing as a confused wife and mother, desperately searching for her son.
The Man Who Knew Too Much certainly isn't a bad movie (is there such a thing as a bad Hitchcock movie?), and I expect that other people might have a more favorable response to it than I did. I suspect this is just one of those times when a good film just doesn't completely "click", with me, for whatever reason. I recommend it to anyone who is interested, though.
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