A tale of innocent American tourists in Morocco whose son's kidnapping sets off a twisting plot of international intrigue.A tale of innocent American tourists in Morocco whose son's kidnapping sets off a twisting plot of international intrigue.A tale of innocent American tourists in Morocco whose son's kidnapping sets off a twisting plot of international intrigue.
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.
- May 31, 2011