The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

A much cleaner and better quality version of Hitchcock’s original The Man Who Knew Too Much.  The basic premise is the same even if the execution is different and certain plot points changed.  It is still a great story which, in classic Hitchcock style, highlights the human relationships over narrative context.  Who do Lucy and Edward work for?  Who was the man on the phone?  Where was Bernard’s support team?  Why was French Intelligence so completely disregarded, particularly when it was known that Louis was an agent?  How exactly was it known that he was an agent, a secret agent?  How was it possible for Scotland Yard to know almost everything and then casually decide that a secret so important that it can justify holding a child hostage and send the parents all over the world couldn’t possibly be important enough to follow up on if the McKenna’s can’t talk about it for fear of their son dying?  What’s up with the taxidermy shop?  How can the story be considered “all done!” just because Hank is returned?  Because that’s all the movie was about, it was never international politics or covert spy activities or anything larger than a mother and father rescuing their son.  Everything else (and it’s a lot) is just backdrop and subordinate to that one central story.  The narrow narrative focus makes sense if you agree as an audience that it is all that matters but if you stop for a moment and step back to see the bigger picture, then the set pieces start to look artificial and contrived, the illusion wavers and…

This movie surprised me because I’m a big James Stewart fan, didn’t particularly like Doris Day as the movie opened and then it reversed.  The good doctor indulges in some quirky Hitchcockian tension builders which alienated me and then Day pulls off a coup as the heartbroken mother.  Edna Best had nothing on Doris Day’s performance even if it became a little watered-down as the movie progresses.  Brenda de Banzie reminded me of Dolores Umbridge at moments and her husband was a mediocre villain especially in comparison with Peter Lorre.  If you’re going to get into a this vs. that comparison though, keep in mind that Hitchcock didn’t always make films for the reasons or under the conditions we assume.  This remake was only made to fulfill a contractual demand from Paramount Pictures.  Read into that all you can.

I’ve started to realize that Hitchcock was great at orchestrating moments, particularly technically impressive movie scenes.  It’s almost like he directed a movie just to get to those scenes which can often be distilled to static, almost photographic moments.  For example: American couple confronted on bus with a stranger intervening, a stranger at the door disrupts a congenial dinner with a new friend, a passive aggressive double date with culture shock, a dying man whispers a secret in an exotic marketplace, man on the phone in police station receives an arresting threat, a mom learns of her son’s kidnapping, enemy agent watching from the crowd, a misunderstanding leads to a fight in a taxidermist’s shop, evil lurks in a humble church, a performance at The Royal Albert Hall overlaying frantic efforts to stop an assassination, singing mother alerts kidnapped child, and the cinematic coup d’état – a young boy walking along with a guy held to his head.  A lesser filmmaker would probably botch this most of the time but Hitchcock was very good at picking great people to work and was able to put together great films that were more than just a few good moments.

TL;DR  It’s a pretty good movie with spies that is definitely worth seeing.


p.s.  When I saw all those empty chairs in the chapel I was like, “Awww Yeahhh, chair fight is on!”.