The Man Who Knew Too Much was always one of my favorite Hitchcock films as a child. I credit this to the fact that I just really loved hearing Doris Day sing at the end- and I also loved how the discovery of the true Ambrose Chapel comes about. Though not without it's flaws- a lot of Hitchcock purists dislike this particular film due to its apparent plot holes, or questionable actions of many of the characters. And to them I say fuck off chaps! I love this movie and you just can't tell me otherwise.
After being disappointed with his first stab at this movie in 1934, calling it the work of an "amateur"- Hitchcock came back this time armed with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day as leads. Despite the obvious increase in production- Hitchcock still preferred the earlier version due to the most recent looking too "polished". Having never seen the original film I suppose my judgement on loving this film so much could be faulted but nevertheless I dig it.
While on a vacation in Morocco, Ben his wife Jo and their son Hank- witness the murder of a spy in the marketplace. After the spy- whom the family had met a day earlier, stumbles over to Ben, he whispers startling news into his ear. There is to be an assassination in London. Since Ben and Jo must be taken into the police for questioning, a couple that they had met at dinner offers to take Hank back to the hotel. While at the police station, Ben get's a phone call. A mysterious man's voice says that if he tells anyone what the spy whispered into his ear, his son will be in great danger.
Turns out- the couple that have taken Hank back to the hotel are the ones responsible for organizing the assassination- and they've kidnapped Hank! Ben and Jo although distraught take matters into their own hands- sending them on a wild goose chase as they try to find Hank and possibly stop an assassination along the way.
Although it runs at 2 hours long- as do most of Hitchcock's films, it manages to not feel like it's completely dragging. As I'm sure you've heard before Hitchcock is after all- the "master of suspense" and in this case I think that statement couldn't be more right. In the very beginning of the film a booming orchestra plays Storm Cloud Cantata while the title credits roll. Then the camera slowly zooms in on one man. Who turns, and grabs the pair of cymbals. As we wait in anticipation for the cymbals to crash, the music gets more and more intense until finally the crash happens and words; "A single crash of cymbals and how it rocked the lives of an American family" are printed across the screen. We wonder what does this mean? And unfortunately we do not find out until around the last half hour or so of the film. The building of up of this future suspense however is key- because just as we stood on edge waiting for those cymbals to crash- so are we standing on edge waiting for the moment to come when we find out why the crash of the cymbals shook our American family.
The scene in question is one of the most awe inspiring ones I've seen. It runs for 12 minutes without any dialogue- only the power of the Storm Cloud Cantata and the anticipation of what is to come. It's one of those scenes that had me biting my thumb and writhing in painful agony every time Jimmy Stewart opened the wrong door. Then there's the painful look on Doris Day's face while she wonders too when the moment will happen and dreads the fact that she can't really do anything about it- or can she?
It's an all around fantastic scene. But for every dramatic build up there are also scenes that weave in comedic relief. Perhaps only funny to me but whatever- is in the beginning when Hank falls on the bus and accidentally pulls off a Muslim woman's veil- causing some heated arguments between the man's husband. Jimmy Stewart stands up and in his classic drawling tones says something like "Now wait just a minute...." Oooh Jimmy! Stay out of those Muslim people's religious and social practices! It made me laugh but maybe for the wrong reasons? Ahem anyways, then there's the idea of Jo's friends all coming over and Jo and Ben both leaving once they figure out something important that has to do with Hank's disappearance. The friends keep getting confused and rightfully so- but it isn't until the final shot of the film- where we see them all still in Ben and Jo's room, and sleeping that we realize how confused they really were. Then there is of course Jimmy Stewart's last line.."Sorry we were gone so long, we had to pick up Hank!" Oooh goodness.
Then there is my favorite scene- Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart get taken to the Prime Minister's party where they believe Hank is being held. After Ben suggests that Jo should sing for the party- she sits at the piano and plays the very same song she and Hank would sing together, "Que Sera Sera/ Whatever will be will be"- Hank hears it and cries out "That's my Mother's voice! That's my mother singing!" but can't get out as the door is locked- and he is being held there so that he can be killed. It's a moment of pure emotion- as Doris Day's beautiful singing voice, paired with the tears in her eyes and the panic in Hank's voice. Oooh what a scene!!
Without a doubt I may very well love this film much more than the average Hitchcock lover, and I can't really tell you exactly why. I only know that it gets me right in the heart, plus it's exciting and hilarious--just like "UP" so yeah. What's not to love?
I love this flick. I've seen it twice recently, and each time, I noticed new things. Hitchcock was such a master. It's very cool seeing the first version and then watching his second version. I'd rather filmmakers remake their own films than tinker with and update the only existing version (George Lucas, I'm looking at you).
Love it also. Great review!
I think I prefer the other version to this one. It might be the fact that it was the version I saw first or it could be my soft spot for Peter Lorre, I can't help myself.
In my massive book about every Hitchcock movie ever made, the original Man who Knew Too Much was rated much higher above the Jimmy Stewart one. As a small child this made me sad because I really loved the Jimmy Stewart one. In fact I still hold a grudge against the original for possibly being better. I should probably watch it to verify.... haha
If you consider the set up in the London hotel room - that takes place about halfway though the movie - it MUST be one of the best (and funniest)last lines EVER....
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