The Man Who Knew Too Much
Alfred Hitchcock (1956)

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1956, 119 MINS, US

  • Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Prod: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Scr: John Michael Hayes
  • Ph: Robert Burks
  • Ed: George Tomasini
  • Mus: Bernard Herrmann
  • Art Dir: Hal Pereira, Henry Bumstead

CAST:

(Paramount)



    With Alfred Hitchcock pulling the suspense strings, The Man Who Knew Too Much is a good thriller. Hitchcock backstops his mystery in the colorful locales of Marrakesh in French Morocco and in London. While drawing the footage out a bit long, he still keeps suspense working at all times and gets strong performances from the two stars and other cast members. Hitchcock did the same pic under the same title for Gaumont-British back in 1935.

    James Stewart ably carries out his title duties: he is a doctor vacationing in Marrakesh with his wife and young son. When he witnesses a murder and learns of an assassination scheduled to take place in London, the boy is kidnapped by the plotters to keep the medico's mouth shut.

    Stewart's characterization is matched by the dramatic work contributed by Doris Day as his wife. Both draw vivid portraits of tortured parents when their son is kidnapped. Additionally, Day has two Jay Livingston-Ray Evans tunes to sing: Whatever Will Be and We'll Love Again, which are used storywise and not Just dropped into the plot.

    Young Christopher Olsen plays the son naturally and appealingly.



J a m e s  S t e w a r t ' s  T h e  M a n  W h o  K n e w  T o o  M u c h

    ( P a r a m o u n t - 1 9 5 6 )
    Rear Window's success led Paramount to propose numerous properties to Stewart and Hitchcock for a follow-up. They settled on another version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, a spy tale that the director had already done in England in 1934 before moving to the United States. Hitchcock had considered doing a remake as early as 1942, with the plot then centered around frustrating an assassination attempt against the president of Brazil. Concerns about South American political alliances during the war had put a damper on that venture.

    Hitchcock made no bones about the fact that he wanted The Man Who Knew Too Much to be much more of an American family entertainment than Rear Window. To this end he made sure that any highbrow connotations in international intrigues and Albert Hall settings were neutralized by establishing McKenna as the Ugliest of Americans, at sea with just about anything foreign, and by having Jay Livingstone and Ray Evans write the popular (and Oscar-winning) ditty Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be) for Day. In more than one instance, he also didn't hesitate to choose melodramatic action before dramatic plausibility or to drop in awkward comedy bits. The result was an often lumpy two hours (the 1934 film had run eighty-four minutes) that the director, without any apparent irony, contrasted to the initial picture by saying that "the first was the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional"

    In truth, the picture would have been among Hitchcock's most forgettable exercises if not for two sequences. The more celebrated one is the climactic shooting at the Albert Hall, where the director employed 134 cuts on the music track in little more than four minutes while showing the assassin getting ready for his shot, Stewart's McKenna trying to convince the theater's security guards of the danger, and Day's Jo coming to the decision of her life between thinking only of her son or doing something to prevent the assassination. But most strikingly for a sequence traditionally identified with the progress of the Benjamin sonata to the fatal beat of the kettledrums, much of its power actually derives from the total silence of the actions of the main characters, including a long series of shots that make the Stewart character's urgings to the police inaudible. The same technique is used in the final scenes at the embassy, with Day's singing off-camera playing off what are little more than photographs of the building's upper recesses.

    In terms of character, however, the most effective scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much comes much earlier in Morocco, when Stewart's doctor tries to get his wife to take a sedative in preparation for telling her that their son has been kidnapped. As emotionally ravaging as the cause of his actions should have been, it develops into a study of cold manipulativeness that centers the tone for a married relationship hollow at the core. The conspicuous difference from other Hitchcock treatments of married life is in the fact that it is the woman in The Man Who Knew Too Much who draws all the sympathy—a note maintained for the rest of the film in underlining how the doctor has made his wife leave her showbusiness career, how he is less open to foreign experiences than she is, and how he is continually a step or two behind her in working out the ways to retrieve their son. Interestingly, Day is not only one of the very few Hitchcock heroines in a major picture to portray a wife, but absolutely the only one to play a mother.

    There was considerable confusion around The Man Who Knew Too Much, much of it occasioned by the fact that screenwriter John Michael Hayes remained in Hollywood for most of the shooting, completing ten pages of script a day and then sending them off to Morocco or London by courier for instant filming. To make matters worse, Hitchcock insisted on running even the belatedly delivered pages past one Angus McPhail, a former British Intelligence officer to whom he was personally indebted but who was so far advanced in succumbing to alcoholism that he couldn't stop shaking long enough to offer his comments on some of the film's espionage details. Bernard Miles was one who confessed to being dismayed by Hitchcock's overall distractedness during production, telling one interviewer that the director "certainly did not annoy the cast with excessive attention." Equally put off was Day, who had seen some of the raised eyebrows when she had been chosen for the part of Jo McKenna and who had interpreted Hitchcock's lack of comments about her performance as a sign of disapproval. After a couple of weeks of the silent treatment, she went to see him.

      "I told him I knew I wasn't pleasing him, and that if he wanted to replace me with someone else, he could. He was astonished. He said it was quite the reverse, that he thought I was doing everything just right—and that if I hadn't been, he would have told me. Then he said he was more frightened—of life, of rejection, of relationships—than anyone. He told me he was afraid to walk across the Paramount lot to the commissary because he was so afraid of people. I remember feeling so sorry for him when he told me this, and from that point I felt more relaxed about working for him."

    Having been through far worse with the director, Stewart went around reassuring his fellow players that Hitchcock knew what he was doing. Still, he didn't wait for the filmmaker to suggest that he and Day rehearse the sedative scene. And when Hitchcock arrived on the set for filming, he said little more than ACTION and CUT as the two actors completed in a single take the most revealing sequence in the picture. To this day, Day has no explanation why everything seemed to click on the first try. She says:

      "It was amazing. Maybe it was just that God was with me that day"

    On the other hand, she has had little problem explaining that she brought to the scene:

      "I actually experienced the feeling that I was losing my little son to a kidnapper. I was living that ordeal."

    The Man Who Knew Too Much proved to be another money tree for Paramount. Not all the fruit was wormless, however. The picture was opened in Los Angeles in May 1956 as a benefit for a vaguely defined religious group that declared among its intentions "combating the inroads of Communism" in India. Writer Hayes got into a protracted battle with Hitchcock over credit for the screenplay and, after four films, did not work with him again. And in the mid-1960s, the director and Stewart got into a legal tangle with Paramount over what they regarded as the studio's improper distribution of the picture to television.


    Further Reading:
    cover

  • Extract from the book:
    James Stewart

  • Available: amazon.com


OSCARS:

  • 1956: Best Song (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)


4 STARS OUT OF 5



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the man who knew too much

dvds | videos

al pacino | michelle pfeiffer

yul brynner | christopher plummer | romy schneider

the godfather | the godfather part ii
marlon brando | james caan | diane keaton | al pacino
laurence olivier | clark gable | vivien leigh | leslie howard | alfred hitchcock | robert montgomery | grace kelly
olivia de havilland | humphrey bogart | howard hawks | frank capra | charlie chaplin | lauren bacall | fritz lang
jean harlow | greta garbo | ava gardner | audrey hepburn | edward g. robinson | john garfield
erich von stroheim | wim wenders | madeleine carroll | marlene dietrich | rita hayworth





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