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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hitchcock Month - The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Starring Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

This 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much is Hitchcock's only directorial remake.  Choosing to redo a flick from his early British days, Hitch definitely shows that he got better with age as this remake utilizes essentially the same story, but raises the tension much higher thanks to some wonderful performances from Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day.

Pulling much of the plot from the original (although changing it enough to make it feel genuinely like a new movie), the McKenna family is vacationing in Morocco.  While there, the family meets a Frenchman named Louis Bernard.  Right away, wife Jo (Day) finds the man to be sketchy, but her husband Ben (Stewart) shrugs off her apprehensions.  Shortly after they meet him, Bernard is killed in a Moroccan marketplace, but just before he takes his final breaths, he tells Ben that a foreign diplomat is going to be killed in London and Ben must alert the British authorities.  Unfortunately for the McKenna's, the wrong people witness Bernard telling Ben this secret and they kidnap the McKenna's young son, warning the couple that if they tell the police anything and impede their planned assassination, their son will be murdered.

As you can tell, the plot is similar and there are similar set pieces to the original, but everything works to much better effect here.  My biggest qualm with the original and the reason the film ultimately didn't work was that the two actors playing the kidnapped child's parents were almost playing the whole situation for laughs.  They weren't nearly panicky enough considering what they were going through (note that this is also the fault of the script which doesn't allow them to be freaking out).  In the remake, however, Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day are genuinely disturbed by the goings-on.  Day, in particular, who is so well known for her romantic comedy leading roles is fantastic here.  The scene where she first is told that her son has been kidnapped is gripping thanks to her.  Jimmy Stewart is being Jimmy Stewart.  He's the everyman in seemingly every movie and the same goes for him here.  I think it's impossible not to like the guy, but he's simply adequate here.  He does nothing particularly stunning, but the part doesn't really call for that either.

The climax of the film -- the assassination attempt of a foreign minister -- is very similar in both films and while both are surprisingly tense, the remake is a tad better.  For nearly ten minutes, there's not a single word of dialog spoken.  Instead, the only sound in the scene (which takes place at a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London) is a booming orchestral piece of music.  The tension builds at a slow pace and Hitch is an expert at building suspense.

Music plays a truly integral role in the remake with Doris Day's character singing what later became her standard classic song, "Que Sera, Sera."  Written for the film (and the recipient of an Oscar), the film showcases Day's lovely voice, but Hitchcock brilliantly weaves the song right into the narrative.  Apparently, the studio wanted Day to sing a song in the picture which didn't please Hitch in the slightest.  Nonetheless, when he heard the song, he felt it was perfect for the film and I must say that I was thoroughly impressed with how flawlessly it flows with the film.

It had been quite a while since I had seen The Man Who Knew Too Much, and while it doesn't quite reach the levels of North by Northwest or Psycho, it's a very good film that I should pop into the dvd player a bit more often.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+


  1. I watched a movie today with "Que Sera, Sera."
    It was Mary and Max.
    I cried.
    Not at the que sera, sera song.

  2. Mary and Max is in my queue already...perhaps I'll check it out soon...