The Man Who Knew Too Much film review

If Alfred Hitchcock ever got the chance to make a Bond film, it would have probably turned out something like this (or Topaz). A road trip with James Stewart and Doris Day traipsing from Morocco to London, it’s two hours of red herrings and intense scenes, one of the least apologetic adventures he ever made.

The story is a spy tale wherein — as usual for Hitch — the bad guys finger the wrong man and end up abducting Stewart and Day’s son when Jimmy is tipped off to an impending murder. As the double agent dies in his arms, he whispers the plan into Stewart’s ear, and the chase is on. From a taxidermist’s place to Albert Hall, The Man Who Knew Too Much never lets up until its climactic finale.

One of Hitch’s most musical film, songs are integral to the movie from the first frame. The crash of the cymbals will be used to mask an assassin’s gunshot. And Day’s "Whatever Will Be" (aka "Que Sera, Sera") is used in both the light moments of the movie and as a teary beacon for her kidnapped son to locate her by. A lover of music, Hitch also imbued the film with more personal touches than many of his other productions. His hatred of the police is obvious throughout, as powerless officers shrug off the kidnapping of the boy. The domestic troubles (shocking for a film shot in the 1950s) between Stewart and Day — and their weary world travelling — also mimic Hitchcock’s own life.

Unfortunately, the film lacks in originality what it has in gumption. The climax is clearly drawn from the true story of the assassination of Lincoln (and John Wilkes Booth leaping to the stage). And the whole film is one of the very rare cases of a director remaking his own work — Peter Lorre was far more memorable a villain in the 1934 production of the same name. Worst of all, though shot on location in Marrakech, the film uses an awful rear-projection technique that makes the whole thing look phony. Yuck.

The new DVD release features a fairly good transfer and sound, plus a mildly enlightening making-of documentary.

Hitch on the set.

Review by Christopher Null © 2001

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