Man Who Knew Too Much, The (1934) B+
The first film version of “The Man Who Knew Too Much” proved to be the “breakthrough” film for British director Alfred Hitchcock, transforming him from merely a domestic filmmaker to a worldwide household name.
Indeed, the film was a huge critical and popular success. Some critics (not me) prefer it to the 1956 remake version, because it is simpler and more humorous. Hitchcock told Truffaut that the first version was the work of a talented amateur, the second of an accomplished professional.
In this grim and cruel picture, Hitchcock combines a shrewdly plotted caper with technical brilliance, resulting in an influential work cited as favorite by many directors.
The narrative’s premise is simple: A married couple, Bob and Jill Lawrence (Leslie Banks and Edna Best), are vacationing in Switzerland with their daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam), when Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay), a Frenchman who befriends them, is found murdered. Before dying, however, Louis whispers a crucial secret, that a foreign diplomat will be assassinated at great embarrassment to the British government.
To keep Bob’s lips sealed, Betty is kidnapped and held until after the assassination by hired killer Abbott (Peter Lorre of Fritz Lang’s Famed “M”), scheduled to take place during a concert at London’s Albert Hall. Bob must follow his duty as an Englishman and prevent the assassination, but at the same time, he must do all in his power to insure the safety of his child.
The film covers many locations, from the glorious slopes of Switzerland to the opulent architecture of Albert Hall to the grimy backstreets of London. For Hitchcock, the underlying moral dilemma: Should the mother save her daughter by saying nothing, or should she tell the authorities and risk her daughter’s life.
The crisis produces a new appreciation for the family as a social institution, manifest in Jill’s pronouncements (reflecting values) about her daughter.
Jill’s attitude in the beginning of the tale is strange, if not perverse. An expert sharpshooter, she says, “Never have any children,” when she misses a difficult shot on a mountain slope, because her daughter distracted her. A moment later, she says to her husband, “You keep this brat.”
The scene is light but shows displeasure at being burdened on holiday with a young girl, But she later saves her daughter on another slope, a roof, by shooting the child’s captor.
Peter Lorre’s performance as the head of the kidnap operation is scary and sinister. The Man Who Knew was Lorre’s first English-speaking part; he had been brought to England at Hitchcock’s request after he saw him at Fritz Lang’s “M.”
Hitchcock, who didn’t favor child actors, got along so well with the young Pilbeam that he cast her in her first adult lead role, in “Young and Innocent,” three years later.
Bob Lawrence (Leslie Banks)
Jill Lawrence (Edna Best)
Abbott (Peter Lorre)
Betty Lawrenc (Nova Pilbean)
Louis Bernard (Piere Fresnay)
Running time: 75 Minutes
Leave a Reply
- Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of Plains Indian)
- Fast & Furious 6: Thrilling Joyride
- Angelina Jolie Double Mastectomy–Talk of Cannes Film Fest
- Bling Ring, The
- Before Midnight: Hawke and Delpie at Mid-Age
- Stories We Tell
- Great Gatsby: Luhrmann’s Jazzy Spectacle
- Star Trek into Darkness: Solid Sequel
- Love Is All You Need: From Denmark Via Italy
- Kiss of the Damned: Oversexed Vampires
- Murphy’s Romance (1986): James Garner’s Only Oscar Nomination