Movie Critique - The Man Who Knew Too Much

For review of other books or movies by Alfred Hitchcock, go here

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: Hitchcock's own film's remake made 22 years later with a powerful star cast and a thrilling climax makes this a mystery film noir worth watching time and time again. Certainly a entertaining thriller that warrants a second look. 

The Man Who Knew Too Much is a 1956 American suspense thriller film directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock; released by Paramount Pictures. It stars Jimmy Stewart, Doris Day, Christopher Olsen, Ralph Truman, Bernard Miles and others among the cast. 

Dr. Benjamin "Ben" McKenna (portrayed by James Stewart) is vacationing in French Morocco with his wife Josephine "Jo" Conway (portrayed by Doris Day) and son Henry "Hank" (portrayed by Christopher Olsen). Accidentally they end up in the saga of murder, espionage, kidnapping and mystery, when they have a chance meeting with a Frenchman Louis Bernard (portrayed by Danile Gelin).

The film's story was written by Charles Bennett and D. B. Wyndham-Lewis for which screenplay was given by John Michael Hayes. The opening credits have a prologue "A single crash of Cymbals and how it rocked the lives of an American family". Hitchcock dramatically shows it literally on a musician who crashes the Cymbals.

After Universal acquired the rights from Paramount, they Universal logo was added to play first before the Paramount VistaVision fanfare starts at the beginning of the film. The credits then continue on with the London Symphony Orchestra performing live, the Storm Clouds Canata. You can see a record shown in the middle of the picture with the name "Storm Clouds" printed on it. You can see Universal logo in the end as well. 

The background score and music in general for the film was composed by Bernard Herrmann. You can see him conducting the orchestra in the Albert Hall sequence and his name is also seen on the advertising poster that Day passes by. However he used the cantata Storm Clouds from the original 1931 version of the film for the climax in this film, which was composed by Arthur Benjamin and D. B. Wyndham-Lewis, who is also the co-author of the story for this 1956 version. 

The film received an Academy Award for Original Song for the song "Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)", sung by Doris Day. Originally rejecting the idea of recording the song, once it became famous, Day also sang the song in two other films - the 1960 Metrocolor comedy film Please Don't Eat The Daisies; and the 1966 American romantic comedy film The Glass Bottom Boat. She also used it as the theme song for her American sitcom The Doris Day Show which aired on CBS between 1968 and 1973.

The song was written by Jay Livingstone and Ray Evans. In an interview in 1994 he mentioned that he found the words from the 1954 American drama film The Barefoot Contessa. Doris Day sings twice in the film, once at the beginning:

And second time close to the climax:

And the opening theme song for her show The Doris Day Show

Doris Day saw how the animals used in the film were treated off-screen and had refused to act unless they were treated well. This lead to Day's life-long involvement in a movement to prevent animal abuse.

The most significant scene of the film was the one shot in the Albert Hall. The entire sequence lasts 12 minutes without a single dialogue uttered. Yes, there is singing and music but no dialogues. It is performed by London Symphony Orchestra with Covent Garden Chorus and Barbara Howitt as the soloist

The chemistry between Stewart and Day is spot-on, almost like they were a real couple. This is the third of the four films that James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock collaborated together. The other three were - 1948 American psychological crime thriller Rope; 1954 American mystery thriller film Rear Window; and 1958 American psychological film noir thriller Vertigo.

The costumes worn by Doris Day are magnificent just like any of Hitchcock's heroines would wear. Edith Head's mastery is clearly visible.

Under-rated and often considered Hitchcock's weaker films, after watching it I disagree. The thrilling 12-minute Albert Hall scene is itself enough to make this movie a masterpiece by a master filmmaker. Oddly enough even though the genre is mystery thriller, if you look closely the plot subtly centers all around the mother and her effort to get her child back. 

Hitchcock's own film's remake made 22 years later with a powerful star cast and a thrilling climax makes this a mystery film noir worth watching time and time again. Certainly a entertaining thriller that warrants a second look. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Hitchcock also made a British movie with the same title in 1934, with certain differences between them.

b. Look for Hitchcock's cameo appearance, as he does in every movie of his. You can see him watching the acrobats wearing a light gray suit, with his back to the camera, and hands in his pockets (lower left corner of the picture).

c. There is a 1997 American spy comedy film titled The Man Who Knew Too Little, which was a parody on this film. 

d. Carolyn Jones plays the role of Jo McKenna's friend in the film. Some of you will remember her mostly for her role as Morticia in the 1960s American macabre comedy sitcom The Addams Family.

e. Christopher Olsen plays Doris Day's son in the 1951 American musical film I'll See You in My Dreams as well.

f. The scene where Stewart's Ben gives Day's Jo a large glass of alcohol telling her to drink like medicine, can be seen in the 1941 American screwball comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a Hitchcock film too. 

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. In the opening scene when the McKenna family is traveling in bus from Casablanca to Marrakesh, the people sitting in front of them appear and disappear between scenes. Perhaps the filmmakers lost the extras.

b. In the long shot when the bus is taking a turn, you can see VW Beetle car in front of it going really slow. But when the same shot is shown in side-angle, the car is no longer there. 

c. The knife the killer stabs into Bernard is at the base of his neck, but in a later shot we see it in the middle of his shoulder blades. 

d. Wedding and Engagement rings are missing from Jo's left hand when she is seen reading the note that Ben gives her. 


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