This review is for the recent Blu Ray release of The Man Who Knew Too Much from Network. I'm very happy with this restored version of such a classic early Hitchcock film. The picture is very clear without any obtrusive digital clean up evident retaining the film as best as possible. The sound is clear and defined. Well worth the upgrade if you only have this on DVD.
Although Hitchcock would remake this film (in my opinion no where near as well) this still stands as an absolute classic alongside his other British masterpieces The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes. Peter Lorre steals the show as the evil conspirator with an excellent performance from Leslie Banks as the man who knew a little more than he perhaps should of. Essential viewing for any fans of classic cinema.
on 14 September 2001
The Carlton region 2 copy of "The Man Who Knew Too Much"(1934 version)is a much clearer copy of the classic film that the poor quality Laserlight version and is the one to get.An eccellent film,it has some great scenes and it was nice to see Peter Lorre again as one of the villians.
It is hard to overstate the importance of this film, for The Man Who Knew Too Much catapulted Alfred Hitchcock into the ranks of the directing elite and did much to define the very genre of the suspense thriller. The fact that Hitchcock remade this 1934 film twenty-two years later should in no way be interpreted to mean that this original version is an inferior film. Hitchcock may have looked upon the original as the work of a "talented amateur," but critics and fans hail the film as a great success that showed the master truly coming into his own - thanks in no small part to his being given almost complete control of the project.
The Man Who Knew Too Much is a very British film, as personified by the suave, cool, and urbane hero who keeps a stiff upper lip throughout his ordeal. And quite an ordeal it is, as he finds himself hip-deep in a diplomatic brouhaha that could conceivably start another war. It all starts innocently enough, on a family vacation in Switzerland. Bob Lawrence (Leslie Banks), his wife Jill (Edna Best), and their daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam) are having a grand old time, even enjoying the company of a Frenchman, Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay). Then Bernard is killed (in a wonderfully subtle way), and his dying words charge Bob to find a hidden document in his room and take it to the British Consul. The bad guys, led by Abbott (Peter Lorre, in his first English-speaking role), are right behind him, though, and prevent him from delivering the important message by kidnapping his little girl. The Lawrences return to Britain without Betty; unable to tell the authorities the truth, Bob sets out to find and rescue his little girl on his own and stop the planned assassination of an important diplomat if he can - but his daughter's safety comes first. The film builds to a wonderfully suspenseful scene as the assassin takes his place, but the movie doesn't end there. The completely satisfying conclusion comes only after a protracted shootout between the cops and the bad guys.
It's a wonderfully made film featuring a tight plot, a number of budget-friendly camera tricks (quite impressive for 1934), and great performances all around. Leslie Banks is wonderful as Bob Lawrence, but Peter Lorre pretty much steals the show. It has been many years since I saw the 1956 remake starring Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day, so I can't really compare the two versions of the film. Many Hitchcock fans have a special regard for the original, though, because this film provides us with a glimpse at the legend that is Hitchcock in the making. Even if you're not a Hitchcock fan (if that is even possible), watch it for Peter Lorre - he is nothing less than the icon of polite, soft-spoken villains.
The Criterion Collection has released only a handful of Alfred Hitchock's movies, but they tend to be subtle, psychological movies that are often eclipsed by better known movies like "Psycho" and "The Birds."
And yes, Alfred Hitchock may have preferred his later remake of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" as opposed to his early "amateur" original. But the original has a raw, murky, taut appeal all its own, and it has the veddy veddy British flavor that many of Hitchcock's early hits have. In short, it's unpretentiously enjoyable.
The Lawrence family is vacationing at a ski resort, and hanging out with a friendly Frenchman -- until their last evening, when he is shot during a slow dance with Jill (Edna Best). Bob (Leslie Banks) follows his last instructions, and finds top-secret information hidden inside a shaving brush. He's supposed to take it to the British authorities.
But what they don't realize is that a sinister man at the resort (Peter Lorre) is the leader of an enemy terrorist cell, who is planning to assassinate someone. And to keep Bob from turning in the information, they kidnap Bob and Jill's daughter. Now Bob and British intelligence must somehow free his daughter, while Jill thwarts the assassins...
Hitchcock directed a lot of spy movies, and this one is part of an early trio that includes "The 39 Steps" and "The Lady Vanishes." Each one is pretty amateurish by comparison to his later works like "North By Northwest," but are still tight, enjoyable little suspense movies.
Hitchcock keeps the relatively simple plot moving along at a rapid pace, with a sense of solid suspense and often creepy dialogue ("Tell her they may soon be leaving us. Leaving us... for a long, long journey..."). It's not a slick James Bond-y flick -- the action is dirtier and misty, like the back streets of London. And the climactic scene in a crammed opera house is wonderfully chaotic.
None of the actors are really remembered now, except for Peter Lorre who plays the slimy creep to perfection. But they all carry off their parts well, with Banks and Best carrying their roles as an ordinary couple in extraordinary circumstances. They're completely believable, and a hundred percent sympathetic -- these are the people next door, dragged into a nightmarish situation.
As for the Criterion release, it's gonna be the loving production we've come to know and expect -- a full high-def digital restoration (since the film is rather elderly), a massive interview with Hitchcock from 1972 and an audio interview by François Truffaut, a film critic booklet by Farran Smith Nehme, an interview with the always awesome Guillermo del Toro, and audio commentary by Philip Kemp. Not their most expansive work, but a decent showing for an older movie.
Hitchcock may not have known as much about filmmaking, but the original "Man Who Knew Too Much" had plenty of raw cinematic skill and a powerful knowledge of character.
When faced with the same story directed by the same man, the first more than 70 tears old with somewhat dated acting and a terrible, dark, fuzzy DVD transfer (in the version I watched), and the other in color, modern and slick, glossy and entertaining, with charismatic leads and 45 more minutes of screen time, which do you watch? If it weren't for the intense and lasting irritation of seeing a first-class movie terribly presented, I'd vote for Hitchcock's 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much.
The story is the same. A couple on vacation sees a friend shot. The man gives them a message that must be delivered to Whitehall. A foreign dignitary will be assassinated during a performance in Albert Hall. The plotters, to keep the couple from stopping their plans, kidnap their child. If they deliver the message and alert authorities to the assassination, the couple's child will be killed. They decide to find their child themselves. It builds up to a crashing cantata in the Hall and then the desperate rescue of the child. Not bad at all.
In 1934 Hitchcock dishes up for us a tense thriller with the emphasis on tightly constructed sequences. The humor is there only as a counterpoint. Hitchcock moves the story briskly toward that showdown in Albert Hall, then tops that with a violent shootout that leaves bodies on the floor. Bob and Jill Lawrence (Leslie Banks and Edna Best) are an upper-class British couple, well-bred, smart, plucky and brave. Hitchcock also gives us a creepy, riveting, smiling villain in Abbott, played by Peter Lorre in his first English language film. Lorre learned his lines phonetically; he knew almost no English. Lorre focuses the film as an intense, unpredictable thriller every time he's on screen.
In 1956, Hitchcock gives us an upper-middle class American couple (James Stewart and Doris Day) with a cliché of a husband who enjoys not knowing anything about foreign cultures and an all-American corn-fed wife in serious need of medication. Hitchcock uses that extra 45 minutes on lengthy, sly humor and colorful tourist photography, neither of which advances the story. Despite Stewart's earnestly laconic performance and Day's overwrought emoting, the bones of the thriller still keep us interested. Still, I had the feeling that with the 1934 movie I was watching one of the best of Hitchcock's English movies and with the 1954 version I was watching just one of his highly professional and entertaining Hollywood hits.
To see what I mean, compare the 1934 sequence in the dentist's office - a struggle silent except for groans and the sound of laughing gas escaping - and the 1956 sequence in the taxidermist's shop. One is suspenseful, almost queasy and masterful. The other is just an excuse for a few laughs.
The clever and tense showpiece of both versions is in the Albert Hall and it works both times. The emotional conclusion, the rescue of the child, is a far different story. In 1954 we have an embassy dinner, Doris Day singly loudly and Stewart and his son walking down the stairs. It works if you have nothing to compare it with. In 1934, the nearly 15-minute shootout brings everything to a murderous climax, with ingenious rescues, violent confrontations and the emotionally satisfying fate of Abbott. His death is, well, kind of fun as well as satisfying. Hitchcock takes the time at the start of the movie to establish Jill Lawrence as a crack shot with a rifle. We learn why he did this now, and it has nothing to do with Abbott.
Peter Lorre, plus Hitchcock's way of building a clever, tense story, makes this movie a pleasure to watch. But let's not forget Leslie Banks and Edna Best. She was a competent star actress who never quite reached the top. I wonder what she might have done without such a frumpy name. She makes Jill a woman who will not have a nervous breakdown. When Jill needs to pull a trigger, she does. Leslie Banks was a fine stage actor who had a decent career in the movies. He was wounded in WWI and was left with half his face paralyzed and disfigured (not horribly but easy to notice). When he played nice guys or heroes, he showed the good side. With bad guys, he showed the damaged side. To see him use those two sides of his face as a charming host and then as a really bad guy, watch The Most Dangerous Game.
Perhaps somewhere there is a fine, restored version of this movie. If so, it would be a pleasure to watch and to own.
Alfred Hitchcock may not have had that much fondness for this, his first attempt at The Man Who Knew Too Much, but history arguably shows that it is a better film that it's big budget remake.
Jill and Bob Lawrence (Edna Best & Leslie Banks) are vacationing with their daughter when they witness the assassination of a secret agent. He tells them of the whereabouts of a hidden document which must be handed over to the British Consuland learn that tells of a plot to kill a foreign diplomat in London. A spy ring kidnapps their daughter and the couple track her back to London.
Whilst not one of his best efforts, there is still much to admire from Hitchcock here. The shock of the secret agent's assassination, whilst Bob Lawrence performs a trick to him, is superbly played, especially as up to that point the Lawrence's holiday has been a distincly light-hearted affair. It's also perhaps a template for the action-adventure movies that would become Hitch's trademark, pitching the mix of comedy, romance and suspense almost perfectly.
The star of the show is Peter Lorre, in his first English-speaking role. Having learned English phonetically for the part, Lorre excels as the charming but deadly Abbot and it perhaps he, more than anything else, that secures this films superiority over the remake.
on 8 August 2009
Just to let you know about the extras on this new edition.An introduction to the movie by film historian charles barr(3:45),Aquarius:Alfred the great-hitchcock interview from 1972(35:33)and a still gallery(0:46).Hope this helps in deciding which edition to buy.
on 27 January 2005
It's probably not a great film, but it is an early creation by Hitchcock and we can already see some of his art coming out. The action has a rhythm that does not accept any slack moment. Every gesture, word or attitude of all actors are absolutely calculated to be meaningful. No waste of time, no waste of film. The story is meaningless in itself, but it was meaningful in 1934. The danger of a new war was coming and it took some courage to say so as soon as 1934, as soon as Hitler appeared. The role of Switzerland is here shown with clarity. It is a neutral country, hence a country where spies of all sorts can meet and settle their accounts. What's more, Hitchcock had a sense of humor. There are a couple of funny scenes at the beginning of the film that are quite simple and effective, but Hitchcock is already a master because it is when he makes us laugh at something that the plot thickens and the action jumps into gear. Humor is there to distract us and to make us be more surprised by the dramatic turn of events. There is also a certain distanciation between Hitchcock and the British. The scene where the poor father is trying to commuinicate with a German-speaking young Swiss cop, in English or in French, not understanding that it is German he needs is absolutely ironical. How can you pretend to be the masters of the world if you can't even communicate with people in the proper language ? And how can you keep the world safe if you can't even have some security in The Albert Hall where an assassin can enter, kill or try to kill and disappear ? And how can an assassin miss his target because one woman in the audience yells a warning ? Are assassins that emotional and influenceable ? The world is no longer what it used to be. But to apply this kind of humor in 1934 at the war danger that Hitler represented is quite amazing : it sure is a warning about what we could lose if we were not cautious, prudent, careful and vigilant : we could lose the possibility to just laugh at things, a greater loss than anything we could imagine.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
on 6 July 2015
Hitch, you are in a league of your own. This atmospheric spy thriller is an enjoyable romp back into the pre war years when the world was a much more civilised place. Hitch was very young when he directed this and you can see his brilliance starting to shine. The bluray transfer was impeccable.
This is a superb thriller which entertains for every one of its eighty odd minutes. Leslie Banks and Edna Best play the parents searching for their kidnapped daughter. The pretext (MacGuffin) for all this, involving foreign agents and a planned assassination, is wisely glossed over as the film moves with breakneck speed from one excellent scene to another. Hitchcock's visual ideas are excellent and the acting is superb, particularly the marvellously villainous Peter Lorre who by turns repulses and charms and in the end is oddly moving.
The climactic seige is well handled with the police for once in a Hitchcock film being portrayed sympathetically. The deaths are more than just anonymous falling bodies and the battle is all the more gripping and horrifying.
The 1956 version has more character developement, is glossier and has certain scenes improved (the Albert Hall scene for example), but if forced to choose I'd take this version for its pace,vigour and for Lorre's performance (surely one of the best ever Hitchcock baddies).