The Man Who Knew Too Much [DVD]
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Alfred Hitchcock directs the first of his classic British spy thrillers. While holidaying in the Swiss Alps with their daughter Betty, English couple Bob (Leslie Banks) and Jill Lawrence (Edna Best) are befriended by Frenchman Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay). When he is shot by international spies, Louis warns Jill with his dying breath that his killers intend to assassinate a leading diplomat in Britain. However, before Jill and Bob can inform the police, Betty is kidnapped by the spies who warn the couple that unless they maintain their silence they will never see their daughter again. Peter Lorre makes his English-speaking debut as the charming but psychotic kidnapper, Abbott. Hitchcock later decided to produce a big-budget, colour remake of the film with James Stewart and Doris Day.
Alfred Hitchcock himself called this 1934 British edition of his famous kidnapping story "the work of a talented amateur", while his 1956 Hollywood remake was the consummate act of a professional director. Be that as it may, this earlier movie still has its intense admirers who prefer it over the Jimmy Stewart--Doris Day version, and for some sound reasons. Tighter, wittier, more visually outrageous (back-screen projections of Swiss mountains, a whirly-facsimile of a fainting spell), the film even has a female protagonist (Edna Best in the mom part) unafraid to go after the bad guys herself with a gun. (Did Doris Day do that that? Uh-uh.) While the 1956 film has an intriguing undercurrent of unspoken tensions in nuclear family politics, the 1934 original has a crisp air of British optimism glummed up a bit when a married couple (Best and Leslie Banks) witness the murder of a spy and discover their daughter stolen away by the culprits. The chase leads to London and ultimately to the site of one of Hitch's most extraordinary pieces of suspense (though on this count, it must be said, the later version is superior). Take away distracting comparisons to the remake, and this Man Who Knew Too Much is a milestone in Hitchcock's early career. Peter Lorre makes his British debut as a scarred, scary villain. --Tom Keogh
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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. Read morePublished 13 months ago by James Lazy Bones
A crystal clear image and top notch sound in this drama from hitch,considering this was released in the mid 1930`s you have to ask how is it that network always produces a top... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Steve H
It's hard to follow what was going on. The later version with James Stewart is much better.Published 13 months ago by Barry M. Edwards