A Movie A Day: THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956) Don’t you realize Americans dislike having their children stolen?
Published at: Aug. 1, 2008, 5:37 p.m. CST by headgeek
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
More Jimmy Stewart for us now… This time jumping back almost 15 years to Hitchcock’s remake of his own 1934 movie THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, 1956’s film of the same name co-starring the gorgeous Doris Day.
Let me start out by saying Hitchcock and Technicolor were meant to go together. Jimmy Stewart’s blue-green eyes and Doris Day’s perfect complexion radiate off the screen even in standard def.
Hitchcock’s reputation of being the master of suspense is on full display here in a trademark Hitchcock formula of an ordinary man thrown into a horrible circumstance.
You have a young family on vacation in Marrakesh who stumble upon a political assassination attempt and are drawn in kicking and screaming ultimately caught in a horrible position as their child is kidnapped and held as collateral for their silence.
Doris Day really shines here, playing a range that her reputation doesn’t support. I challenge you to watch her subtle work here and think of her as the light, one-dimensional puff she’s known as. Or maybe it was just the impression I had and I just haven’t seen enough Day films to know what I’m talking about.
Of course Stewart is a great leading man, as to be expected. There’s a reason he’s a screen legend. There’s something about him that immediately invests you in his character, something that connects with every member of the audience. It’s a movie star quality, a true magnetism. He doesn’t disappoint here.
But speaking of Hitch’s suspense, the assassination attempt scene (the one gunshot to be hidden by the clashing of cymbals during a climactic part of the orchestral number) is incredible. Hitch chooses to play the scene with the score only (also notice that Bernard Hermann is the conductor… as himself!) and no dialogue, the suspense building and building as the number gets closer and closer to the point of the cymbals clashing and Day looking on horrified, but too scared to stop it for fear that her son will be killed. It’s scenes like that that earned Hitchcock his place as a legend of cinema.
Also of note is the origin of the incredibly well known and catchy song Que Sera, Sera. It was created for this film at the request of Paramount wanting a song to have a moment. It won the Oscar that year and Hitch uses it to great effect, making it feel organic to the movie and not tacked on by the studio.
I haven’t seen the original, which I need to since I have an unhealthy fascination with Peter Lorre, but from what I understand this is the better version of the story. In fact Hitchcock reportedly said this to Francios Truffaut:
“The first film was done by an amateur and the remake by a professional.”
On display is also Hitch’s famous sense of humor, most notable in two scenes. One is a hilarious dinner scene where Stewart is trying to eat in a traditional Arab manner, using only three fingers of his right hand to pick at his finger food. The other is a great fight at a taxidermist office.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t fawn over the work of Brenda De Banzie as one of the kidnappers. Often in films they try to set up the one bad guy that’s not completely on the dark side and ends up helping the heroes. Banzie’s character in this fits into that mold, but she sells it so perfectly that it doesn’t feel forced, or like a plot device.
Hitchcock cameo alert: He’s in the market place watching the acrobats before the big Moroccan murder.
Final Thoughts: Great work of suspense from Hitchcock, with some truly outstanding performances. All the characters are likable and the pace is quick. This is Hitchcock at the top of his game working with one of his best leading men. The cinematography is great, Hermann’s score is fantastic and the writing is smart, smart, smart.