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The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 film)

The Man Who Knew Too Much
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 film).jpg
Film poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Michael Balcon (uncredited)
Written by Charles Bennett
D. B. Wyndham-Lewis
Edwin Greenwood (scenario)
A.R. Rawlinson (scenario)
Starring Leslie Banks
Edna Best
Peter Lorre
Nova Pilbeam
Frank Vosper
Music by Arthur Benjamin
Cinematography Curt Courant
Distributed by Gaumont-British Picture Corporation
Release date
  • December 1934 (1934-12) (United Kingdom)
Running time
75 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £40,000 (estimated)

The Man Who Knew Too Much is a 1934 British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, featuring Peter Lorre, and released by Gaumont British. It was one of the most successful and critically acclaimed films of Hitchcock's British period.

The film is Hitchcock's first film using this title and was followed later with his own 1956 film using the same name featuring a significantly different plot and script. In the second film with the same title, Hitchcock developed a separate plot and script featuring James Stewart and Doris Day in 1956 for Paramount Pictures. The two films, however, are very different in tone, in setting, and in many plot details. In the book-length interview Hitchcock/Truffaut (1967), in response to fellow filmmaker François Truffaut's assertion that aspects of the remake were by far superior, Hitchcock replied, "Let's say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional."[1][2]

The 1934 film has nothing except the title in common with G. K. Chesterton's 1922 book of detective stories of the same name. Hitchcock decided to use the title because he held the film rights for some of the stories in the book.[3]

Contents

SynopsisEdit

Bob and Jill Lawrence (Leslie Banks and Edna Best) are a British couple on a trip to Switzerland, travelling with their daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam). They have befriended Frenchman Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay), a skier, who is staying at their hotel. Jill is participating in a clay pigeon shooting contest. She reaches the final but loses to a male sharpshooter, Ramon (Frank Vosper), because at the crucial moment she is distracted by the noise of a chiming watch that belongs to Abbott (Peter Lorre).

That evening, Louis is fatally shot as Jill dances with him. Before he expires, he tells Jill where to find a note that is to be delivered to the British consul; she in turn tells Bob. Bob reads the note, which—it transpires—contains vital indications concerning a planned international crime.

The criminals involved in the shooting kidnap Betty, and threaten that she will be killed if her parents tell anyone what they know. Unable for that reason to seek help from the police, the couple return to England. They follow a series of leads and discover that the group, led by Abbott, intends to assassinate the head of state of an unidentified European country during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The group has hired Ramon as gunman for the assassination. Jill attends the concert, and distracts Ramon's aim by screaming at the crucial moment.

The criminals return to their lair, which is behind the temple of a sun-worshipping cult in the London district of Wapping, near the docks. Bob had entered the temple as he searched for Betty; both are being held prisoner in the adjoining house, in separate rooms. The police surround the buildings, and a major gunfight ensues; the police are issued with rifles. The criminals hold out until their ammunition runs low and nearly all of them have been killed.

Betty climbs up to the roof, fleeing from Ramon, who follows her. A police marksman dares not attempt to shoot him, for he is standing so close to Betty. Jill grabs the rifle and her sharpshooting skills finally triumph—she shoots Ramon, who falls off the roof without harming Betty.

The police storm the building. Abbott, the criminal mastermind, is still alive and hiding behind a door, but he is betrayed by the chiming of his watch, and is shot and killed by the police.

A terrified Betty is reunited with her parents.

CastEdit

Nova Pilbeam was the last surviving cast member until her death on 17 July 2015.

ProductionEdit

Before switching to the project, Hitchcock was reported to be working on Road House (1934), which was eventually directed by Maurice Elvey.[4] The film started when Hitchcock and writer Charles Bennett tried to adapt a Bulldog Drummond story revolving around international conspiracies and the kidnapping of a baby; its original title was Bulldog Drummond's Baby. The deal for an adaptation fell through, and the frame of the plot was reused in the script for The Man Who Knew Too Much, the title itself taken from an unrelated G.K. Chesterton compilation.[3]

The story is credited to Bennett and D. B. Wyndham Lewis; Bennett claimed that Lewis had been hired to write some dialogue that was never used and provided none of the story.[5]

Peter Lorre was unable to speak English at the time of filming (he had only recently fled from Nazi Germany) and learned his lines phonetically.[6]

The shoot-out at the end of the film was based on the Sidney Street Siege, a real-life incident that took place in London's East End (where Hitchcock grew up) on 3 January 1911.[7][8][9] The shoot-out was not included in Hitchcock's 1956 remake.[10]

Hitchcock hired Australian composer Arthur Benjamin to write a piece of music especially for the climactic scene at the Royal Albert Hall. The music, known as the Storm Clouds Cantata, is used in both the 1934 version and the 1956 remake.

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo appears 33 minutes into the film. He can be seen crossing the street from right to left in a black trenchcoat before Bob and Clive enter the chapel.

ReleaseEdit

The Man Who Knew Too Much opened in London in December 1934.[11] The film received its opening in New York on 21 March 1935.[11]

ReceptionEdit

Contemporary reviews were positive, with C.A. Lejeune of The Observer stating that he was "happy about this film [...] because of its very recklessness, its frank refusal to indulge in subtleties, to be the most promising work that Hitchcock has produced since Blackmail".[12] The Daily Telegraph referred to it as a "striking come-back" for Hitchcock, while the Daily Mail stated that "Hitchcock leaps once again into the front rank of British directors".[12] The New York Times praised the film as the "raciest melodrama of the new year", noting that it was "excitingly written" and an "excellently performed bit of story-telling".[13] The review praised Alfred Hitchcock as "one of England's ablest and most imaginative film makers" and stated that Peter Lorre "lacks the opportunity to be the one-man chamber of horrors that he was in [M]" but "is certainly something to be seen", comparing him favourably to actor Charles Laughton.[13] In a retrospective review, Dave Kehr contrarily argued that "Although the film is fast and consistently clever, it is more deeply flawed than any other Hitchcock film of the period, failing to find a thematic connection between its imaginative set pieces."

The film has an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[14]

ReferencesEdit

FootnotesEdit

  1. ^ Coe, Jonathan. "The Man Who Knew Too Much". Sight and Sound. BFI. Archived from the original on 10 March 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  2. ^ "Hitchcock". google.com. 
  3. ^ a b "The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much", The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) DVD
  4. ^ Ryall p.103
  5. ^ Pat McGilligan, "Charles Bennett", Backstory 1, p25
  6. ^ Classic Film Guide: "his first English-speaking role (learned phonetically)"
  7. ^ TimeOut Review: "shootout re-enacting the Sidney Street siege"
  8. ^ "Review". Screenonline.org. modelled on the notorious Sidney Street siege of 1911 
  9. ^ "Review". Britmovie.co.uk. based on the Sidney street siege 
  10. ^ TCM.com
  11. ^ a b "The Man Who Knew Too Much". American Film Institute. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  12. ^ a b Yacowar 2010, p. 135.
  13. ^ a b Sennwald, Andre (31 March 1935). "Peter Lorre, Poet of the Damned". New York Times. p. X3. 
  14. ^ "The Man Who Knew Too Much (1935)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 21, 2017. 

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