BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH

By • Feb 10th, 2013 •

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Imagine if a whole movie was photographed with a contrasty, murky elevator security camera! That’s what previous copies of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1934 version of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH looked like. Like all of Hitchcock’s films made in England before his Hollywood years, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH fell into public domain, meaning worn out, uncared for copies were the only prints available. Criterion has just released a beautiful, crisp Blu-Ray of this film, and its well worth the price.

This new Blu-Ray release brings forth delicious pieces of visual detail to what may be the first major Hitchcock thriller. These details include the shadows and crevices in gothic-horror style sets, and many telling, very often amusing facial expressions from hero Leslie Banks and villain Peter Lorre.

The plot of MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is pure Hitch – Londoner Bob Lawrence (Leslie Banks) is vacationing in Switzerland with his wife and pre-teen daughter. They witness a family friend, Louis Bernard, get cut down by a sniper’s bullet. The dying Bernard, who we will learn is a spy, tells Bob to retrieve a hidden message and forward it to authorities. The message warns about an upcoming assassination that could plunge England into war. Before Bob can tell the authorities, the assassins kidnap his daughter. This assures Bob’s silence, but it forces Bob to try his untrained hand at seeking out the kidnappers, stopping the assassination, and rescuing his daughter.

An early scene in the film is one of the first-ever displays of the “Hitchcock touch” at full tilt. We see a ball room at a Swiss resort, Bernard is dancing with Bob’s wife, as Bob and his daughter sit aside in boredom. Bob plays a practical joke on Louis as his wife seems to fall for the handsome Louis. This film, until now, could be another light- hearted romantic comedy. Suddenly, a bullet rips through the ballroom window- shattering the view of the nocturnal Alps, hitting Louis in the chest. As Hitchcock will do in dozens of following films, he has instantly turned us 180 degrees from light-hearted comedy to torturous suspense! This fatal bullet hits the audience unexpectedly, and then Hitchcock turns us around again. We expect Louis to howl in pain from the bullet-wound and collapse in a pool of blood, but this is Hitchcock – Louis glances at his bullet wound as if it was a non-threatening gravy stain, apologizes, then quietly sink to the floor. Like a refreshing cinematic shower interrupted by an intruder twenty-six years later, Hitchcock tells us that life can quickly turn on a dime.

Now, with seldom seen-before clarity, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH unravels crisp scenes of Hitchockian irony and suspense; a dentist tries using his dreaded healing tools to wipe out Bob; Bob and the bad guys fight using folding chairs instead of noisy, crowd-drawing bullets,; and the assassins close in to murder a diplomat at a large concert using the expected, loud clash of orchestra symbols to mask the killer’s gunfire.

The Blu-Ray comes with a well researched commentary by historian Phillip Kemp, and an interview about the film by horror flick master Guillermo del Toro. Both Kemp and Del Toro speak unfairly negatively about Hitchcock’s own remake of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, made in 1956 with stars James Stewart and Doris Day. Both versions abound with terrific suspense and humor. I can’t forget to mention that this Blu-Ray also contains an amusing interview that famed historian William K. Everson holds with Hitchcock. Both balding, very British, jovial gentlemen remind me of twins in this interview.

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