A French intelligence agent becomes embroiled in the Cold War politics first with uncovering the events leading up to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and then back to France to break up an international Russian spy ring.
While attending a medical conference in Paris, American physician Dr. Ben McKenna, his wife, retired musical theater actress and singer Jo McKenna née Conway, and their adolescent son Hank McKenna decide to take a side trip to among other places Marrekesh, French Morocco. With a knife plunged into his back, Frenchman Louis Bernard, who the family met earlier in their bus ride into Marrakesh and who is now masquerading as an Arab, approaches Ben, cryptically whispering into Ben's ears that there will be an attempted assassination in London of a statesman, this news whispered just before Bernard dies. Ben is reluctant to provide any information of this news to the authorities because concurrently Hank is kidnapped by British couple, Edward and Lucy Drayton, who also befriended the McKennas in Marrakesh and who probably have taken Hank out of the country back to England. Whoever the unknown people the Draytons are working for have threatened to kill Hank if Ben divulges any information ... Written by
Bernard Herrmann was given the option of composing a new cantata to be performed during the film's climax. However, he found Arthur Benjamin's cantata Storm Clouds from the original 1934 film to be so well suited to the film that he declined, although he did expand the orchestration, and insert several repeats to make the sequence longer. Herrmann can be seen conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and singers during the Royal Albert Hall scenes. See more »
In Marrakech, when Dr. McKenna and Jo go to the police headquarters, he sits behind the desk and she sits at the corner of the desk. In the next shot they are sitting side by side. See more »
Many reviewers seem to prefer the original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, which I have not had the opportunity to view. By itself, the '56 version is a very well done film. The run of mid-to-late fifties Hitchcock films (including "Rear Window", "Dial M For Murder", "Vertigo", and "To Catch A Thief", as well as this film) is one of my favorite periods in his career. In The Man Who Knew Too Much, Jimmy Stewart throws himself vigorously into his role as always. Doris Day is very believable in the role of an atypical Hitchcock blond. I thought there was nothing fake about her performance. Her character may not have been written as strongly as the original, but she's definitely not reduced to the role of a passive, "Yes, dear", pretty thing on Jimmy Stewart's arm.
There were some really clever lines written for Hank (the couple's son who later gets kidnapped) in the opening scene on the bus- it's too bad Christopher Olsen read them so woodenly. It's rare to see a good performance from a child actor in the 50s, though. Most of the rest of the supporting actors in this film were very competent, though- most notably the assassin (played by Reggie Nalder).
Some little touches that make this film undeniably Hitchcockian- the use of non-English dialog, especially French (something Hitch did on a much larger scale in "To Catch A Thief"); the use of foreboding, Arabic music in the hotel when the assassin appears; Stewart and Day talking to each other in the church, singing their words to the tune of the hymn; the Albert Hall scene, specifically showing the musicians and the assassin's accomplice following the score, building up tension, as well as the percussionist getting the cymbals ready; and finally the assassin's gun as it appears from behind the curtain. It moves so slowly and precisely that it must have been done mechanically (an effect Hitch used at the end of "Spellbound", also).
All in all, The Man Who Knew Too Much is a fun film to watch. It's not as deep or as heavily laden with symbolism as some of his films ("Vertigo", "Strangers on a Train"), but all the same it is one of my top five Hitchcock masterpieces.
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