Friday, November 08, 2019

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 film)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock and screenplay by John Michael Hayes from a story by Charles Bennett and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis, The Man Who Knew Too Much is the story of a vacationing couple in Morocco whose son witnesses an assassination plot as he is kidnapped prompting the couple to get their son back. A remake of the 1934 film of the same name, the film is a suspense thriller that explores a couple who deals with what their son discovered as they also realize what is at stake in not just for their son but for so much more. Starring James Stewart, Doris Day, Brenda de Banzie, Bernard Miles, Christopher Olsen, Daniel Gelin, and Reggie Nalder. The Man Who Knew Too Much is a riveting and exhilarating film from Alfred Hitchcock.

The film revolves around a couple who go to Marrakesh during a vacation in Morocco as they meet a Frenchman whom they would later see killed in an assassination plot as their son is later kidnapped as they wonder what is going on. It’s a film that play into a doctor and his wife whose meeting with a Frenchman and then see him killed the next day who gives the doctor a message as he becomes unsure whether to tell the authorities after getting a call that his son had been kidnapped. John Michael Hayes’ screenplay, with un-credited contributions from Angus McPhall, opens the film with an orchestral performance that would be crucial to its climax in relation to what is at stake in this assassination plot. Dr. Benjamin McKenna (James Stewart) and his pop singer wife Josephine “Jo” Conway McKenna (Doris Day) were with their son Hank (Christopher Olsen) when they meet Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin) on a bus as they would later have a dinner with him only to be cancelled as the McKennas later dine with a British couple in Edward and Lucy Drayton (Bernard Miles and Brenda de Banzie respectively).

The Draytons aren’t what they seem when they suddenly disappear as Hank was with Lucy shortly after the assassination plot they witnessed where Bernard told Dr. McKenna crucial information. The first act takes place in Marrakesh while its second act is in London where the McKennas arrive to find a person named Ambrose Chappell based on a note that Dr. McKenna wrote from what Bernard told him. Their arrival in London is met with fanfare for Jo as she still had some air of popularity during her time as a singer where some old friends of her come and visit her at the hotel she and her husband stay in. It is in London that leads to this climatic event at the Royal Albert Hall as well as who is the target of this major assassination plot as the script manages to maintain this slow build but keep investing in its approach to suspense.

Alfred Hitchcock’s direction does bear style as it just opens with this orchestral performance of Arthur Benjamin’s Storm Clouds Cantata as it would be a piece re-played for its climax. Shot in locations in Morocco and London, the film does play into a world where this couple and their young son are just pawns of as they would witness a man being killed and later be involved about a secret assassination plot. While there are some wide shots that Hitchcock would create, much of his direction is emphasized more on attention to detail in the close-ups and medium shots as it play into the drama but also certain clues that play into the mystery. Hitchcock would also infuse some stylish shots as it play into the suspense and drama as well as the air of misdirection where Hitchcock would take a character somewhere and then put that person in the wrong place.

Hitchcock’s direction also play into this world where one couldn’t trust anyone as Dr. McKenna’s believes that there are authorities who are corrupt following a meeting he and Jo had with an immigration official where Dr. McKenna gets a call that Hank had been kidnapped. One of the few figures that the McKennas do trust but never tell them what they know is Inspector Buchanan (Ralph Truman) who understands the severity of their situation but is aware of what is at stake for the McKennas. The film’s climax is set at the Royal Albert Hall during this performance as it is about where the target is at and where the assassin is at the importance of the music piece. Hitchcock’s usage of geography and timing is key to that event as it would be followed by an aftermath where music is once again key to the dramatic suspense but it is presented in a more intimate setting. Overall, Hitchcock crafts a thrilling and captivating film about a couple whose son is kidnapped after they had witnessed a murder that involves a major assassination plot.

Cinematographer Robert Burks does brilliant work with the film’s colorful cinematography as it captures the exquisite beauty of some of the locations in Morocco and in London in its daytime exteriors as well as the usage of low-key lights for some of the nighttime interior scenes. Editor George Tomasini does excellent work with the editing as it help play into the suspense and drama with some structural fade-outs and rhythmic cuts that include the film’s climax at the Royal Albert Hall. Art directors Henry Bumstead and Hal Pereira, with set decorators Sam Comer and Arthur Krams, do fantastic work with the look of the hotel rooms and dining room in Marrakesh as well as the hotel suite they stay at in London as well as the mysterious home of Ambrose Chappell.

Costume designer Edith Head does amazing work with the costumes from the dresses that Jo wears as well as the glamorous clothes that some of the attendees at the Royal Albert Hall wear. Sound recordists Paul Franz and Gene Garvin, with sound editor Bill Wistrom, do superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as in creating sound effects to help play into the suspense. The film’s music by Bernard Herrmann is incredible for its orchestral score with some lush string arrangements for the somber moments and some bombastic textures to play into the suspense while Herrmann appears in the film’s climax as the conductor for a performance of Arthur Benjamin’s Storm Clouds Cantata while the music soundtrack also features an original piece in Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be) that is written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans as it is a crucial song that is used for its final showdown.

The casting by William Cowitt, Gary Fifield, Bill Greenwald, Edward R. Morse, and Tony Regan is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from George Howe and Richard Wordsworth as two men named Ambrose Chappell, Alexis Bobrinskoy as Britain’s prime minister, Alan Mowbray and Hillary Brooke as a couple of Jo’s old friends visiting her in London, Reggie Nalder as a mysterious man that the McKennas meet early in the film, Mogens Weith as a foreign ambassador who might have some involvement with the assassination plot, and Christopher Olsen as the McKennas’ young son Hank. Daniel Gelin is terrific in his brief yet crucial performance as Louis Bernard as a French-Moroccan man whom the McKennas meet early in the film as he is an ambiguous figure yet would be killed because of some information he discovered that he would pass to Dr. McKenna.

Ralph Truman is superb as Inspector Buchanan as a police inspector in London who wants to help the McKennas but is aware of what is at stake as he stays close to them while attending to other matters that would relate to the film’s climax. Bernard Miles and Brenda de Banzie are fantastic in their respective roles as Edward and Lucy Drayton as a British couple the McKennas meet as they look at various sites in Marrakesh with the former knowing how to speak French but they’re also a couple who provide intrigue in the way they present themselves and the way they look at the McKennas the first time they’re shown. Finally, there’s the duo of James Stewart and Doris Day in incredible performances in their respective roles as Dr. Ben McKenna and Jo McKenna as this American couple who witness a murder and later deal with their son being kidnapped with Stewart being a rational man trying to understand what is going on and is aware that he can’t trust anyone while Jo is a woman that is just troubled as she would also embark on her own investigation as she makes a major discovery and play a key role in the film’s climax.

The Man Who Knew Too Much is a spectacular film from Alfred Hitchcock that features sensational performances from James Stewart and Doris Day. Along with its supporting ensemble cast, usage of geography and location, riveting screenplay, and Bernard Herrmann’s sumptuous music score. It is a film that does a lot that is expected in the world of suspense and drama while it’s also one of Hitchcock’s quintessential film in terms of emphasis on attention to detail and maintaining an atmosphere to play up the suspense. In the end, The Man Who Knew Too Much is a tremendous film from Alfred Hitchcock.

Alfred Hitchcock Films: (Number 13) - (The Pleasure Garden) - (The Blackguard) - (The Mountain Eagle) - (The Lodger) - (A Story of the London Fog) - (The Ring) - (Downhill) - (The Farmer’s Wife) - (Easy Virtue) - (Champagne) - (The Manxman) - (Blackmail) - (Juno and the Paycock) - (Murder!) - (The Skin Game) - (Mary) - (Lord Camber’s Ladies) - (Rich and Strange) - (Number Seventeen) - (Waltzes from Vienna) - (The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 film)) – The 39 Steps - (Secret Agent) - (Sabotage) - (Young and Innocent) – The Lady Vanishes - (Jamaica Inn) – (Rebecca) – (Foreign Correspondent) – (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) – Suspicion - (Saboteur) – (Shadow of a Doubt) – Lifeboat - Bon Voyage (1944 film) - (Spellbound) – (Notorious) – (The Paradine Cage) – Rope - (Under Capricorn) – (Stage Fright) – Strangers on a Train - I Confess - Dial M for Murder - Rear Window - To Catch a Thief - (The Trouble with Harry) – (The Wrong Man) – Vertigo - North by Northwest - Psycho - The Birds - Marnie - (Torn Curtain) – (Topaz) – (Frenzy) – (Family Plot)

© thevoid99 2019


ThePunkTheory said...

This really is one of Hitchcock's best films. I've seen quite of view of his movies and didn't exactly love all of them, but The Man Who Knew Too Much is definitely among my favorites.

thevoid99 said...

@ThePunkTheory-I'm trying to catch up on Hitchcock as I'm trying to watch his entire work from 1940 to the mid-70s as this film is just phenomenal.