Classic Movie Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Posted: August 21, 2016 in Drama
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man who knew too much

Dr. Ben McKenna (James Stewart) is on vacation in Marrakesh Morocco, with his wife Jo (Doris Day) and their son, Hank. (Christopher Olsen)  Ben meets Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin) on a tour bus, and the two become instant friends.  Jo is suspicious of Louis, but Ben insists that he didn’t disclose anything other than small talk to Louis.  Edward Drayton (Bernard Miles) and his wife Lucy (Brenda de Branzie) also befriend Ben and Jo quickly. Lucy is a big fan of Jo’s musical career. And so, Jo’s suspicion of them is assuaged, and the couples plan to shop at an outdoor Moroccan market.

While shopping, Ben sees a man staggering toward him.  The man is none other than Louis Bernard, with dark makeup, and Moroccan clothes.  Bernard has been stabbed, and with his dying breath, he tells Ben something.  Ben wants to tell police what Bernard told him, but before he can, he gets a call saying that if he tells the police anything, Hank will be kidnapped. Hank is indeed kidnapped, and now Ben and Jo must put together the clues from what Bernard gave him, in order to find Hank. What is the secret that led to Hank being kidnapped?  Do Ben and Jo find Hank before the kidnappers kill him?

I love The Man Who Knew Too Much. I’ve seen at least 8 Hitchcock movies,  this one reminds me of a lot of later Hitchcock classics.   It features elements of North By Northwest, Rear Window, Vertigo, and one scene is even reminiscent of Psycho.  There are dual mysteries here, the secret that only Ben knows, and the kidnapping of their son, and the clock is ticking on both mysteries, so Ben and Jo need to act quickly, without involving the police, and figure out both mysteries before time expires.  It’s the kind of edge of your seat thriller that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore.

Jimmy Stewart excels in this role, most people think he can only play good guys, and he is a good guy in this movie, but one thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that he expresses an utter sense of desperation better than most actors.  When his characters’ backs are against the wall, he gets this frenzied look in his eyes and he fights like hell for the cause he believes in.  He’s done it in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, It’s A Wonderful Life, and he does it in this film.  It adds a different dimension to his roles, and it’s so heartfelt that the viewer can’t help but empathize with his characters.  Doris Day breaks the good-girl image in this movie once and for all.  She plays a woman rightfully suspicious of everyone in Morocco, her primary concern becomes the safety of her son, and it is Day’s character who deduces a key part of the mystery.  It’s a smart complex performance, and she sings her big hit “Que Sera Sera.”  The song fits neatly into the plot.  Watch and see.

Hitchcock specializes in creating a feeling of disorientation in his audiences, and The Man Who Knew Too Much is no exception.  The disorientation here is caused by the location, Morocco, where the people and customs are foreign to American tourists, add a murder and the kidnapping of a loved one, and the sense of events spinning out of control is palpable. The scenes actually filmed in Morocco are quite breathtaking, but Hitchcock projects some backgrounds on a soundstage, and that looks amateurish by today’s standards.  But the climactic scene in Royal Albert Hall makes up for all the cinematic shortcomings of this film, and make it worthy to be included in Hitchcock’s pantheon of classic thrillers. The pacing is good, and he gets great performances from his stars and the many character actors that inhabit this film.

The Man Who Knew Too Much:  Get Hitched!

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