THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH

U.K.

1934

 

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Production Co.: Gaumont British

Producer: Michael Balcon

Screenplay: A.R. Rawlinson & Edwin Greenwood, from a theme by Charles Bennet & D.B. Wyndham Lewis

Additional Dialogue: Emlyn Williams

Cinematography: Curt Courant

Editor: Hugh Stewart

Art Directors: Alfred Junge & Peter Proud

Music: Arthur Benjamin

 

Bob Lawrence: Leslie Banks

Jill Lawrence: Edna Best

Abbott: Peter Lorre

Ramon Levine: Frank Vosper

Clive: Hugh Wakefield

Betty Lawrence: Nova Pilbeam

Louis Bernard: Pierre Fresnay

Nurse Agnes: Cicely Oates

Binstead: D.A. Clarke-Smith

Gibson: George Curzon

 

74 minutes

 

16 mm

Black & White

English

GY Certificate

 

Acquired with a grant from the QEII Arts Council

 

 

The film's mainstay is its refined sense of the incongruous.

- Peter John Dyer

 

much more fun than the expensive remake

- Halliwell's Film Guide

 

Perhaps the most brilliant, spirited and sheerly enjoyable of all Hitchcock's British thrillers from the Thirties.  The action never flags for a moment, and Hitchcock's characteristic bluff and double-bluff structure has never been exploited with such beaming, gleeful effrontery as in Leslie Banks' adventures in the East End underworld or Edna Best's last-minute foiling of an assassination in the Albert Hall.

- John Russell Taylor, Take One

 

 

A young couple on holiday in Switzerland with their small daughter discover a plot to kill an ambassador in London.  The assassins kidnap the couple's daughter to buy their silence, and they attempt to rescue their child and save the ambassador, whose shooting is planned for an Albert Hall concert, on a certain clash of the cymbals.  Hitchcock's method of building up this climax... contains the essence of his suspense technique; the film ends with the besieged assassins being smoked out of their hide-out, a sequence based on the Sidney Street siege.

 

The film's effectiveness derived largely from the tension between melodrama and understatement.  It introduced a favourite Hitchcock device, the innocent bystander suddenly caught up in an extraordinary adventure.

 

- Liz-Anne Bawden (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Film, London, 1976

 

 

Critics who elevate the second Man Who Knew Too Much, the Hollywood film of the 50s, over the bouncing, bounding, sharp-shooting original seem to be preferring technique to pristine zest, sentiment to humour, exploitation of star appeal (James Stewart and Doris Day) to fast story-telling, and an American tourist's scenery to seedily persuasive sets like the run-down little chapel and the gang's murky hideout.  In 1934 the gang of political kidnappers included, incomparably, Peter Lorre; they were a dangerous crew, from a decade not unfamiliar with assassination and political madness.  In the 60s the political assassination would again have become an authentic theme; whereas in 1955 the villains looked a fairly grotesque, old-fashioned collection of spies from nowhere, and Hitchcock rather judiciously deflected attention from their antic intriguing to the tribulations of the kidnapped child's parents.  In the second version of the film, consequently, there is less danger and less surprise; one suspects that critics who prefer it feel there is something a bit lowering and demeaning about the thriller form as such. 

 

- Penelope Houston, in Roud (ed.), Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, New York, 1980

 

 

Hitchcock: The picture opens with a scene at St Moritz, in Switzerland, because that's where I spent my honeymoon with my wife...  The point I was trying to make is that from the very outset the contrast between the snowy Alps and the congested streets of London was a decisive factor.  That visual concept has to be embodied in the film.

 

Truffaut:  You used Pierre Fresnay in the original and Daniel Gelin in the remake.  Why did you want a French actor in that role?

 

Hitchcock:  I didn't especially want a Frenchman; I believe that came from the producer's side. But I did insist on having Peter Lorre.  He had just done M with Fritz Lang and this was his first British role.  He had a very sharp sense of humour.  They called him 'the walking overcoat' because he went round in a long coat that came down to his feet...

 

Truffaut: The situation, as I remember it, has a group of spies planning to assassinate an important foreign statesman.  Their plan is to shoot him during the playing of a cantata at a concert in the Albert Hall.  The killer is to fire at the precise instant when the musical score calls for a clash of cymbals.  To make sure of their timing, they rehearse the killing to the sound of a recording of the cantata.  Finally, the concert itself begins, with all the characters in their proper places.  And we wait, with rising tension, for that moment when the impressive cymbal-player will use his instrument.

 

Hitchcock:  The idea for the cymbals was inspired by a cartoon, or rather by a comic strip that appeared in a satirical magazine like `Punch'.  The drawings showed a man who wakes up in the morning, gets out of bed, goes into the bathroom, gargles, shaves, takes a shower, gets dressed, and has his breakfast.  Then he puts on his hat and coat, picks up a small leather instrument case, and goes out.  On the street he gets on a bus that takes him into London, and to the front of the Albert Hall.  He goes in, using the musician's entrance, takes off his hat and his coat, opens up the case, takes out a small flute.  Then, with the other musicians, he traipses on to the large podium and sits down in his place.  Eventually, the conductor comes in, gives the signal and the symphony begins.  Our little man is sitting there, turning the pages and awaiting his turn.  At last the conductor waves the baton in his direction and the little man blows out a single note ‘Bloop!'  When that's over, he puts the flute back into the case, tiptoes out, puts on his hat and coat and goes out.  By now the street is dark.  He gets on a bus, arrives home.  Supper is ready.  He eats, goes up to his room, takes off his clothes, steps into the bathroom, gargles, puts on his pyjamas, gets into bed, and turns off the lights.

 

- from Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock