Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Man Who Knew Too Much 1934-Spoilers


Its not very common for a movie director to remake one of their own films, Capra, Ford and Ozu come to mind, and of course Alfred Hitchcock. I finally got around to watching this welcomed birthday gift of the Criterion transfer of Hitchcock’s first “Man” made in 1934 when he was still working in England. To begin with the transfer is gorgeous and has been painstakingly restored replacing the horrible prints that have been around for years. The plot involves a mother who is a champion sharpshooter, her husband and little girl who are in Switzerland on vacation and where the wife is to take part in a shooting match when an acquaintance of theirs in a striking sequence is shot through the heart while dancing with the mother at a posh party. Hitchcock introduces us to all the major characters in the film including the villains within the first few minutes of the film and lays out the plot quickly and efficiently. The dying friend who it turns out is a spy passes information with his dying breath to the wife who is told to tell her husband to find an object with a secret message in it that warns of a plot to assassinate a visiting foreign diplomat back in London. The nasty’s of the piece realize what is going on and kidnap the little girl to keep the husband and wife from blabbing and the chase is on. The cast is good, with the great Peter Lorre (in his first English film) who dons a punkie hairdo with a blonde streak and a magnificent scar running down his pudgy forehead as the head of the spy ring. The dad and mom are somewhat dry for my tastes and are played with British humor by Leslie Banks who is probably best known for his role in “The Most Dangerous Game”,  Edna Best who is mostly unknown and Nova Pilbeam as the young daughter who would later appear in Hitchcock’s “Young and Innocent.” Now I have to say here and now that as good as this 75 minute thriller is I prefer the 1956 remake that starred James Stewart and Doris Day as the beleaguered couple. The remake is deeper and longer with more layers to it, and the use of Doris Day as a retired popular singer was a brilliant touch by Hitchcock allowing Day to of course sing one of the biggest songs of the year and an Oscar winner to boot. Many prefer the original version and one of the extras on the disc has a short interview with the director Guillermo del Toro who compares the earlier version to a Vermeer and the later one to a mural. His analogy of course is flawed since he uses the art term mural vs. the specific reference to the great painter Vermeer. I would say that the older version is like a charcoal drawing compared to the mural like aspects of the 56 version, but why even make comparisons. The older version is fast and simple and has some very good set pieces including the clever scene at a dentist’s office, the climatic shootout that Hitchcock films without any music and the famous concert at Albert Hall which Hitchcock also used in the remake using the same cantata for the sequence that was composed specifically for the earlier film by Arthur Benjamin. Beautifully photographed and designed in high German expressionistic style,  we finally get to enjoy this film the way it was meant to be seen.   


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