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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Mono
  • German: Dolby Digital Mono
  Subtitles
    English, German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish
  Extras
  • Teaser trailer
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Featurette - The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much
  • Photo gallery
  • Booklet

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 115 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Good eeeeeeeeeeeeeeveningÖ

Fancy a trip to Northern Africa? Dr Ben McKenna (James Stewart), his wife Jo and little boy Hank did, and so we join them on a bus ride from Casablanca to Marrakech. After a misunderstanding on the bus, an incident is avoided with the intervention of one apparent Frenchman Louis Bernard, who the family bond with and plan to catch up with once they have settled on arrival in Morocco. After being stood up for dinner by their new acquaintance at the last minute, at a restaurant the McKennas encounter the Draytons, an English couple who recognise Jo from her time as theatre performer Jo Conway, and they decide to meet up at the market the following day.

All seems fine until a seemingly crazed Arab accosts Dr McKenna - complete with a knife in his back. It is actually Louis Bernard in disguise, and he whispers news of a planned assassination in London and a name to the doctor before taking his final breath. Things now take a dramatic turn for the pear-shaped, as Hank and the Draytons have disappeared, and whilst seeing the police, a threatening phone call leads McKenna to keep mum on what Bernard had told him for fear of his son's life.

So it's off to London, a meeting with Scotland Yard, and a bit of amateur detective work by the doctor and his wife. After getting past a rather big and obvious red herring (or should that be 'red swordfish'?), the McKenna's are soon on the trail of the kidnappers, and land smack dab in the middle of the assassination attempt on an undisclosed foreign diplomat at the Albert Hall - still in search of young Hank.

This was actually the second version of The Man Who Knew Too Much directed by Hitchcock, although other than a couple of plot points the stories differed quite substantially. More experienced, and believing himself capable of making a better fist of things by having another attempt at the story, this version was still essentially made as a fairly easy way to fulfil a contractual obligation to Paramount, and isn't exactly Hitchcock's finest hour. Whilst bearing many of his more traditional hallmarks - the earnest, every man battling unexpected adversity, the odd clue along the way to get you involved, a touch of offbeat humour, the occasional red herring to throw you off the scent, and employment of the musical score as an integral addition to the mood of the film - whilst eventually quite engaging, the film just sort of meanders along without ever really leading you to that nail-biting, edge of seat state the great director was ever so capable of.

This isnít to say that there arenít some fantastic touches. Those capable of reading sheet music will most likely appreciate the suspense of the quite marvellous Albert Hall scene ever so much more, and on its own it is an incredible example of just how brilliant Hitch could be. Fans of Vertigo will also quite possibly get a titter out of an earlier Jimmy Stewart bell tower encounter.

Stewart really is the saving grace here, with one of the most believable performances he ever gave for Hitchcock. Doris Day was known at the time more as a singer than an actress, and whilst giving a reasonable performance she does come across as a bit two-dimensional and slightly hammy. Once again it is the choice of smaller part players that ups the quality of this film ever so much, with the Drayton couple careening from seemingly menacing, to friendly, to indeed menacing with great success, and another perfect selection of baddie in the form of the assassin, played by character actor Reggie Malder.

  Video
Contract

Oh dear. Obviously very little in the way of restoration has been bestowed upon The Man Who Knew Too Much. Whilst other recent Hitchcock releases have shown generally remarkable print quality, this is dodgy from the outset, with one of the most speckle-infested prints I've ever endured. It's quite grainy at times, there are a few examples of shimmering, most notably on a suit worn by Jimmy Stewart, one or two instances where unusual jumps give the impression that small chunks of film have been completely excised and there's something just not quite right about the colour.

Admittedly it could be a lot worse, as evidenced by the trailer that's also included on this disc. The colour is reasonably well saturated, and generally the print is quite sharp without too many obvious examples of edge enhancement. Contrast has a tendency to be a little poor at times, and in all the film looks its age - especially with the glaringly obvious rear projection scenes that are quite frequent.

Adding to this is an utterly appalling layer change. Doris Day walks down the street, she freezes, and then carries on along her merry way. I am sure if even a modicum of thought had been put into its placement it could have been done infinitely better, but unfortunately it would seem whoever was responsible just didnít care.

  Audio
Contract

Sadly the audio also appears to have suffered a bit over the years. A standard mono presentation, there are frequent intrusions of small crackles and pops, and some utterly hideous examples of ropey audio synch. The latter seems to mainly occur with the Louis Bernard character, possibly suggesting that the actor was completely unable to loop his dialogue at all well. A few scenes have very difficult to discern dialogue, most notably a telephone conversation that seems as if we are supposed to be able to understand, and generally it's all rather average.

This was composer Bernard Herrmann's second outing for Hitchcock, and his score does add to the film's enjoyment immeasurably, with great examples of his ability to come up with incredibly spooky music that can make an otherwise apparently innocent scene feel creepy - an important Hitch trademark. He even gets to make an appearance as the conductor at Albert Hall, and the piece in this scene, the Storm Cloud Cantata, complete with the London Symphony Orchestra, a massive choir and a soloist is simply superb. Also included is the Oscar winning song Whatever Will Be, which most will know as Que Sera, Sera It is performed by Doris Day a couple of times in her rather strident, verging on annoying singing voice.

  Extras
Contract

As with other releases in this series, we are given just a static, albeit nicely Hitchcockian, menu that is accompanied by the wonderful BA BUMP BA BUMPADUMP BUMP BADUMP music that became the great director's signature tune. From here we can delve intoÖ

The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much: Another in a line of fantastic specially created specials, once again we get interview snippets with Patricia Hitchcock-O'Connell, screenwriter John Michael Hayes and Bernard Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith. Added to the 34-minute mix are production designer Henry Bumstead and associate producer Herbert Coleman, and we are treated to many insights into this production, as well as comparisons with the original version Hitchcock made in the '30s.

Art gallery: A whopping collection of 63 pictures, including lobby cards, promotional stills (many seemingly created especially for advertising), fascinating behind the scenes shots and posters from around the globe. Unlike previously reviewed Hitchcock discs from this series it is accompanied by Bernard Herrmann's incredible musical climax to the Albert Hall scene, and plays through with each shot appearing on screen for a couple of seconds, however it is able to be paused if desired.

Trailer compilation: Now how do I say this differently to the last few reviews of discs featuring the identical compilation? This is a special six-minute presentation hosted by Jimmy Stewart, created for the re-release of this film, Vertigo, Rear Window, Rope and The Trouble With Harry back in the '80s, after they had spent quite some time sequestered away from the public eye, as they were purchased back from the studio by Hitchcock as a legacy for his daughter. A little crackly, this mostly full frame affair is still of interest if you havenít encountered it on previous purchases.

Theatrical trailer: Wow! There's more snap, crackle and pop here than that from the entire collected output of a certain breakfast cereal company since they went into business! Seeing and hearing the quality, or more aptly the lack thereof, of this trailer puts the film's transfer on this DVD into better perspective, as this full frame affair is in utterly appalling shape. Playing the commercial trump card right off the bat we get Doris Day, introduced as such in a scene from the film overdubbed with her real name, crooning the film's signature tune, Whatever Will Be (oh, you know, Que Sera, Sera). Following on is a specially shot sequence featuring Jimmy Stewart chatting to the camera, some scenes from the film, and then something rather strange happens as it all just peters out with no film title or such coming up, causing just a little suspicion that what we are getting isnít quite complete.

4-page booklet with production notes: Unfortunately I canít comment on this, as one wasnít provided with the review copy.

  Overall  
Contract

When put in such company as Vertigo, The Birds, Rear Window or North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much does tend to pale in comparison significantly, which is a shame as if any other director was responsible for it I'd probably be a lot more forgiving. But they weren't, and with Hitchcock proving time and time again how incredibly inventive, suspenseful and downright diabolical he was capable of being, this just tends to leave a bit of an 'is that it?" feeling. It does still manage to suck you in somewhat, and is anything but a travesty, but one canít help feeling it could have been so much more.

As a DVD, whilst some effort seems to have been made to restore the print to the best possible quality, it would appear that the source material available was in incredibly sad shape. Regardless of a reasonable picture quality being achieved, it is still riddled with distracting speckles and other artefacts, and is easily the worst presentation of a Hitchcock film on the medium I have witnessed. We do get another wonderful 'making of' feature, once again created in 2000 and assembling some folk who worked on the production, and in all regardless of some reservations this disc still offers reasonable value for the serious Hitchcock collector.

And just think, all that time spent in the Albert Hall, and no sign of even one hole...


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      And I quote...
    "Considering Hitchcock's other works this does tend to pale in comparison, both as a film and in overall disc quality. It's anything but a travesty, however it really could have been so much more..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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