Man Who Knew too Much (SE)/B+B+

     I remember forever whistling Que Sera Sera in my teens after seeing The Man Who Knew Too Much. I guess I must have a soft spot for the film. Those two cymbals about to fatefully come together make a wonderful image for the film. This is Hitchcock in fine form, maintaining suspense with grand brilliance.
     Hitchcock made this movie once before in 1934 during his British filmmaking tenure. Adding color, and making it more colorful, Hitchcock has topped his fine first effort, using the skills developed over two additional decades of making movies. It doesn't hurt to have James Stewart and Doris Day as his stars this time around. The first film featured Leslie Banks and Edna Best.
     Doctor Ben McKenna, his lovely wife Jo, a former popular singer, and their precocious ten-year-old son Hank are vacationing in Morocco. When the McKennas stumble into elusive Frenchman Louis Bernard, the meeting stands theirs lives on end. It all climaxes across the ocean in Britain's Royal Albert Hall with the fateful crash of the cymbals.

Knees up Hank McKenna. ©Universal

    Hitchcock keeps The Man Who Knew Too Much moving with incisive direction. The master director's sense of humor is in good form, using the setting to extract the laughs., without slacking the pace.  The scenes of Stewart/McKenna at the Moroccan restaurant are precious. Hitchcock relishes Stewart discomfort. I am sure the rather large Hitch has often suffered discomfort in similar circumstances. The taxidermy shop is an inspired setting for a scene and Hitchcock makes the most of the stuffed animals and stuffed British too.
     Filmed on location and in the studio, there are plenty of process shots in evidence. They blend quite well, however. The sets are outstanding, including the drolly cluttered taxidermy shop, the opulent Moroccan restaurant, and Royal Albert Hall. Scenes were shot in the actual hall and recreated on a set for detailing.
    James Stewart is a forceful presence in Ben McKenna. He's a terrific ordinary man hero. He's willing to do whatever he must to save the day. And, Day, Doris that is, is as lovely as can be. She really hits the right notes. She gets to sing with charm and fear the memorable Que Sera Sera. Casting of the supporting roles is outstanding. Very ordinary Britishers Bernard Miles and  Brenda De Banzie are excellent villains. Miles practices evil with practicality while De Banzie is like a nanny gone wrong. Reggie Nalder invests the assassin with frightening authenticity.
     The Man Who Knew Too Much is far better than when I remembered it on laser disc last. The DVD transfer is outstanding. Itís hard to believe this film did not go through a restoration. It looks far better than newly restored Rear Window. It's a sharp transfer with only minor edge enhancement noticeable. The colors are consistently vital. Even the rear screen material in Morocco doesnít look too out of place. The Dolby Digital 2 channel mono manages to capture the grandeur of the score.
    Pat Hitchcock O'Connell narrates the introduction to the documentary outlining the background details of the film project. She quotes her father's observation to Francois Truffaut in his Hitchcock interview book: "The first film was done by an amateur and the remake by a professional." Herbert Coleman, veteran Hitchcock collaborator shares details of the shoot and screenwriter John Michael Hayes recalls his first meeting with Hitchcock about the movie. Set Designer Henry Bumstead warmly recalls how he teamed up with Hitchcock for The Man Who Knew Much and so of the details of working with the man. Bernard Hermann scholar Steven C. Smith talks about the composer's involvement and the origin of the Academy Award© winning song. song.




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