A Movie A Day: THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956)
Don’t you realize Americans dislike having their children stolen?
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
More Jimmy Stewart for us now… This time jumping back almost 15 years to Hitchcock’s remake of his own 1934 movie THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, 1956’s film of the same name co-starring the gorgeous Doris Day.
Let me start out by saying Hitchcock and Technicolor were meant to go together. Jimmy Stewart’s blue-green eyes and Doris Day’s perfect complexion radiate off the screen even in standard def.
Hitchcock’s reputation of being the master of suspense is on full display here in a trademark Hitchcock formula of an ordinary man thrown into a horrible circumstance.
You have a young family on vacation in Marrakesh who stumble upon a political assassination attempt and are drawn in kicking and screaming ultimately caught in a horrible position as their child is kidnapped and held as collateral for their silence.
Doris Day really shines here, playing a range that her reputation doesn’t support. I challenge you to watch her subtle work here and think of her as the light, one-dimensional puff she’s known as. Or maybe it was just the impression I had and I just haven’t seen enough Day films to know what I’m talking about.
Of course Stewart is a great leading man, as to be expected. There’s a reason he’s a screen legend. There’s something about him that immediately invests you in his character, something that connects with every member of the audience. It’s a movie star quality, a true magnetism. He doesn’t disappoint here.
But speaking of Hitch’s suspense, the assassination attempt scene (the one gunshot to be hidden by the clashing of cymbals during a climactic part of the orchestral number) is incredible. Hitch chooses to play the scene with the score only (also notice that Bernard Hermann is the conductor… as himself!) and no dialogue, the suspense building and building as the number gets closer and closer to the point of the cymbals clashing and Day looking on horrified, but too scared to stop it for fear that her son will be killed. It’s scenes like that that earned Hitchcock his place as a legend of cinema.
Also of note is the origin of the incredibly well known and catchy song Que Sera, Sera. It was created for this film at the request of Paramount wanting a song to have a moment. It won the Oscar that year and Hitch uses it to great effect, making it feel organic to the movie and not tacked on by the studio.
I haven’t seen the original, which I need to since I have an unhealthy fascination with Peter Lorre, but from what I understand this is the better version of the story. In fact Hitchcock reportedly said this to Francios Truffaut:
“The first film was done by an amateur and the remake by a professional.”
On display is also Hitch’s famous sense of humor, most notable in two scenes. One is a hilarious dinner scene where Stewart is trying to eat in a traditional Arab manner, using only three fingers of his right hand to pick at his finger food. The other is a great fight at a taxidermist office.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t fawn over the work of Brenda De Banzie as one of the kidnappers. Often in films they try to set up the one bad guy that’s not completely on the dark side and ends up helping the heroes. Banzie’s character in this fits into that mold, but she sells it so perfectly that it doesn’t feel forced, or like a plot device.
Hitchcock cameo alert: He’s in the market place watching the acrobats before the big Moroccan murder.
Final Thoughts: Great work of suspense from Hitchcock, with some truly outstanding performances. All the characters are likable and the pace is quick. This is Hitchcock at the top of his game working with one of his best leading men. The cinematography is great, Hermann’s score is fantastic and the writing is smart, smart, smart.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Friday, August 1st: THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS (1957)
Saturday, August 2nd: VON RYAN’S EXPRESS (1965)
Sunday, August 3rd: CAN-CAN (1960)
Monday, August 4th: DESPERATE CHARACTERS (1971)
Tuesday, August 5th: THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY (1972)
Wednesday, August 6th: QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX (1970)
Thursday, August 7th: START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME (1970)
Tomorrow we jump ahead one year, following Jimmy Stewart to 1957s THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS. See you then!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Aug. 1, 2008, 5:22 a.m. CST
Aug. 1, 2008, 5:24 a.m. CST
REAR WINDOW, TO CATCH A THIEF, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY. That's not bad work at all. And, yep, Quint, you should check out the earlier version (which I still prefer) for Lorre alone. And Coppolla rips this movie off in GODFATHER III (tho the opera scene is great in its own right).
Aug. 1, 2008, 5:29 a.m. CST
and agree intensely about James Stewart. I don't think I've seen him give a non-charasmatic and involving (I won't say bad per se) performance. <p> Unrelatedly The Man Who Knew Too Little with Bill Murray had so much potential, I saw that the other day on TV and was amused but ultimately disappointed and I'm a Bill Murray whore. Since Quint's been doing this I've also tried to make an effort to catch up on all the flicks I've meant to watch and got round to Broken Flowers. <p> My girlfriend detested it, I loved it. The headfuck of a non-conventional ending is beautifully disjointed. <p> Keep on Quint
Aug. 1, 2008, 5:30 a.m. CST
Get your ass to the store and get yourself some Hitch. And don't you be using no Blu-Ray as an excuse.
Aug. 1, 2008, 5:34 a.m. CST
but did you mean cymbals Q? Anyway, keep this thing going. I love movies but sadly, there are so many classics that I have yet to see and this little column help me to know where to start. I've only seen a few Hitchcock (Vertigo, Psycho, and North by Northwest) which I really really have to rectify.
Aug. 1, 2008, 5:41 a.m. CST
I've only just seen this for the first time in the last 6 months and although the first 2/3's is pretty cool I found the last part in the embassy to be a letdown. It was good to see some of those classic scenes that pop up in reviews all the time though.
Aug. 1, 2008, 6:40 a.m. CST
I just seen that a few weeks ago, for the first time. I was surprised how many different films I could think of that had referenced it in some way. But, you get that quite a bit with Hitch.
Aug. 1, 2008, 6:57 a.m. CST
Like in Psycho, you think Janet Leigh's character is the protagonist, but then she gets killed about a third of the way in.
Aug. 1, 2008, 7:19 a.m. CST
I've always found this one particularly under-rated, it's truly a tight, thoughtful suspense-yarn and I agree the performances were outstanding, especially Day's. The orchestra scene is deservedly a classic and it showed how Hitchcock often employed strictly visual narration (what he referred to as "pure cinema"), a remnant of his silent period but a true master-class for any film director, aspiring or otherwise. If you don't know your Hitchcock and would like to, you should probably go chronological:start with 39 steps (the blue-print for ALL man-on-the-run movies (including North by Northwest)), move on to Rebecca, check out Spellbound, Notorious BEFORE you hit the golden period. Hitchcock owned the fifties, folks: from Strangers on a Train to Psycho, there are precious few missteps (maybe Harry and To Catch a Thief) and five or six bona-fide masterpieces. Of course, these films are entertaining but they can be delved into endlessly and, more importantly, they can delve into you. I'm no film student but Hitch is just the greatest IMHO (yes, even Kubrick, Lean, Welles or Spielberg can't reach these heights). I know it sounds grandiloquent, I know a lot of people have sais this but Hitch, with his quiet subversion within the studio system and during probably the most buttoned-down decade of the century, shaped the rhythm, scope and themes of the culture to come in the 60s, both mainstream and underground. Okay, that did sound pretentious but check these films out and tell me otherwise. No wonder he topped the decade off with a B&W, tiny budget, punk film whose main protagonist was a psychopath. Hitch is the filmic equivalent of the Beatles. Or Mozart. Or Picasso. Whatever... just give the big man a chance.
Aug. 1, 2008, 7:25 a.m. CST
Don't do that. That's like killing a puppy, man. You just can't do that: it'll get you into Hell if you're a believer (and possibly also if you're not). That is one of the greatest twists ever commited, forget Usual Suspects or Jacob's Ladder (ie The Sixth Sense, ie The Hitchhiker episode of TZ): that shower scene is the mother of all twists. Hasn't been topped.
Aug. 1, 2008, 7:35 a.m. CST
I haven't seen it in years, but it is just solid. Jimmmy Stewart was always great.
Aug. 1, 2008, 7:43 a.m. CST
I always wonder how freaked out people were when the film was originally released - not only the shower scene, but when the killer's identity is revealed at the end. Nowadays, it's common knowledge, but it must have been pretty wild for a new audience.
Aug. 1, 2008, 7:46 a.m. CST
Only discovered them a couple of years ago and they are completely absorbing. Will stop posting, now, for fear of becoming The Man Who Wrote Too Much.
Aug. 1, 2008, 8:02 a.m. CST
You're probably right: people have probably seen/ read about the sequence so many times that they know it's coming. That said, when it's absorbed in context, I'm pretty sure it still is quite effective (not so much as a twist but as a shock). Oh, and if any of you haven't seen the original Les Diaboliques, check it out as well. The only film Hitchcock was jealous about not having made (subsequently, he adapted the authors' next novel into Vertigo). Must stop waxing pedantic about Hitchcock, need to work. Great column, Quint, never saluted you for it!
Aug. 1, 2008, 8:22 a.m. CST
My father saw Pyscho during its first release when he was a college student. He didn't know the twists were coming, and I remember him telling me about how terrifying it was. Scariest movie he'd ever seen, and the audience was packed and also in shock. The two scariest scenes for him were the overhead shot when the detective is coming up the stairs in Norman's house and gets a surpirse and the reveal of Norman's mom in the end. Great stuff at the time, now too iconic to be surprising.
Aug. 1, 2008, 10:07 a.m. CST
I can't read a note of music but that kept me on the edge of my seat! I also agree about how underrated Doris Day. She was better than people think AND had a great body!
Aug. 1, 2008, 10:59 a.m. CST
Freaked me the fuck out, and she knew it too. We grew up with Hitchcock in our house. Good times. The combination of that fucking song and Psycho made me believe (and I still do) that my mom is a very sick old bitch.
Aug. 1, 2008, 12:18 p.m. CST
is Rope. Hitchcock more or less just plants the camera and lets the actors do their thing.
Aug. 1, 2008, 12:59 p.m. CST
by Mavra Chang
It was one of his experimental films that really shines. Regarding your comment about Doris Day's light and fluffy persona, I don't remember who said it, but I heard a quote once that went "I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin." I have always thought her less innocent characters were more interesting and believable than the ones she later became identified with.
Aug. 1, 2008, 1:23 p.m. CST
by Napoleon Park
Whatever will be, will be.
Aug. 1, 2008, 1:26 p.m. CST
by The Dum Guy
I haven't seen this in awhile and I've never seen the original.<br><br>I never knew that Que Sera,Sera was made for this. You learn something trivial everyday.
Aug. 1, 2008, 1:51 p.m. CST
I had a course on Hitch in school, and I wrote a paper all about the influence of 39 steps on cinema. My favorite would have to be Fletch, where he gives that impromptu speech at the tribute dinner, just to keep the cops away. Right out of 39 Steps. Genius.
Aug. 1, 2008, 2:13 p.m. CST
Why not? I remember really enjoying the one where he and, I think, Geena Davis and Randy Quaid can't for the life of them get out of New York folowing a bank robbery. I believe it was Murray's only directoral job.
Aug. 1, 2008, 2:56 p.m. CST
This is definitely in my top 5 favorite Hitch films. The assasination scene is such a great combination of music and editing, the kind of stuff that only Hitch could do perfectly.
Aug. 1, 2008, 6:51 p.m. CST
The film your talking about is 'Quick Change' which was made around 1990. A low key but fun effort well worth digging out. Quite hard to find, or at least it was when I did around two years back.
Aug. 1, 2008, 11:46 p.m. CST
No one would dare scoff at Doris Day after watching the scene where James Stewart browbeats her into taking a sedative before he breaks the news that their son is kidnapped. Day pours out anger, heartbreak and anguish in an absolutely amazing piece of acting. Great trivia for horror sci-fi buffs...the assassin is played by the cadaverous Reggie Nalder..years later he pops up as the Nosferatu-like vampire in the first mini-series version of "Salem's Lot". And the younger taxidermist, Ambrose Chapel, is Richard Wordsworth, the profoundly creepy, doomed astronaut of "The Quatermass Xperiment"(or "Creeping Unknown")
Aug. 2, 2008, 12:11 a.m. CST
Last 15 seconds of Hermann's music before Stewart's final line is classic. It was on my answering machine for a few years. Looking back, now I know why no one called me.....
Aug. 2, 2008, 1:41 a.m. CST
the man could do everything...and do it seemingly without effort...and this is a brilliant movie...and fuck mentioning that crappy murray pos in this thread...fucking troglodites
Aug. 4, 2008, 9:56 a.m. CST
when he made Patriot Games, that fat Elvis Glasses wearing hack.
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