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The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

The Man Who Knew Too Much is the only film that Alfred Hitchcock made twice. Sure, one can argue that North By Northwest is simply a re-make of The 39 Steps (or Young and Innocent, or Saboteur), but Man Who Knew was something Hitch had been wanting to re-create not long after the 1934 version was complete. In fact, after relocating to America in 1940, it reportedly was one of the first scripts Hitch wanted to shoot, but it wouldn't be until 1956 (in an effort to fulfill contractual obligations) that the long-planned project finally got underway. James Stewart stars as Indianapolis-based Dr. Ben McKenna, who is traveling through Morocco with his wife Jo (Doris Day) and young son Hank (Christopher Olsen), only to have their tranquil family vacation disrupted by unforeseen events. After a brief altercation on a bus to Marrakech, the McKennas meet charming Frenchman Louis Bernard (Daniel Gélin), who soon takes an interest in his new American friends. Actually, too much of an interest, according to Jo, who thinks that Bernard is far too inquisitive. Ben dismisses his wife's suspicions, at least until the next day in the Marrakech marketplace, when Bernard — dressed as an Arab, and with a knife in his back — whispers the details of an assassination plot to Ben before dying. But before the McKennas can leave Morocco they soon discover Hank has been kidnapped, and that their silence is the only thing that can ensure his safety. The basic story of The Man Who Knew Too Much always had a great deal of appeal to Hitchcock, who often cast Stewart in alter-ego roles. Here Stewart is Hitch's trusty family man, with a talented wife and one child (just like the Hitchcock household), and while the episodic plot of Man Who Knew may travel from the African desert to London's West End, the story is about a marriage that is strong enough to endure colossal strain. Many observers at the time thought Day was an odd choice for the part of Jo, but she proves herself in the crucial scene where Stewart tells her that Hank has been kidnapped — it's one of the best dramatic moments in all of Hitch's films. But most noteworthy is the penultimate sequence in Albert Hall, which Hitchcock originally shot with dialogue (by ace scenarist John Michael Hayes) but decided to delete, which simply ratchets up the tension as the orchestra (conducted by none other than Bernard Herrmann) performs the "Storm Cloud" Cantata. For fun, get a good DVD edition of the 1934 Man Who Knew (LaserLight and Whirlwind both have quality releases) to compare the two films, and in particular the Albert Hall sequence. Universal's DVD release of 1956's The Man Who Knew Too Much features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a print that has good color but a modest amount of flecking throughout. DVD fans who are accustomed to some lush restorations may be disappointed with this release, but the damage is minor, and this is the best version of Man Who Knew to ever arrive on home video. The most notable extra feature on the disc is the documentary "The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much," with comments from screenwriter Hayes, associate producer Herbert Coleman, production designer Henry Bumstead, and Hitchcock's daughter Patricia Hitchcock O'Connell. Also included are production notes, a still gallery with score, cast and crew bios, a trailer for The Man Who Knew Too Much, and another trailer for five Hitchcock re-releases, narrated by Jimmy Stewart. Keep-case.
—JJB



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