Thursday, 15 January 2015

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

Alfred Hitchcock’s original British version of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (he later remade it in Hollywood in 1956 with James Stewart and Doris Day) finally gets a Blu-ray release in its native land courtesy of Network. 

On holiday in Switzerland Bob Lawrence (Leslie HOUNDS OF ZAROFF Banks) and his wife Jill (Edna Best) end up in a world of intrigue when their friend Louis (Pierre Fresnay) is shot dead during a dinner dance. Louis is a secret agent, and he just has time to tell them about the secret compartment in his shaving brush and the message contained within, before he collapses elegantly to the floor in his white tie and tails. Lawrence finds the message but before he can contact the British consul as instructed his daughter is kidnapped, with a further message informing him that he will never see her again if he or his wife reveal what they know.

Back in London, it’s revealed that Louis’s message concerned a possible assassination plot. Unable to reveal what he knows to the British government, Lawrence decided to investigate himself.
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH isn’t as slick or accomplished as slightly later Hitchcock pieces like THE LADY VANISHES, but for a film made in 1934 it’s still very good and extremely watchable. The MacGuffin allows for some fine set pieces, including a scary dentist who ends up a victim of his own gas, a fight in a church hall muffled by the sound of an organ playing, the (almost) climax in the Albert Hall and the actual climax of the gun battle that must have been the equivalent of a Tarentino bloodbath for audiences of the day. Peter Lorre, in his first English speaking role (he would make the classic MAD LOVE the following year for director Karl Freund) is excellent and stands out as being by far the best actor here. In fact if MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH has any shortcomings its in the blandness of its leads, who have a nice bit of chemistry at the start but can’t quite manage to do the gear shift needed when the suspense gets upped.

Network’s transfer of MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is excellent, in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, and with a running time of 75 minutes. Because of rights issues there have apparently been a lot of bootleg copies of this one floating around but if you’re a fan then this is the version to get. Extras include a short introduction by Charles Barr, and a London Weekend documentary from 1972 in the ‘Aquarius’ TV series. It’s a 35 minute profile of Hitchcock with lots of behind-the-scenes filming of him making FRENZY, as well as an interview. 

Network are releasing Alfred Hitchcock's 1934 version of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH on Region B Blu-ray on 19th January 2015

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