“ Genre: Drama / Theatrical Release: 1934 / Parental Guidance / Director: Alfred Hitchcock / Actors: Peter Lorre, Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Frank Vosper, Hugh Wakefield ... / DVD released 2008-08-18 at Network / Features of the DVD: Black & White, PAL „
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Bob Lawrence, Jill his wife and their young daughter are at a sporting event in Europe. Jill is a top clay pigeon shooter and is having a shoot off with a top German/Austrian champion there.
After the match, at a dance in the hotel, Jill is dancing with a friend of theirs when he is suddenly shot. As he dies he tells her that she must get some information he has stored inside his shaving brush and take it to the foreign office. Bob gets into the room and manages to find a message but as he leaves he is discovered.
When he tries to get the info to the British Consul he is secretly given a message... 'Say anything and your daughter will die'
Shocked into silence we next see the couple back in England in their house in London, caught in the horrible dilemma of choosing between their child and the life of a stranger, a stranger whose death could lead to another world war according to the authorities.
When Bob works out a clue as to what is going on he decides against telling the Police and heads off, with a friend, to go and rescue his daughter, using the logic that as the Police, who have tried to persuade him to tell them the message, are investigating the kidnappers may already think that he has talked and will kill his daughter.
The Man Who Knew Too Much is another of those very early Hitchcock films that show why he became such an acclaimed director. The plot for The Man is very basic, in fact these days it would probably de easily dealt with in half the time... secret is discovered, child is taken hostage to ensure silence, parents are torn over what to do and decide to sort things out themselves, if they can. From this basic story, and some even more basic sets, spins out a tale that becomes far more than it should be.
At a very brief 72 minutes long even this plot flies at a fast pace, and that is one of Hitchcock's great skills... pacing.
The Man Who starts off with friendliness and an exotic location (ok a set made to look like one). It is a nice pleasant scenario and even when their friend is shot and murdered you don't feel the sense of urgency and panic you would expect from a normal everyday couple caught up in murder and espionage. Of course these were the days of stiff upper lips and a time when us Brits were known for their completely unflappable nature. As the danger increases so to does the pace, pulling the viewer along with it.
This movie shouldn't really be as good as it is. In an overall sense, especially looking at it from the outside, it doesn't offer much at all. The only selling points it has are Hitchcock himself and that Peter Lorre plays the main bad guy. It should be a slight adventure with a few thrills and nothing much more than that, but somehow it ends up being a lot more than that.
Once the search starts we are introduced to dark alleys and foreign agents that could be lurking anywhere on them. Is that dentist who he seems to be? What about that person on the street corner? What is going on in that church? Who can you trust on the dark back streets of London?
One of the things that I think Hitchcock is so good at is building tension and anticipation and this movie has both of them in bucket loads. Even though this is a movie from the 1930's and you know that the chances of it having even an ambiguous ending is very small the fact that Hitchcock can instil this feeling in you is a testament to his skill.
He manages to get you to feel for the predicament the main characters find themselves in even if their acting itself doesn't really manage to do the same. They do their job well enough but they are nothing to write home about. The opposite is true of Peter Lorre. Lorre and his gang are fun to watch. Lorre is like a demon possessed. He is all business and purpose, he pulls of the delicate job of managing to be downright threatening without seeming to put any effort into being so. He is menacing without looking any different to when he is being nice or over exaggerating things. He is a true old style cinematic villain here and is a real joy to watch.
The Man Who Knew Too Much is a taut, tightly scripted thriller that manages to thrill even now 75 years after it was made. It is a movie that exploits the talents of one of Cinemas greatest ever directors to the max. The mood, the atmosphere and the directing are all just superb. Every single inch of film footage is used, there is not a second wasted on extraneous material, even the scene changes stand out as noticeably original.
This movie is freely available very cheaply, mine came free with The Times, just make sure that you don't confuse it with the remake Hitchcock did during his Hollywood career with James Stewart and Doris Day. As good as that is it really isn't a patch on this one, especially tension or excitement wise.