Friday, August 30, 2013

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

Beefing on Hitchcock
The Man Who Knew Too Much

A man and his wife meet a foreigner who turns out to be a French spy. The spy is shot and, before dying, reveals a piece of information to the man. The couples' daughter is taken hostage by the assassins, ensuring the man's silence. The couple heads back to England to investigate on their own, uncovering a plot to assassinate a European dignitary during a performance at an opera. The wife does her best to foil the plot, while the man attempts to rescue his daughter, both leading to a huge gun fight between the assassins and the authorities.

Finally out of the earlier, lesser-known films in the catalog, The Man Who Knew Too Much starts an incredibly long stretch of very famous and incredibly highly regarded films by Alfred Hitchcock. This movie and the following film (The 39 Steps) most definitely caught the eyes of many Hollywood film producers, eventually leading to Hitchcock's migration over to the States. One might even go so far as to say that this was "the beginning of the end" for his British film making... which is anything but as ominous as it sounds.

This film marks the first of many English-speaking roles for Peter Lorre, who had just fled Nazi Germany and actually learned his lines phonetically. A later interview with Lorre recounted his amusement with pretending to understand English for Hitchcock's sake, agreeing and laughing when he felt he should during many of Hitch's many stories. He not only didn't speak English, he barely understood it... yet on screen, this is hardly noticeable.

While I won't go into much detail yet on the later remake for American film, the only remake of his own films that Hitchcock would ever make, one major difference between the two versions is the shootout at the end of this earlier picture. Based on a famous gun battle near where Hitchcock grew up, the Sidney Street Seige, it was probably far more recent in his and the British public's mind in 1934, and the similarities would have been more apparent, than it would have in 1956 to an American and broader international audience.

In all, this is quite an amazingly grand picture, not just for the 1930's, but for any era. I watched the newly released Criterion blu ray, and their work is as outstanding as ever. One of the most important features on the disc is actually a featurette regarding the entire long remastering process for this particular film. The extensive hunt for a usable, early-generation print of the film took years upon years, and between warped copies and waiting for technology to catch up with what was needed to even transfer the film, it took nearly a decade to actually get this film remastered.

I for one would like to thank Criterion for not giving up, and eventually succeeding in making this movie as beautiful as ever possible.

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