The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
January 15, 2022 9:07 PM - Subscribe

An American doctor and his wife, a former singing star, witness a murder while vacationing in Morocco, and are drawn into a twisting plot of international intrigue when their young son is kidnapped.

Dr. Ben McKenna (James Stewart) is on vacation with his wife (Doris Day) and son in Morocco when a chance encounter with a stranger sets their trip, and their lives, on a drastically different course. The stranger, killed in front of the family in the marketplace, reveals an assassination plot to the Americans. The couple's son is abducted in order to ensure the plot is kept secret, and suddenly the mother and father, with no help from the police, must figure out a way to get their child back.

Isabel Quigly: Miss Day, looking matronly at last, is charming, though the toothbrush of blonde hair stricking horizontally from her forehead is distracting; but, as we all know, she sings, and at inopportune moments her songs hold up the action and instead of pleasing make one bored. James Stewart has little to do, and does it adequately enough. The best thing about them both is the feeling you get of their being a real married couple, with the familiarity, the authentic intimaoy of voice and movement, of years behind them. When the search for their child brings ,them from Morocco to London, the pace changes: it becomes harsher, grimmer, less intimate yet more individual; the movements are those of two strangers alone in a very large city, rather than the cosier intrigues among the crowds of Morocco
. . .

Then come songs and an outsize anti-climax, with the only authentic Hitchcock touch re- maining being the way the gun goes off in Bernard Miles's pocket, shooting him in an unpleasantly circular sort of way as he rolls down the stairs. A curate's egg of a film, but thoroughly recommended.

Bosley Crowther: But logic and credibility were never Mr. Hitchcock's long suits. He depends upon daring deception. And that's what he has in this film.James Stewart tops his job in "Rear Window" as the man who knows too much, and Doris Day is surprisingly effective as the mother who is frantic about her child. She also has a dandy sequence in which she signals to the boy with a song. Bernard Miles and Brenda de Banzie are properly creepy as the British couple who snatch the boy, Christopher Olsen is good as the latter and Reggie Nalder merits a shriek as the man with the gun.Even in mammoth VistaVision, the old Hitchcock thriller-stuff has punch.

Jean-Luc Goddard: Today Alfred Hitchcock looks all round his characters, just as he forces them to look round. Not that he ever loses interest in them, but although he had previously depicted stupidity, vice or folly without tenderness, he had never before stressed with such fierce irony the ridiculousness of the most natural, everyday gestures. The characters in The Man Who Knew Too Much are not exactly puppes, they are at once more and less than the marionette described by Valery

. . .

People say that Hitchcock lets the wires show too often. But because he shows them, they are no longer wires. They are the pillars of a marvellous architectural design made to withstand scrutiny

. . .

Let us love Hitchcock when, weary of passing simply for a master of taut style, he takes us the longest way round.

posted by Carillon (6 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I was honestly surprised that the famous song Que Sera, Sera was from this film - I'd honestly thought it came from some kind of romantic comedy or something.

There's also a sequence where Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day go out to a restaurant in Morocco, where the tables are all a little low to the ground - and just watching Jimmy Stewart try to fold himself to sit down at the table made me literally laugh out loud.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:53 PM on January 15, 2022 [4 favorites]

That scene is so good, it shows how out of place they are, clearly out of their depth, ending with the maitre d scolding him on the proper way to eat.

Parts were really solid, of course with Hitchcock there's solid tension building. Stewart's character really wants to play the hero though, and drugging his wife before telling her the news wasn't great. I was a bit surprised at how much time we spent on the actual musical production before the shot though. Parts of it did build tension but it went on so long that it sorta deflated.

I thought it was really fun to get Jean-Luc Goddard reviewing the film.
posted by Carillon at 10:23 PM on January 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

Not my favorite Hitchcock by a long shot.

Not even my favorite Hitchcock film of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" - Doris Day seems out of place to me and a poor substitute for the sharpshooting heroine of the 1934 version.
posted by Nerd of the North at 2:01 AM on January 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

I love this movie. It has issues, yes. But its moments are really great for me.
posted by Fukiyama at 2:25 PM on January 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

James Stewart has little to do, and does it adequately enough.

Just watched this on criterion. Some failed moments, some suspension of disbelief, a healthy dollop of misogyny floating on a soup of orientalism, but I was overall charmed. Doris Day was great and compelling, in my opinion.
posted by latkes at 5:30 PM on January 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

I used to love this movie when I was a kid when I first caught it on a Saturday afternoon. It may have actually been my first Hitchcock. Revisiting it recently, yes, it has some issues as has been said, but I'm still charmed by it. Plus I'm a sucker for that orchestral section at the end where Mr. Creepy As Fuck assassin is emerging from the curtain.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 4:15 AM on January 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

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