Man Who Knew Too Much, The (1956): Masterful Collection (DVD)

Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection

Disc 6: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Fourteen of Hitchcock’s brilliantly directed stories of crime, espionage and intrigue have been digitally re-mastered for this comprehensive 15-discs boxed set. The fifteenth disc includes “The American Film Institute’s Salute to Alfred Hitchcock,” a touching tribute to Hitchcock’s lifetime of extraordinary work, and “Masters of Cinema,” an in-depth interview with the director, as well as special looks at two of his most esteemed films in “The Making of Psycho” and “All About the Birds.”

An array of never-before-seen footage offers film lovers an exclusive glimpse behind the scenes of some of Hitchcock’s most elegantly suspenseful films. The arrival of this collection is timed to the highly anticipated release of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” Season One, which features all 39 TV episodes of the Emmy Award-winning murder mystery series.

An extraordinary tribute to the achievements to one of Hollywood’s most enduring talents, the Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection includes an original 36-page collectible book and exclusive bonus disc, showcasing materials never before available on DVD.

Original production notes, photos, drawings, trailers, new documentaries, alternate endings, additional scenes and a peek at some of the legendary storyboards on which Hitchcock meticulously plotted each shots of his films round out this distinguished collection.

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will honor Hitchcock in a celebration that includes an on-air 39-films-festival, October 24-30.

Original programming features Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia and Tippi Hedren (star of “The Birds” and “Marnie”).

Hitchcock’s remake of his own 1934 suspense thriller is superior to the original. Bonus features include “The Making of the Man Who Knew Too Much.” In the first version, which is grimmer and crueler than the remake, a married couple, Bob and Jill Lawrence (Leslie Banks and Edna Best) are vacationing in Switzerland with their daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam), when Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay), a Frenchman who befriends them, is found murdered. Before dying, however, Louis whispers a secret, that a diplomat will be assassinated at great embarrassment to the British government.

To keep Bob’s lips sealed, Betty is kidnapped. She is to be held until after the assassination by hired killer Abbott (Peter Lorre), scheduled to take place during a concert at London’s Albert Hall. Bob must follow his duty as an Englishman and prevent the assassination, but at the same time must do all in his power to insure the safety of his child

In this black and white film, which runs only 75 minutes, Hitchcock showed a theme that he would repeat and develop in future movies, the innocent victim (typically a man) who’s suddenly caught up in a terrifying situation with apparently no way out, and his penchant for shooting thrilling chases in popular public places.

“The Man Who Knew” was Lorre’s first English-speaking part. He was been brought to England at Hitchcock’s request after his startling performance in “M”, the 1931 film by German director Fritz Lang that had great influence on Hitchcock. Hitchcock didn’t particularly favor child actors. However, he got along so well with the young Pilbeam that he cast her in her first adult lead role, in “Young and Innocent,” three years later.

The original version so appealed to Hitchcock that he felt he could make a remake of it that would stand on its own right. He also believed that he could improve upon it. He was right on both counts. Hitchcock altered some locales (Switzerland became Morocco), but kept the original outline quite intact.

Dr. Ben and Jo McKenna (Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day) are innocent, unsuspecting tourists whose vacation in French Morocco turns into a nightmare. Traveling with their son Hank (Christopher Olsen), they are enjoying their holiday when they meet Mr. and Mrs. Drayton (Bernard Miles and Brenda de Banzie), a friendly British couple, and Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin), a suspicious but still friendly Frenchman.

Later, while Ben and Jo are shopping in the bazaar, an Arab runs frantically up to them, having been stabbed in the back. Grabbing the man as he falls, Ben finds to his horror that it’s Louis Bernard in disguise. Before dying, Louis whispers something to Ben, thereby tossing him into a tangle of intl intrigue that only he can unravel.

As the story unfolds, the irony inherent in the title becomes clear: Ben McKenna is a man who doesn’t have a clue. Hitchcock misses no opportunity of exposing his hero’s naivet, vulnerability, and ignorance for all it’s worth. Hence, on one typical excursion, McKenna, thinking he’s on the trail of the kidnappers, mistakenly ends up in the workshop of a London taxidermist, where he’s nearly beheaded by the blade of a stuffed swordfish.

There’s more polish and lavish in this remake, which is enhanced by production values and added 45 minutes to its running time. The entire movie is beautifully framed and tautly directed, especially the double climax of the assassination attempt at the Albert Hall and the Embassy.

Giving one of her strongest dramatic performances, as a neurotic mother dependent on pills and insecure wife, Doris Day delivers a song, “Que Sera, Sera” (“Whatever Will be, Will Be”), by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, which won the Song Oscar and became a smash hit independently of the movie, and still remembered as Day’s signature song.

Hitchcock makes his customary cameo, and so does his brilliant composer, Bernard Herrmann, as the Albert Hall conductor.