Thursday, April 25, 2013

Movie Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Acting and the second half of the story
Cons: First quarter can be a little slow
The Bottom Line:
Slowly builds tension
Until you can't stop watching
One of Hitchcock's best

Hitchcock Remakes Himself

Every year it seems, more and more old movies are remade for modern audiences. And every year, people complain about the lack of original ideas in Hollywood. Yet one director many consider a master of the craft wasn't afraid of the remake. In fact, he remade himself. In 1956, Alfred Hitchcock remade his own movie from 1934. He even called both versions The Man Who Knew Too Much. Now I have never seen the original. But I can tell you that the remake is well worth your time.

Dr. Ben McKenna (James Stewart) has turned a medical conference in Paris into an extended family vacation. After several other stops in Europe, he and his wife Jo (Doris Day) and son Hank (Christopher Olsen) head to Marrakech, Morocco. Within their first few hours there, they befriend Frenchman Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin) and British couple Edward and Lucy Drayton (Bernard Miles and Brenda De Banzie).

But things turn sinister the next morning when a man dies in Ben's arms. Before he does, the dying man whispers something in Ben's ear. And with that, the McKennas find their vacation is anything but relaxing. Instead, they are caught up in international intrigue that leads them from Africa to London. What's going on? And will they survive?

Now I will admit the beginning of the movie is slow. The murder doesn't take place until half an hour into the two hour film. But the foundations of the story are here, especially thanks to Jo's constant suspicion. She finds several things out of the ordinary, yet Ben doesn't take her seriously until it is too late. Not that I'm convinced that it would have changed anything if he had. This part of the film also helps us get to know the main characters, which is important as the action rises. Finally, there are some funny scenes here, especially the restaurant scene.

After that point, the story begins to pick up speed. And it really gets going once we get to London. In fact, from that point on the picture is pretty much perfect. I can't go into detail without revealing more then I would like, but there are scenes in a hotel room and a church that are played perfectly.

And that's not even mentioning the single best "scene" of the second half. For 12 minutes, there is no dialogue at all. But far from getting boring, this was the scene where my heart was literally racing. The movie would earn an extra star for this scene alone. Hey, they don't call Hitchcock the "Master of Suspense" for nothing.

While they are surrounded by a talented cast, the success of this movie also rests on the shoulders of James Stewart and Doris Day. As two ordinary people caught up in something way over their heads, they are perfect. I couldn't imagine anyone else playing these parts as well. As an added bonus, we get the Oscar winning song "Que Sera, Sera," which would become one of Doris Day's signature songs. And boy does she have a beautiful voice.

With The Man Who Knew Too Much, Alfred Hitchcock proved that remakes can indeed be good. Of course, with the talent involved in front of and behind the camera, is it any wonder?

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