With Leslie Banks , Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Pierre Fresnay, Frank Vosper, Nova Pilbeam
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Black and White
Reviewed by JL

Hey, kids, smoking makes you look like this!     Hitchcock arrives.  After his nine years and 16 studio-product films of varying quality and genre, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH marked the beginning of the first major phase of Hitchcock's career.  To me, there's no debate as to which is the better version of TMWKTM, this film or its 1956 remake.  Whereas this first incarnation was mostly effective and contained a few classic sequences, it's no match for the mature polish of the later version (which itself had its problems, albeit less blatant).   I suppose the opening skiing-tournament scene is as effective as a scene cobbled together from glaringly obvious back projection and stock footage can be, but it tends to call to mind the similar scenes in W.C. Fields's "The Fatal Glass of Beer."  (At any rate, I got a laugh out of the wife when I made a "milk the elk" joke during the scene.)  There's a bit more technical clumsiness here and there, and someone should have really taught poor Leslie Banks how to hold a gun.  And as an example of how Hitchcock would grow as a storyteller, note how the assassination plot is much more credible, less ad-hoc, and more suspenseful in the remake -- and it's the same assassination plot in both films.  Still, the 1934 version has much to recommend it, including a fast and consistently exciting pace, the business with the dentist, Nova Pilbeam held hostage, and a thrilling climactic scene in Albert Hall.  But the main strength of the film is Peter Lorre, equal parts menace and campy fun.  Overall, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH still works despite its flaws, and it's of high importance in Hitchcock's canon.

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Copyright © 2010 John V. Brennan, John Larrabee