Good Things to Say About The Man Who Knew Too Much

Another great Hitchcock film!

Truth is, my favorite Hitchcocks are not necessarily his best. I adore Dial M for Murder with the snarky Ray Milland, the elegant yet warm Grace Kelly, and the self-effacing Robert Cummings. I love Rear Window. I quite liked Rope when I was younger and saw it multiple times.

These are all good movies, but they don't have the finished wholistic feel of Notorious, Shadow of a Doubt, and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

What's so good about The Man Who Knew Too Much?

Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart

Jimmy Stewart is an amazing actor, a  Tom Hanks progenitor--the guy who can play everyman with full individualistic flair. Or maybe it's the individual with full everyman flair. Whatever it is, both Stewart and Hanks capture the everyman experience without American Beauty ennui: oh, look, everybody, I'm being NORMAL. They just are normal.

In fact, there's an extremely funny comparison here. In The Man Who Knew Too Much, Jo (Doris Day) and Ben (Jimmy Stewart) go to a restaurant where they have to sit on low cushions. Jimmy Stewart delivers about 2 minutes of pure physical humor when he tries to sit comfortably on the cushions and keeps sliding to the floor. It reminds me of Tom Hanks in You've Got Mail trying to get comfortable on his father's new couch. 

Stewart is perfectly cast as the husband/father in The Man Who Knew Too Much with Doris Day as wife/mother. Doris Day is a particularly fine choice here. She has all the appearance of a 1950s cliche, but her character (and possibly the actress herself) is India-rubber tough.

Not tough as nails. Rather Jo McKenna exudes brassy good cheer which masks high-strung intensity which in turns covers a strong, endurable will.

The suffering parents of kidnapped children have, of course, been done a billion times by now. In 1956, it was still fresh and new enough that Day and Stewart were operating without all those television cliches (I'm not opposed to television cliches, by the way; I'm just impressed by Day and Stewart). They managed to capture the fear, desperation, and resilience of this all-American couple without hitting a single wrong note (ha ha--sorry, you have to see the movie).

The Camera Work

Yes, yes, everybody praises Hitchcock's camera work, but I actually noticed something this time!

Many of the Marrakesh scenes use the blue screen effect or whatever the equivalent was in Hitchcock's day. It is obviously not-on-location. I shrugged my shoulders when I saw it; eh, so, CGI has improved since then.

But then, a little later, Jo and Ben walk through the Marrakesh marketplace with Drayton and a police officer behind them--that is, regular characters. Yet Hitchcock deliberately presents Drayton and the police officer as if they are part of the rolling, outside Marrakesh shots.

It is very cool. It deliberately emphasizes Jo and Ben's role as innocent tourists--look at those people wandering blithely through a PBS special! (Since, after all, they are exactly the type of people who watch Nova and Nature.) It underscores their innocence, making their exposure to spies and assassins and kidnappers that much more inexplicable.

The one rough spot in the film occurs towards the end. Right after the denouement at Albert Hall, Jo and Ben could easily have whisked themselves to the ambassador's house to find their son. It would have taken a single line of dialog (the inspector saying, "You should go with that guy!")

Instead, there are several minutes of pointless conversation with police characters who don't need to be paid off in the slightest (one thing about kidnapping stories: the audience will care about little but the parents and child).

Que Sera Sera

It's great! Apparently, it wasn't Doris Day's favorite song, but she sure does it justice.

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