Man Who Knew Too Much [1956]

Alfred Hitchcock himself called this 1934 British edition of his famous kidnapping story the work of a talented amateur, while his 1956 Hollywood remake was the consummate act of a professional director. Be that as it may, this earlier movie still has its intense admirers who prefer it over the Jimmy Stewart-Doris Day version, and for some sound reasons. Tighter, wittier, more visually outrageous (back-screen projections of Swiss mountains, a whirly-facsimile of a fainting spell), the film even has a female protagonist (Edna Best in the mom part) unafraid to go after the bad guys herself with a gun. (Did Doris Day do that that? Uh-uh.) While the '56 film has an intriguing undercurrent of unspoken tensions in nuclear family politics, the '34 original has a crisp air of British optimism glummed up a bit when a married couple (Best and Leslie Banks) witnesses the murder of a spy and discovers their daughter stolen away by the culprits. The chase leads to London and ultimately to the site of one of Hitch's most extraordinary pieces of suspense (though on this count, it must be said, the later version is superior). Take away distracting comparisons to the remake, and this Man Who Knew Too Much is a milestone in Hitchcock's early career. Peter Lorre makes his British debut as a scarred, scary villain. The print of the film used in the DVD release is serviceable and probably comparable to an average 16mm classroom or museum presentation. The DVD also includes a Hitchcock filmography, trivia questions, a director biography, and scene access. --Tom Keogh

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