Movie Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: The Man Who Knew Too Much
Release Date: December 1934
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Gaumont British Picture Corporation 

As a child, I watched the 1956 Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much.  Although the only thing I can remember about the movie is Doris Day singing “Que Sera, Sera,” I remember liking it well enough. The critical consensus, however, is that the 1934 version of the movie is better.

The movie begins with the British Lawrence family enjoying a vacation at a Swiss ski resort.  Jill Lawrence (Edna Best) is dancing with a French ski jumper they befriended, Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay), when the latter is shot from outside the ballroom.  In his dying moments, Louis tells Jill to have her husband Bob (Lesley Banks) to find in his room a secret message for the British Consul about an international crime.  Bob finds the secret note, but is witnessed in the act, and in retaliation, a criminal gang lead by Abbot (Peter Lorre) kidnaps the Lawrence’s young daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam).

The Lawrence’s return home to London and refuse to cooperate with the government officials, knowing it could lead to the gang killing Betty.  Instead, Bob begins an investigation with his comic relief brother-in-law, Clive (Hugh Wakefield).  Their investigation leads to a dentist office, a church for sun-worshipers, the Albert Hall, and eventually a massive shootout that would put Quention Tarentino to shame. Bob really doesn’t go into any of this with a plan and succeeds by luck, so much of the tension is around whether his latest improvisation will work.

Lorre is great as the villain, as always, but many of the other performances are kind of flat.  If you think too hard about a lot of Hitchcock films, the plans of the characters don’t make too much sense in retrospect, but in this movie they don’t even make much sense as you’re watching it.  This film is a serviceable thriller, but I wouldn’t rank it among the all-time classics or even the best Hitchcock films.

Rating: ***