Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Man Who Knew Too Much vs The Man Who Knew Too Much

Alfred Hitchcock made the film, The Man Who Knew Much twice:
  • The Man Who Knew Much (1934) – Made in England, and starring Leslie Banks, Edna Best, and Peter Lorre. Hitchcock considered this version the work of a talented amateur. For simplicity, I'll refer to this version as simply, 1934.

  • The Man Who Knew Much (1956) – Made in Hollywood, and starring James Stewart and Doris Day. Hitchcock considered this version the work of a professional. I'll refer to this version as 1956.

I always considered 1956 to be far superior, but I now realize that a lot of my problems with 1934 stem from seeing it on poor quality copies almost every time I watched it. Having recently seen a good copy of 1934, I've come to realize that I like both quite a bit. I still prefer 1956, but not by nearly as much as I had previously thought.

Between the two films, the basic story is the same but the way they are executed is enough different that watching one does not ruin your enjoyment of the other. Probably, the biggest difference is the ending, 1934 ends with a running gun battle, whereas, 1956 ends with 127 verses of the song, "Que Sera Sera." Remind me again, why I like 1956 better. Oh right, Jame Stewart and Doris Day.

Admittedly, the above is a bit facetious, but both film have their strengths and few if any weaknesses: 

  • 1934:
    • The pacing is excellent. It's a roller coaster ride, and even if there are parts that might seem a little hard to swallow, by the time you could even think that, you're already onto the next scene.
    • Peter Loree is a great actor, and he is kind of the prototypical Hitchcock villain, smart, refined, funny, and likable. If anything, he might be too likable, you kind of hate to see him go. 1956 doesn't really have a villian. Actually, it probably does, but I don't remember a thing about him. The couple that kidnap James Stewart and Doris Day's son are lower level, they take orders from someone, but I couldn't tell you who he was or anything about him. 
  • 1956:
    • Though 1956 doesn't have the break-neck pace of 1934 and adds scenes not in the original version, I never feel that it drags at all. The scenes that are added, though goofy in some respects, are hilarious, so you let it slide. The scene in the taxidermist shop and the friends waiting in their hotel for like 10 hours are stupid but in a fun way. Even Doris Day singing "Que Sera Sera" for 20 minutes still works  (okay, it wasn't that long).
    • Doris Day and James Stewart. For Doris Day, this is the movie that convinced me that she could really act, not just sing and do comedy, and James Stewart, it just doesn't get better than that. In 1934, I don't feel the anguish of the parents. That's what 1956 is all about, well that and the comedy. 
Both 1934 and 1956 are very good but for entirely different reasons.  I think Hitchcock is being too hard on himself with the talented amateur comment. Admittedly, Alfred Hitchcock made some films that are not good. 1934 is not one of them. It holds up well among any of the better Hitchcock films. I do still like 1956 better but 1934 is very good.


  1. I haven't seen 1956 in forever but one thing I noticed about 1934 is that the parents never seem too concerned about their daughter. Subsequently, the element of peril was diminished and I wasn't too concerned about the outcome.

  2. Hey, thanks for stopping by, and sorry about the delay responding. They don't seem to be concerned about the daughter. I don't know if you're taking the Hitchcock course, but they spoke of how many British film actors were primarily stage actors, who considered films slumming. Possibly, that's what was going on there. I don't think Hitchcock is the type of director is going to finesse a good performance of his actors if they weren't into it. Obviously with James Stewart and Doris Day, he didn't need to. Leslie Banks and Edna Best, maybe not. Then again, Hitchcock considered the 1934 version the work of a talented amateur. Maybe part of that was not providing the place for the actors to shine.