The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) is not to be missed.
Director Alfred Hitchcock was in the prime of his career. He had already made Rebecca (1940), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Notorious (1946), Strangers on a Train (1951), and Rear Window (1954). Still to come were Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963.)
Hitchcock used the power garnered from his success to remake one of his own films, The Man Who Knew Too Much, which he’d made in 1934 in Britain before coming to Hollywood in 1940.
As Hitchcock astutely told François Truffaut, “Let’s say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional.”
Hitchcock knew who he wanted as the leads—Jimmy Stewart, who he’d worked with twice before with great success, and Doris Day, whom he felt could be a great dramatic actress if given the right part. Day was thrilled to be working with Hitchcock after deciding to go independent and not renew her contract with Warner Brothers.
Hitch tells the story of husband and wife Ben (Stewart) and Jo (Day) McKenna, who are taking a holiday through French Morocco with their young son Hank. Without spoiling the twists and turns of the plot, the innocent McKennas find themselves caught up in a nightmare when they are dragged into a plot to assassinate a foreign statesman. Ben is a doctor, Jo a famous singer, and they know nothing of the plot. But the assassins believe they do after an innocent conversation with a man who turns out to be a French Intelligent Agent. To keep them quiet, the assassins kidnap Hank.
During the rest of the film, Jo and Ben struggle to find Hank and stop the assassination. The film crests during a cinematically magnificent scene at the Royal Albert Concert Hall when Jo must decide whether or not to stop the assassination, knowing it may mean the death of her son. In a signature Hitchcockian scene, the symphony plays and the screws tighten as the audience waits for the clash of cymbals that will cover the assassin’s bullet.
Hitchcock commissioned Jay Livingston and Ray Evans to write a song specifically for Doris Day to sing in the film, and they came up with “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).” The film won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and became Day’s signature theme for the rest of her life.
The song plays a prominent role in the film, as a kidnapped Hank hears his mother singing it and knows she is near.
Day and Stewart are excellent as a husband and wife trying desperately to find their son.
Sometimes lost among Hitchcock’s many masterpieces, the film is top notch work by all involved and is a must-see for any suspense, Hitchcock, Stewart, or Day fan.
- Kaufman, David. Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door. 2008.
- Eliot, Marc. Jimmy Stewart: A Biography. 2006.
- Hitchcock/Truffaut. 1966.
Want more? Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.
Yup, you can’t beat the classic Hitchcock style, and working with two big stars on material he’d already tried and tested. And a hit song to boot…what’s not to like?
Exactly. A stone cold classic.