Wednesday, May 25, 2011
#126: The Man Who Knew Too Much
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 version) is a movie with a plot, that if you're a crime thrillers devotee, will get you salivating from the word go. A young couple (Leslie Banks and Edna West) on a vacation witness a murder. The victim falls in the arms of the husband, passes on a note to him and whispers something in his ears before dying. Someone sees this and kidnaps the couple's daughter threatening to kill her if the husband divulged anything to the police. I don't know about you but my mind is racing even as I write about a movie that I have seen more than a couple of times.
It's got to do a lot with the tension that builds in after a happy start to the movie. Everyone seems to be nice and sweet, the young couple is having fun and all of a sudden something untoward happens. The husband and wife have not only to divert the cops from believing that they've any relevant information about this and yet with what the husband has, they make an effort to find out who the kidnappers might be. The storyline used to be such a personal favorite of Hitchcock's that he even re-made this version in the sixties marking the only time Hitchcock's remade a movie.
At a crisp 75 minutes, the movie sucks you into the heart of it's action with no apparent effort. What works well is the breezy buildup, the desperation of the child's parents and the perennial question- 'What is the bad guy (the irrepressible Peter Lorre in his first English speaking role) after? " With Charles Bennett, one of Hitchcock's first writing collaborators, the pair escalate the climax into a gunfight with an ending that very smartly justifies one of the earlier scenes in the movie. There is a touch of genius in all this but the downer was the manner in which Peter Lorre gets implicated- all because of some in-time detective work that Leslie Bank and Edna West display. It seemed a bit too easy and hard to believe. While it's amateurish streak might have made for a thrilling comic book for a 11-year old, it might not get your pulse racing towards the last 20 minutes.
Be that as it may, when you see Hitchcock's earlier movies, silent or otherwise, you realize how he was always improving with every movie he made. It also assures you that even Hitchcock didn't wake up one day and started filming classics. It was a journey of immense hard work and an unrelenting quest towards perfection. The Man Who Knew Too Much is a substantive reflection of it all. It might not be the perfect crime thriller but it sure is a worthwhile watch.