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Man Who Knew Too Much, The (1934)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Man Who Knew Too Much, The (1934)
DirectorAlfred Hitchcock
Production CompanyGaumont-British Picture Corporation
ScenarioA.R. Rawlinson, Edwin Greenwood
ByCharles Bennett, D.B. Wyndham-Lewis
PhotographyCurt Courant

Cast: Leslie Banks (Bob Lawrence); Peter Lorre (Abbott); Edna Best (Jill Lawrence); Nova Pilbeam (Betty Lawrence); Hugh Wakefield (Clive)

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On holiday in Switzerland, Jill and Bob Lawrence become involved in a sinister plot when they witness a murder and their daughter Betty is kidnapped. Back in London, they are too scared to involve the police, and try to track down the perpetrators themselves.

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Following the dismal failure of his first and only musical, Waltzes from Vienna (1934), Hitchcock gratefully accepted a five-year deal with Michael Balcon's Gaumont British studios. The Man Who Knew Too Much, released in 1934, was the first in a series of increasingly confident pictures which would make his name worldwide, and lead ultimately to his departure for Hollywood in 1939. It was also the beginning of a fruitful partnership with Charles Bennett, who had written the stage play on which Blackmail (1929) was based. The pair collaborated on five consecutive pictures, before Bennett himself headed for Los Angeles. They were re-united for Foreign Correspondent (1940).

The germ of the plot for The Man Who Knew Too Much had been inspired by Hitchcock and Alma's honeymoon in St. Moritz in 1927 - the thought of the sedate, upper-class resort being undermined by murder and intrigue was irresistable to the director.

The film's theme of ordinary people caught up by chance in a grand conspiracy is one that Hitchcock would rework throughout his career. He even remade The Man Who Knew Too Much in Hollywood (in 1955), with James Stewart and Doris Day replacing Leslie Banks and Edna Best, in a version which is certainly slicker but arguably inferior to the original.

Missing from the remake was the focus on the resourceful heroine, who is introduced at the beginning of the film as an Olympic standard clay-pigeon shooter. This skill with a rifle will be telling at the film's end. The original also featured and impressive climactic sequence, modelled on the notorious Sidney Street siege of 1911, in which a group of anarchists conducted a protracted gun battle with police after barricading themselves in an East End house.

Hitchcock achieved a casting coup in attracting the German actor Peter Lorre, star of Fritz Lang's M (Germany, 1931 to play the villain. Lorre was passing through Britain on his way to Hollywood, where he would find new fame in The Maltese Falcon (US, d. John Huston, 1941) and Casablanca (US, d. Michael Curtiz, 1942). Lorre and Hitchcock shared an unusual sense of humour, and the partnership was repeated in Secret Agent (1936).

The Man Who Knew Too Much was a spectacular success, rescuing Hitchcock from a difficult period in which he struggled to find the right projects to match his talent. Afterwards, he increasingly associated himself with the crime genre.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. An assassination (2:54) no dog
2. Albert Hall (5:17) no dog
3. The siege (1:50) no dog
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Banks, Leslie (1890-1952)
Bennett, Charles (1899-1995)
Hitchcock, Alfred (1899-1980)
Junge, Alfred (1886-1964)
Montagu, Ivor (1904-1984)
Proud, Peter (1913-1989)
Tennyson, Pen (1912-1941)
Gaumont-British Picture Corporation
English Hitchcock