The Man Who Knew Too Much
Michael Balcon for Gaumont British
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
starring Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Frank Vosper, Hugh Wakefield, Nova Pilbeam, Pierre Fresnay, Cicely Oates, D.A.Clarke-Smith, George Curzon, Clare Greet, Henry Oscar, S.J.Warmington, H.G.Stoker, James Vyvian, Frank Atkinson, Percy Walsh, Joan Harrison, James Knight, Charles Paton, Frederick Piper, Hal Walters
written by Charles Bennett, D.B. Wyndham-Lewis, Edwin Greenwood, A.R. Lawrence, additional dialogue by Emlyn Williams, music by Arthur Benjamin
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When in Switzerland, Lawrence (Leslie Banks) and Jill (Edna Best)
witness a friend (Pierre Fresnay) of them being murdered - but not before
finding out he has been a secret agent, and with his dying breath, he
tells Lawrence a state secret that could save the life of an important
diplomat, whose assassination could start another war. But before Lawrence
can tell any of this to the proper authorities, he and Jill have to find
out their daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam) has been kidnapped by enemy spies,
and will be killed if Lawrence spills the beans ...
Back in Great
Britain, the Foreign Office, wise to the fact that Lawrence is carrying
the secret, tries everything to make him tell it, but to no avail ... but
Lawrence manages to track down the kidnappers, led by a certain Albert
(Peter Lorre) to a small village, manages to find out they plan to
assassinate the diplomat during the crescendo of a concert in Royal Albert
Hall, and manages to tell that to his wife before Albert and his men
manage to capture him and lock him away with his daughter.
Albert Hall at the evening of the planned assassination, and with a shriek
of panic, she not only spoils the killing but also gets the police on the
assassin's trail, who runs right back to Albert's hideout, which is soon
put under siege, and one by one, the foreign agents are shot dead in a big
shootout. Lawrence helps Betty to make a getaway over the roofs, but one
of the villains goes after her and is only just shot dead by Betty's
mother, a skilled skeet shooter (as established at the beginning of the
film), and everything ends happily as can be.
The original Man
who Knew Too Much might not hit high marks on depth or innovative
plotline, but as a light-hearted thriller with extremely fine, inventive
suspense setpieces, the film is simply a stunner: On one hand does the
film feature witty dialogue, dry performances and welcome understatement
typical for Hitchcok's British films, on the other portions of the film
like the Albert Hall sequence and the final shootout are so tensely
directed they have not lost a bit of their effect even almost 75 years
after the film's release. Add to that a great villainous performance by
Peter Lorre, Hitchcock's remarkably light hand in handling his characters
and his ability to surprise the audience which he seems to have lost in
later years, and you've got a quite simply brilliant thriller.
1956, Hitchcock decided to remake this film with James Stewart and Doris
Day in the lead roles, but while that film features much more lavish
production values and that certain glamour that comes with big budgets, it
lacks the wit, originality and intentional edginess of this one - making
one wonder why Hitchcock chose to remake exactly this one of all his