Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Title: The Man Who Knew Too Much
Year: 1956
Studio: Universal Pictures
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes
Source Material: The story by Charles Bennett and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis
Running Time: 115 minutes

Sunday 29th May, 6:30am
I had every intention of doing this one yesterday, but I was in a very grumpy mood - one of those in which one finds oneself tiresomely pitying all aspects of one's own life. It's pathetic, it's true. Let's just say my biorhythms were all down or something. So, instead, I climbed into bed mid-afternoon and read for a bit, slept and cuddled the cat.
Waking early this morning, I felt much better and threw myself into it. For some reason, I always seem to forget how entertaining this film is until I watch it again...

Dr Ben McKenna - James Stewart
Jo McKenna - Doris Day
Lucy Drayton - Brenda De Banzie
Edward Drayton - Bernard Miles
Buchanan - Ralph Truman
Louis Bernard - Daniel GĂ©lin
Ambassador - Mogens Wieth
Val Parnell - Alan Mowbray
Jan Peterson - Hillary Brooke
Hank McKenna - Christopher Olsen
Assassin - Reggie Nalder
Assistant manager - Richard Wattis
Woburn - Noel Willman
Helen Parnell - Alix Talton
Police Inspector - Yves Brainville
Cindy Fontaine - Carolyn Jones
Edna - Betty Bascomb
Chauffeur - Leo Gordon
Handyman - Patrick Aherne
Detective - Lewis Martin
Ambrose Chappell Jr -Richard Wordsworth
Ambrose Chappell Snr - George Howe

On a bus heading to Marrakech, an American couple are travelling with their son. They are Ben and Jo McKenna and their son is named Hank. Ben is a doctor and his wife used to be a singer whose career has been cut short due to the nature of Ben's work. Their marriage shows signs of strain frequently, but this holiday could help them out.
They are befriended by a Frenchman named Louis Bernard but Jo is suspicious of him as he asks too many questions.
That evening, at the hotel, they have Bernard for drinks in their suite before heading off for dinner. At one point a man arrives at the door. he has a scar on his right cheek. He asks for 'Montgomery' but soon passes on his way when informed he has the wrong room. Louis Bernard asks to make a call and then he asks for forgiveness as he has to cancel his plans with them for dinner, so they go off alone.

In a local restaurant, Jo and Ben meet an English couple - Edward and Lucy Drayton. Lucy recognised Jo from her singing years and the foursome enjoy a meal together. Jo notices Louis turn up at the restaurant with a female companion. Ben is outraged and is willing to give him an earful, but Jo stops him from making a scene.

The next day, the two couples visit the marketplace along with Hank (who is enthralled by it all). Jo confides to Ben that she'd like another child.
They are interrupted by havoc amongst the crowds. There is a big chase on foot and one man is stabbed in the back. The injured man staggers toward Ben and collapses in his arms. His dark skin smudges on Ben's fingers proving it is mere make up and he recognises Louis Bernard. As the Frenchman dies, he whispers in Ben's ear...

"A man, a statesman, he is to be killed... assassinated... in London. Soon. Very soon. Tell them in London. Ambrose Chappell..."

Ben and Jo have to go to the police station to give a statement - meanwhile Lucy Drayton takes Hank back to the hotel. Ben and Jo learn that Bernard worked for the Deuxieme Bureau, similar to MI5 or the FBI, and the cops are curious as to Ben's relationship with him. Whilst there, Ben is called to the phone - someone tells him not to repeat anything that Bernard told him or his son will be hurt.
Ben takes Jo back to the hotel only to find that both Edward and Lucy Drayton have gone and taken Hank with them. He sedates Jo and tries to figure what to do next.

The couple return to London where they speak to Inspector Buchanan from CID. They receive a call from the kidnappers and they get to speak to Hank, albeit briefly. Ben insists they handle this alone for fear of Hank's life. Buchanan advises against that, but understands their predicament.
At their hotel in London, they are bombarded with some local friends of Jo's and they try and put on a brave face.
After looking up 'Abrose Chappell' in the phone book, Ben goes off to meet him on his own. It turns out to be a false lead when he discovers a family run taxidermist shop. Meanwhile, back at the hotel, it occurs to Jo that it may have been a place, not a person - Ambrose chapel! She hurries off, leaving her friends and takes taxi to the chapel. From this location, she calls back to her hotel room from a phone booth - Ben has returned by this time and she tells him to join her.

Upstairs at the chapel, Edward is instructing the scarred man exactly when he is to assassinate the foreign Prime Minister - when the cymbals crash during Arthur Benjamin's Cantata 'Storm Cloud'. The assassin is armed and ready. He will have a box at the Albert hall in direct line of the intended victim.

Once Ben arrives at the chapel, they enter the chapel and join the congregation. Hank is being held upstairs by one of the Drayton's accomplices, Edna. Lucy spots Ben and Jo in the crowd and Jo slips out to call for the police. In his guise as a priest, Edward Drayton tells the congregation to leave for their homes for some private meditation - they do so quickly and obediently, leaving Ben behind. In a struggle, Ben gets clobbered and becomes unconscious.

Jo returns with some police officers only to find the chapel still, quiet and locked up - she does not understand where everyone has gone. She asks for the police to take her to the Albert Hall as that is where Buchanan is that evening.
Ben eventually wakes up, but not until the gang have fled with Hank.
He climbs up the rope into the bell tower and escapes through the roof, alerting everyone in the district with the cacophony.

Jo is at Albert Hall as the place begins to fill - she is looking for Buchanan but cannot find him. She sees the foreign prime Minister and also the scarred man she had seen at the hotel in Morocco. Piecing it together, she panics. As the orchestra play she watches helplessly as the assassin prepares. Ben, having called Buchanan's office, arrives at the Albert hall and desperately searches for the assassin. At the moment the gun is about to be fired, Jo screams her heart out, ruining the perfect shot and the Prime Minister is merely wounded in the arm. Ben crashes into the box with the assassin who flees only to fall to his death.

The Prime Minister is grateful to Jo and Ben, but they cannot bear to take the plaudits of heroism whilst their son is still missing.

Meanwhile, the Drayton's are being scolded by their 'employer', an ambassador at the foreign embassy. he tells them to dispose of young Hank so he can't talk. Lucy is horrified.

Ben and Jo get themselves invited to the embassy and she is asked to sing for the guests in attendance. As she plays at the piano and sings, she can hear Hank whistling back from somewhere upstairs. He is encouraged by a repentant Lucy Drayton.
Ben follows the sound of the whistle and breaks down the door. Lucy tells them to run but Edward is behind them with a gun, he takes them at gunpoint in order to use them to escape, but as they descend the stairs, Ben pushes Edward down the flight and his gun goes off, killing him. Jo, Ben and Hank are reunited and can return to the safety of their hotel at last.


Great Lines
Oh, Hank, you may be able to spell haemoglobin, but your knowledge of other cultures is less than satisfactory... but then, you are only a child.

Hank: "Do you eat snails?"
Louis: "When I'm lucky enough to get them."
Hank: "If you ever get hungry, our garden back home is full of snails."
Louis: "Thank you for the invitation."
Hank: "That's all right. We tried everything to get rid of them. We never thought of a Frenchman!"

As for Jo's friends, it's hard to know who should be more insulted when one remarks about Hank: "I hope he looks like you and has the doctor's brains!"

And finally, a wonderfully acerbic line from the ambassador to the inept kidnappers:
"Don't you realise that Americans dislike having their children stolen?"

One almost wishes he'd continue with "But the Brits; they LOVE it - they almost BEG for you to steal their kids!"

Doris Day is superb as Jo 'Conway' McKenna. For anyone who considers her to be saccharine in other forms should give this film a go. Her acting is superb and her rendition of Whatever Will Be, Will be (Que Sera, Sera) toward the end of the film is brilliant.
One does worry about the marriage between Ben and Jo. No wonder it is so strained when he thinks it's OK to liberally hand out pills every time he has an obstacle to cross. "Now, before we row, let me sedate you so I can win..."

The Albert Hall scene has become famous in movie lore - with good reason. It's over ten minutes long with no dialogue and it's utterly gripping. Even though I have seen it a number of times, I still got chills.
Proof indeed that Hitchcock is the master.

One of my favourite Hitchcock touches in this film, however, is when Ben and Jo receive the phone call from Lucy Drayton and they get to speak to their son. The camera looks down upon them and we watch detached as we witness their panic and grief. we feel that lack of control, unable to assist. It's a surreal moment and played perfectly by Day and Stewart.

Another favourite is when Jo is at the Embassy singing, we follow the sound of her voice as it carries throughout the corridors, up the stairs and toward the locked door, behind which Hank is held captive. Even though the music plays, it is eerie in it's sombre tone. As odd as this may sound, you can hear the silence under the music.

My Verdict
I gave the first version 7/10 and I was thinking of giving this 8, but really, it deserves a 9/10.

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