The Man Who Knew Too Much [1956)

Netflix seems to be down tonight.

I tried several times.  Several movies.  Several fixes.

And so it is only fitting that history should trump the ephemeral stages of technological development.

Yes, time for a good old VHS tape.

And not a film about which I’ve previously written.

While I have surveyed many of the early Hitchcock films, I never wrote about the original version of this film.

1934.

To my knowledge, this is the only film of Alfred Hitchcock’s early career which he chose to remake.

Just on this fact alone, it would seem that the story was either very dear to the auteur or that he couldn’t resist something about the plot.

Granted, the two films are considerably different.

Even on a surface level, the 1934 version was (of course) in black and white.

But this was a VistaVision, Technicolor production.

1956.

22 years later.

For better or worse, I was familiar first with the earlier version.

It is a film I should revisit.

But it was not what I would call a “home run”.

The one aspect of the original which one might miss in the remake is the presence of Peter Lorre.

But we must move on to the future.  The present.

1956.

Jimmy Stewart plays the leading male role.  A doctor from Indianapolis.

Doris Day plays his wife.

The action is set for a good bit in Morocco.

Specifically, Marrakesh.

Indeed, the beginning of the film is a sort of travelogue.

In other words, its a good excuse to show off the exotic locale in North Africa.

Camels.  Veils.  [that one’s important]  The social tradition of eating with the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand.  While leaving the left hand in the lap.

All very edifying and exciting.

But Doris Day is suspicious from the start.

If we knew nothing of Hitchcock, we’d say her paranoia was unfounded.

But, in fact, it’s Jimmy Stewart’s ease which is the fateful misstep early on.

And so this movie is about suspicion.

Who can we trust?

In this age of anxiety (thank you W.H. Auden), everyone and everything is suspect.

The only true bliss is ignorance.

[and perhaps my only wisdom is that of paraphrase]

One thing which escaped me the first time I saw this version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (in the theater…lucky me) was a funny detail about Brenda de Banzie.

Yes, dear readers (and fans of Peter Sellers), Ms. de Banzie would later appear as the annoying, flamboyant Angela Dunning in The Pink Panther (1963).

Indeed, her role as the terror of Cortina (d’Ampezzo) was her second-to-last film.

But here she is a much more mysterious character.

I will leave it at that.

We get some interesting things in this film.

“Arabs” in disguise.

Which is to say, certain personages of the spook variety in brown makeup (and native garb).

One need not look very far back in history to find a poignant parallel.

Consider, for instance, the “Basra prison incident” of 2005.

I’m guessing that T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) would provide another example, though I am no expert on this matter.

As are almost all Hitchcock films, this one is a tense affair.

Doris Day, in particular, does a surprising job of portraying the personal terror of her character.

Perhaps most notable about this film is the musical component.

As an accomplished percussionist in my own right, I heartily appreciate Hitchcock’s attention to the intricacies of an orchestral percussion section.

Indeed, the film begins with a close-up of this little-featured “choir” (in addition to the three trumpets and three trombones at the bottom of the frame).

What is most remarkable is Hitchcock’s use of the musical score (in various permutations) to tell this unique story.

Funniest is the shot of the cymbalist’s sheet music.

It is nearly a complete tacit…save for one fateful crash.

I fondly remember (with some measure of anxiety) a time when I manned the cymbals for the overture of Verdi’s La forza del destino.

It was a similar affair.

Interminable waiting.

And if you miss your one crash?  Even in rehearsal?

Well, you are screwed!

The judging stares of oboists are enough to melt a man…

But the musical score appears elsewhere.

In the private box.

Perhaps a page-turner for an assassin.

Most vividly, Hitchcock makes the score come alive in a fascinating series of extreme close-ups.

It is like a very erudite version of “follow the bouncing ball”.

So yes…some of our action happens at the Royal Albert Hall.

In an interesting twist of fate, usual Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann garners copious screen time as the conductor…OF ANOTHER COMPOSER’S WORK!

Were it Beethoven, I’d understand.

But the piece is Storm Clouds Cantata by Arthur Benjamin (who?) and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis (not to be confused with [Percy] Wyndham Lewis).

And yet it is a moving piece.

The London Symphony Orchestra sounds lovely (really magical!) in their on-screen segments.

But the real Leitmotiv of our film is “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”.

Speaking of magic…it is always a gossamer thing to hear Doris Day sing this song in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

I remember a time when I didn’t know this song at all.

Being in a studio with Corinne Bailey Rae and hearing a playback of her wonderful band own this song.

And my discovery of Sly and the Family Stone’s inimitable version (sung by Rose Stone).

But few movie music moments equal Doris Day in her Marrakesh hotel room singing “Que Sera, Sera…” with little desafinado Christopher Olson.

The only ones which come close are Rita Hayworth (actually Jo Ann Greer?) singing the Rodgers and Hart masterpiece “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” the next year (1957) in Pal Joey and Ms. Hayworth “singing” (actually Anita Kert Ellis) “Put the Blame on Mame” in Gilda (1946).

An interesting note about this version of The Man Who Knew Too Much…

It seems to be a sort of forgotten classic, wedged as it is between the first of my Hitchcock “holy trinity” (Rear Window, 1954) and the other two perfect films (Vertigo, 1958, and North by Northwest, 1959).

Actually, this was a period of experimentation for Hitchcock.

Our film most precisely follows the odd comedy (!) The Trouble with Harry (1955) and precedes the black and white hand-wringer The Wrong Man (released later in 1956).

But The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) should not be forgotten!

It is such a beautifully-shot film!

Robert Burks’ cinematography is divine.

And George Tomasini’s editing is artfully deft.

Like To Catch a Thief (which is actually on Netflix in the U.S. [last time I checked]), The Man Who Knew Too Much is a film which perhaps needs multiple viewings to be truly appreciated.

-PD

The Princess Bride [1987)

In this world, we look for goodness.

And we think back.

Buttercup.

The name is not quite right.

But Robin Wright is perfect.

To conjure memories of wonder.

Rapunzel.

La fille aux cheveux de lin.

Ahh, yes…

We are getting closer.

Sick.  Bedridden.

Fever dreams of distant possibilities.

And Secretary of Defense, William “The Refrigerator” Perry.

The kissing had to be cut out.

The censors, you understand.

And perhaps we have saved these kisses for the finish line.

As you wish.  As you like it.

Have it your way.  I love you.

But enter from offstage the Dread Pirate Pico de Gallo.

Lisping speech impediments abound.

Wallace Shawn in The Seventh Seal.

And the sartorial strap of André the Giant.

Grenoble.

We are getting closer.

We learn that Saul Berenson is a very good actor.

Mandy Patinkin.

Hound Dog Taylor didn’t need no bass.

Enter from orchestra pit Johnny Cash.

When you are tumbling in love…weightless…in an orchard of God’s making.

Abloom.  In Stockholm.

Pretexts.  False flags.  It’s all here.

But Rob Reiner insists on cinema.

From the quicksand.

Don’t believe in yourself.

To his credit.

Tesla.

But this one goes to 50.

Years.

Off your life.

Two skinned appendages.  Comes with the package.

Houellebecq quote.  Creeley.

Could have sworn Mel Smith was Viv Savage (David Kaff).

Hyperlinks to Rare Bird (Charisma, Polydor).

Abandon all hope…in the hand of Dante.

The cries of the innocent.

Clouds of blood.

Slaying the witch.

On live television.

Strategic management from Stephen Hawking.

Weekend at Bernie’s.

Professional courtesy.

The only good thing Billy Crystal ever did.

Revenge.

Daniel Craig in writer’s strike watching The Princess Bride.

Voilá Quantum of Solace.

And Tosca.

Rachmaninov would live again…after the first symphony…in the Symphonic Dances…quoting himself…like John Fogerty…but just momentarily…to remember…conquering a state…percussing an albino…leaping from a cliff…holding up the memory of the dead…and thick glasses…on a young boy…this string quartet is for you.

“Feel sick and dirty/More dead than alive”

No Houellebecq.

“I could sleep for a thousand years…Different colors made of tears”

I was friends with André.  And he with me.

Horse pills.

Bo Diddley.

Diddley bow.

Primal scream.

The holocaust cloak in Histoire(s) du cinéma.

“Look out honey ’cause I’m using technology”

Mawwiage.

Abdomen smited.

Come too far.

Not limousine liberal.

Stand down.

“She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes”

Leaves two.

Hello lady!

Honor thy father and mother.

 

-PD