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

Superman [1978)

First, I owe a deep apology to my fellow bloggers who have continued to follow and support me.  I have been swamped with work and embroiled in the current US election.  Thank you so much for your kindness!  I look forward to graduating with a master’s degree in about a month and hope to “get back on the wagon” of following each and every one of your amazing blogs.

Second, my conscience requires that I addend my previous takes on two very controversial figures:  Marina Abramović and Edward Snowden.

As I have continued my research on Ms. Abramović, I am more and more convinced that her dabblings in the occult are not mere innocent instances of artistic expression.  I still do not know what role she plays in the increasingly lurid child sex ring which is leaking from NYPD and FBI sources, but her buddies the Podestas (John Podesta, Hillary’s campaign chairman, and his brother Tony) seem more and more solidly “in the tank” as regards genuine sexual abuse of minors, child trafficking, and (even more shocking) ritualistic murder of these same kidnapped children.

I am not saying that the Podestas are guilty of these crimes.  I am, however, pointing out that mounting evidence suggests they are part of something which bears this general outline.  Also involved is the (likely) Saudi spy Huma Abedin.  But the kingpins seem to be the Clintons themselves.

I was a bit dismissive of hysteria when I defended Marina Abramović’s artistic merits.  I do still think she is an incredibly gifted artist.  But no amount of genius excuses child rape and ritualistic murder of young people.  [We shall be discussing here a similarly “brilliant” psychopath:  Lex Luthor.]

Quite frankly, Hillary Clinton seems to be a witch in the most literal sense.

Lexi Luthor?

Lexus Luthor?

It was my imperfect knowledge which caused my failure to grasp the bigger picture in the Abramović case (“spirit cooking”, in which the Podesta brothers and John’s wife Mary engaged in presumably a dinner with artist Marina Abramović which likely involved ingesting breast milk, semen, urine, and blood).

But there is more to “spirit cooking”…and more to Marina Abramović.

First, it has been suggested that the TRUEST (most genuine) “spirit cooking” would be, essentially, cannibalism:  eating the flesh or organs of spirits (dead children) who are cooked.

Second, Abramović’s references are not anodyne.  I cannot get into the details of “spirit cooking’s” connections to Aleister Crowley and Thelema because I am not conversant in such esoteric knowledge.  But I can confirm that child sacrifice is an obsession of the ruling elites in at least the US and UK (as evidenced by the opening ceremonies of Bohemian Club meetings near San Francisco which are documented to include a “mock” child sacrifice called “the cremation of care”).

My conclusion that Hillary Clinton truly practices illegal manifestations of magic is partly due to the words of former Clinton family employee Larry Nichols who is on record as saying that Bill Clinton told him that Hillary Clinton would make monthly (at least) treks to California to participate in a witches’ coven.  You can bet she wasn’t playing second fiddle at these shindigs!

And so what my readers must understand is that, for these perverse elites, black magic is very real.  At the very least, it appears that they are engaged in illegal activities pursuant to these ritualistic leanings.  And thus, as stated, my take on Marina Abramović was both uninformed and naïve insofar as occult context goes.

Hillary Luthor.

vs. Superman.

I must make a further confession.  I may have done injustice to Edward Snowden to be so skeptical of his aims.  The same goes for my suspicion of Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras.

And I’ll tell you why.

The majority of real news we are getting in the USA is thanks to WikiLeaks.

Edward Snowden has certainly been lumped in with Julian Assange.

To my satisfaction, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have proven themselves to be a credible (and priceless) asset for world freedom.

And so perhaps I was too harsh on Snowden.

One thing is certain:  we must remember that the eyes are the most easily-fooled of our senses.

So for me to proclaim, as an amateur film critic, that I know the score of Snowden’s veracity should not be taken as gospel truth.

Superman.

Is Edward Snowden the Superman in this whole thing?

Is Assange?

Actually, I would make the case that it is (rather) Donald Trump who is the true Superman on the world stage at the moment.

And it is indeed germane that he be facing off against Hillary Luthor.

And so we have a brilliant movie.

From director Richard Donner.

This is what superhero movies should be like.

Back when CGI didn’t suck (and the Clinton Global Initiative was yet to exist).

Superman brings hope.

To the deepest, darkest, most depressed and forgotten corners of America.

Not insignificant, Superman is a journalist by day.

The names here are blockbuster.

Marlon Brando as Superman’s biological father.

Perhaps James Comey is like Brando’s character Jor-El (who pronounces judgment against insurrectionists but then must acquiesce to the fate of death for he and his wife).

Which is to say, maybe James Comey of the US FBI is an honorable man.

Sure doesn’t seem like it.

But from surrender, a child is borne upon the seas of outer space.

Glenn Ford is excellent as Superman’s adoptive father.

Phyllis Thaxter is wonderful as Superman’s adoptive mother.

Jeff East is very good as the teenage Clark Kent.

Superman is all about the outcast getting his revenge on society…BY DOING GOOD!

Are you an outcast?

Yes.

Me too.

And we all know pain.

The pain of discrimination.  Not fitting in.  Being the odd man out.  The ugly duckling.

We can feel that the world (our little world) doesn’t want us.

And it is tremendously traumatic.

But Superman is a bit like Saint Jude the Apostle:  patron saint of lost causes.

Superman speaks to the most lowly among us.

Schizophrenics.  Shut-ins.  Impoverished.  Living in squalor.

Superman lets us dream.

We may have nothing but a VCR.  We have never gone on a date, much less had a girlfriend.

The world has forgotten about us.

But Superman gives us hope.

That someone or some thing is going to come along and lift us out of our misery.

The Trump connection is strong.

Doesn’t drink.  Doesn’t smoke.

Superman.

The World Trade Center (still standing) in the background (1978).

As Christopher Reeve zips through the New York City sky.

Mr. Reeve is astonishingly good as an actor in this film.

Enter Lois Lane.

Margot Kidder is so charming in this film 🙂

Her skinny little frame never stops moving as she tries to get the latest scoop in her job as a reporter.

But what else does Superman represent?

He represents the good cops who dive into the abyss each night to patrol the unpredictability of our streets.

He represents the good FBI who “damn the torpedoes” and go after the bad guys (and gals) [whomever they turn out to be].

Superman fights crime.

He never lies.

Superman is a protector.

Like the brave Secret Service agents who did a wonderful job shielding Mr. Trump two days ago in Reno from what could have been imminent gunfire.

Supermen are willing human shields.

Defenders.

Like our military.

And Superman does not suffer the deviance of pencil pushers who would try and leverage their brilliance to harm people.

If I was a Hillary supporter, I would compare Trump to Lex Luthor (realtors both).

But sometimes history offers us a counterintuitive option.

Donald Trump, while a realtor, is not out to screw the American public.

He has enough money.

He’s not a sycophant like Hillary.

The famous red “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) hat does not feature Trump’s name on it.

It’s not about him.

It’s about America.

Hillary’s campaign always comes back to her…in a self-serving way.

The ubiquitous H signs and the trite “I’m with her” détournement of a decades-old pop culture phrase.

Neither of Hillary’s taglines (including “Stronger Together”) ring true.

Mostly because SHE doesn’t ring true.  In anything.  At all.  Ever.

But Superman is for real teamwork.

Superman has humility.

But he also has immense confidence.  Pride, not arrogance.

And not least, Superman has a wry sense of humor.

With Luthor’s “staffer” Otis (Ned Beatty), there are a plethora of possible parallels to the iniquitous (and, frankly, incompetent) team of ass-kissers with whom Hillary has surrounded herself.

While John Podesta may very well be categorically evil, he’s no evil genius.

What kind of idiot forgoes the advice to encrypt?

But Hillary is really her own Otis.

Only Otis would be so dumb as to use a personal email server and (among other things) let her Filipino maid print out classified documents while Hillary was at Foggy Bottom.

Which makes Hillary the foggy bottom-feeder.  Always.  Forever.

Good attracts evil.

Good can change evil (and vice versa).

But be good…and you will reap the rewards of goodness.

Perhaps Valerie Perrine will rescue you from a swimming pool 🙂

We must save our mothers in Hackensack.

If you’re on the side of evil, it’s time to switch teams.

Good is merciful.

Do not wait until it’s too late.

Hillary has poisoned her own well just like Lex Luthor.

She is coming down.

It’s not a question of if, but rather of when.

However, those who have the opportunity to expose her misdeeds and yet stay silent must bear upon their consciences their accessory roles as silent partners to the evil destruction of America.

There may not be another chance.

So many people are tied to Hillary’s ring of corruption.

If they retain power, they will use all means necessary to purge the country of dissenters.

Don’t believe the “stronger together” hogwash.

Time to deliver Luthor and Otis to prison.

Are you the Superman we seek?

 

-PD

 

 

Ucho [1970)

A banned film.

From communist Czechoslovakia.

Party as nightmare (like O slavnosti a hostech).

But different.

Walls on all sides.

Claustrophobic.

As if Jeremy Bentham was tomorrow appointed head of the NSA.

From the single, centralized watchtower.

Stares out the embalmed ego of Bentham.

Auto-icon.

It’s just a skeleton stuffed with hay.  Dressed in Bentham’s clothes.

Like the panopticon.

A straw man prison.

Dear friends, I know of no film which conveys the horror of the 21st century.

Quite like this gem of resistance against totalitarianism.

This was the underbelly of communism.

The “evil empire” of which Reagan spoke.

His words seem funny today.  His unscientific, hypocritical words.

Because the Red Scare in the United States was typified by the same methods on display.

Here.

Surveillance.

Which I fear will not subside anytime soon.

Nor has this wave even crested.

“Mass surveillance doesn’t work,” Mr. Snowden wrote. “This bill will take money and liberty without improving safety.”

Finally The New York Times prints something worthwhile.

And even Hillary Clinton’s “History made.” ad can’t deflate the importance of Snowden’s words.

And so if you want to see the 12-tone paranoia of the communist “big brother” state (now that we are living in a “capitalist” big brother state), I would heartily recommend The Ear by director Karel Kachyňa.

It was banned for 19 years in Czechoslovakia.

Because it got real close to the truth.

It painted the communist party leaders as a bunch of jerks.

It portrayed the constant suspicion upon bureaucrats as a living nightmare.

The Ear.  Maybe some HUMINT at the party.

But largely this film deals with SIGINT (if author Jeffrey T. Richelson can be trusted).

The Ear deals primarily with what Richelson calls “clandestine SIGINT” in his book The U.S. Intelligence Community.

What we encounter in Ucho are “the oldest of these devices” (viz. “traditional audio surveillance devices”).

Wikipedia does a passable job outlining this area of inquiry in the article “Covert listening device”.

But dear friends…describing it so matter-of-factly does no justice to the strain which omnipresent surveillance puts on largely innocent people.

And therefore The Ear is a film which shows the psychological toll that governments exact when they make ethics secondary.

What we get from director Karel Kachyňa is the portrait of a society (his society) which assumes all citizens to be guilty until proven innocent.

This is ostensibly the opposite of the American system, but today’s Amerika is merely the other side of the coin:  same pervasion of surveillance (even if it is “capitalist”).

My hypothesis is that “free market” America has come to all-to-closely resemble the regimes it fought to defeat.  Those “victories”, then, were hollow.  We have appropriated the worst, most tortuous means of our past enemies.

But Kachyňa has another message for us in this masterpiece.

In such upside-down societies, promotion might be the worst form of punishment.

Beware, my coopted friends.

 

-PD

 

Notorious [1946)

The key in Ingrid’s hand.  The ring on Grace’s finger.  It’s not her key.  It’s not her ring.

Rio is beautiful…even in black and white.  Only Hitchcock could make it so.  Christ of the Andes.  The greatest creator of forms of the 20th century.

Icy.  Pithy.  Notorious is stoic Cary Grant.  And this shall be a terse dispatch.

It’s a very fine vintage…1946…1940…1934.  I pity the sommelier assigned to this house of horrors.  God forbid he pick the 1934.  You can tell, old man, when a seemingly-polished chap makes a completely inappropriate choice of wines.  Strangers on a train bound for Zagreb.  Yes, a keen eye for detail is certainly not to be underestimated.

T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) knows every trick in the book.  When to bluff.  When to kiss.

It is only when matters of the heart come into play that the C.I.A. has no official manual.  It will never be declassified.  Because it doesn’t exist.  The manual is Petrarch.  Shakespeare’s sonnets.  The manual was written long ago.  It is no secret.  Only a mystery.

We will kill her off slowly, they say…on the installment plan.  She will gargle in the rat-race choir.  Until Devlin comes with his pointed threats to bluff with scorn and Claude Rains is left like a groom standing at the altar…except it’s not his wedding, it’s his funeral.

It’s the way they killed Sindona in Voghera.  Poison in the coffee.  C.A.B.A.L.  It’s not a Fleming invention.  Far older than that.  And I.G. Farben…not a fanciful name plucked from Hitchcock’s imagination.

Mata Hari.  Theda Bara.  Arab Death.

MacGuffin.  Mackintosh.  Scotland Yard.

This was the first time Hitchcock was really in charge.  Byb-bye David O. Selznick.

Ben Hecht.  Clifford Odets.

This is really loose crap.

That’s a quote.  ” ”

This is a puzzle, dear friends.  This is your dossier.  Jigsaw.  Fragmented.

It is Vivre sa vie.  The back of a head only.  Cary Grant’s black hair.  A man, as yet, with no name.

Susan Sontag was on a different mission.  We defer to Cahiers du Cinéma.  To Henri Langlois.

These are our agents.  Our “Wild Bill” Donovans.  Our O.S.S.

She may not sniff it through a cane on a supersonic train, but it still makes me laugh.  Murnau more now than ever.

A full 360°.  The subjective, drunken camera.  We have suspicion of Grant from the start–is that fizzy aspirin or a glowing glass of milk?

The con man exploits your trust.  What was the bait?

It is like Dostoyevsky.  We feel sympathy for Norman Bates just as we do Raskolnikov.

Yes, sometimes…Mother Sebastian, we are protected by the enormity of our stupidity.  Forrest Gumption.

The key was stolen.  The key brought such luck.  The key was passed on.  And now, Mr. Hitchcock, the key has been returned.

Thank you.

 

-PD