Friday, 3 October 2008

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Lowdown: Would you sacrifice your son for a higher cause?
I like Alfred Hitchcock's work, and of the Hitchcock films I got to see my favorite has usually been The Man Who Knew Too Much. It's not just that the film is good; a lot of it has to do with the circumstances in which I saw the film. Until I saw it again in cable during later years, it was a case of watching it twice at the cinema, both occasions through school outings to cinema Lev Dizingoff at the heart of Tel Aviv: the first during a primary school excursion, the second during a high school excursion. How can I not like the film given that already it helped me skip two school days?
On both occasions we've had a lecture by famous newspaper movie critics about Hitchcock and the film before we got to watch it, which made it a particular delight to have David Stratton introduce the film with a short lecture when ABC2 aired it last Saturday. Interestingly enough, all three of them (Yehuda Stav, Gidi Orsher and Stratton) said roughly the same things, give or take a bit.
Actually, the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, starring James Stewart and Doris Day, is a remake. Not your usual remake, though; it's Hitchcock remaking one of his older films (both of which share the same title). I have seen the "original" once, and I don't think there can be much doubt about the "sequel" being vastly superior.
Stewart is an American doctor devoted to his career and Day is a devoted wife who gave up her career as a famous singer to be with her man. That's the typical Hitchcock woman for you. They visit Morocco, a place Stewart has helped liberate during the war and through a collection of incidents meet several characters to whom they say everything about themselves while they let them take care of their child yet about whom they know nothing. Day becomes suspicious but Stewart calms her down repeatedly.
Then, while touring a street market, one of those characters appears in front of Stewart and dies in his hands with a knife stuck in his back. While dying he tells Stewart a few words; words that make Stewart know too much. The next thing Stewart knows, he receives a call telling him to keep his mouth quiet or his son, a hostage, will die. But can Stewart keep his mouth shut and should Stewart keep his mouth shut, given that the information the dying man gave him was about a plot to kill someone? Who is more important, the subject of the murder plot or the son? What is the right thing to do in such a case?
Stewart decides to use the clues at his disposal and track his son. The couple arrives in London, where the plot thickens Da Vinci Code style (but much better) until it reaches its climax during a musical concert at Albert Hall and later while Day sings her famous rendition of Que Sera Sera (the song was originally written for this film). That's is yet another personal point of emotional contact for me, as we've studied the song in English class back at school.
Overall, beyond the ethical dilemma that drives the film, The Man Who Knew Too Much is simply cinema at its best. Day and Stewart's performances are excellent, their characters are very slowly but thoroughly and without a minute of boredom developed, and the thrilling drama scenes are so slowly and artfully stretched for maximum effect they are a delight to watch. Magnificent entertainment.
Best Scene: The final Que Sera Sera, of course; it's touching.
Overall: The Man Who Knew Too Much is, indeed, a lesson in the art of movie making. 5 out of 5 stars for Hitchcock.

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