Hitchcock suspense thriller, starring Jimmy Stewart, Doris Day
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Put plugs in your ears when Day sings out "Que Sera, Sera."
Mar 2, 2012
I like Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) the same way I like To Catch a Thief. Both are big, fat, slick and satisfying entertainments made by a professional at the top of his game, with To Catch a Thief a better movie. While To Catch a Thief packs in naughtiness and more charm, neither leave any questions afterwards except “Where do we want to stop for a bite before going home?”
One weakness (which also is a strength) is Doris Day. When she's sobbing and hysterical she gets on my nerves. After Hank is kidnapped I wished she’d been given a very, very strong sedative. Day’s strength in the movie is that for most of the time she's good company, and she's believable as a woman who will do what it takes to rescue her son. She paired well with Stewart in both star power and likable personality.
The movie is too long, the curse of so many movies beginning in the mid-Fifties. For me, this undermined some of the set pieces. I wanted Hitchcock to get a move on. The scenes I particularly like are the unease and suspicion that developed in the church, the cocktail party chit chat, the Albert Hall sequence, which is masterful, the rescue of Hank, and Stewart’s last line, "I'm sorry we were gone so long, but we had to go over and pick up Hank." The taxidermy bit, however, is too long and neither funny nor suspenseful. The same set-up in Hitchock’s first version which takes place in a dentist’s office is amusing, creepy and suspenseful.
Which brings us to Que Sera, Sera. It seems to me to be a better-than-average pop song so professionally written that the emotion is slick and impersonal. Not only does Day belt it out so loudly that young Hank can hear it upstairs in the embassy, the neighbors two blocks away probably heard it, too. Que Sera, Sera is one of many of Hollywood’s hit songs that are too professional and unsurprising to move me much.
Let's hear it for some fine actors who made appearances. I have a lot of admiration for Brenda de Banzie who played the wife of Bernard Miles. She was a fine actress; just see her in The Entertainer as Olivier's wife or in Hobson's Choice when she makes a man of John Mills and masters Charles Laughton. Bernard Miles was a first class actor who could play just about anything but aristocrats. For those who like medals and honors, Miles was made a Sir in 1969 and became a Lord in 1979 (the first actor to do so after Olivier). Not bad for the son of a farm laborer and a cook. The cocktail party had some old friends it was good to see. Among the familiar faces were Alan Mobray, Hillary Brooke and Carolyn Jones. Among the best of the best is Reggie Nalder, who played the assassin. According to IMDb, he was a handsome man who, when a young man, was burned severely over the bottom third of his face. Nalder was a chilling killer in The Man Who Knew Too Much. He made the premise of the film -- a political assassination -- believable and dreadful.
So sit back and enjoy. Then watch North by Northwest, a classic Hitchcock “entertainment” made of froth, charm and suspense.
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