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DVD Shopping Bag: The Man Who Knew Too Much 1934

Criterion Collection Latest Must Have

By Robert T. Trate     January 22, 2013
Source: Mania.com

 Over the past couple of years, I have building an Alfred Hitchcock library. It’s not so much a wing onto my house or anything, just a collection of his films. Last November’s Alfred Hitchcock’s Master Piece Collection on Blu-ray (see column) was a boom to the collection. One title in particular stood out, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). the film featured Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day as two vacationers that get tangled up in an international assassination plot. It was a superb film, if not a tad drawn out. I was tempted to the watch the film numerous times on Netflix, but it was always the original 1934 version that was streaming. See, Alfred Hitchcock had one of those rare opportunities to go back and remake one of his own films. 

The similarities and differences in the two versions is what makes watching both an extraordinary experience. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, what is the story for both films with the title The Man Who Knew Too Much?


Both films feature a vacationing family who have a single member receive information about an assassination plot. The child, in each film, is taken and held to keep the parents quiet. The authorities know that they know something, but the parents take matters into their own hands to not only save their child, but the day as well. The plots of both versions may be identical, however, the way their finales play out is completely different. 


The Hitchcock we know was not the same Hitchcock in 1934, a fact that director Guillermo del Toro is keen on pointing out in Criterion’s 2012 interview about the film. Hitchcock, in 1934, was a man who had made several films, yet was suffering from their lack of success. In 1934, The Man Who Knew Too Much (Spine #643) was an “all or nothing” picture for Hitchcock. Del Toro references this particular picture as the one that birthed the Alfred Hitchcock we all came to love and admire. 


Hitchcock was a storyteller that liked to feature the everyday man in a situation that removed him from the ordinary. In many of these cases, Hitchcock revealed to the audience just how fragile life could be outside of our safe environment. In the 1934 film, Bob and Jill Lawrence (Leslie Banks and Edna Best) have to compete with spies, killers, policemen, and dignitaries to save their little girl. The film is ripe with humor, brilliant cinematography, and a likable villain cast in Petter Lorre. In this strange instance, Lorre steals the spotlight in his first English speaking role. He was already a star in Germany and from this point on became the guy you loved to hate for years to come. 


If you are a fan of the cinema or Alfred Hitchcock, I am probably not telling you anything new.  What amazed me was a brief special feature on the Blu-ray about the film’s restoration. Many Blu-rays today are just released from the most easily accessible negatives available. In short, a quick dollar can be made on the latest format of our favorite films. Numerous times, I have found sub-par Blu-rays of classic films or films of note that paled in comparison to special edition DVDs released less than 5 years prior. The outstanding achievement of the Criterion Collection is the ability to wait until the best possible print is found. “The Film That Warped Too Much” is a short but essential look at understanding the process that went into bringing the The Man Who Knew Too Much to Blu-ray. Over ten years ago, they had a print that was the personal property of uber producer David O. Selznick. It simply wasn’t good enough. When all was revealed, I have never appreciated a film or more, nor have I wanted to watch a film more again. 


I have often said that a Criterion Collection Blu-ray or DVD is like a fine bottle of wine that is to be cherished and savored. The Man Who Knew Too Much is a vintage from 1934 that deserves a place in your own library. It’s a fine film that is worthy of sitting next to the likes of North by Northwest and Vertigo.

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redhairs99 1/22/2013 8:57:16 AM

 The Quiet Man - Best Bar Fight Ever!!

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