Today’s parents are often accused of “Helicopter Parenting,” but after the harrowing adventure the McKenna Family endures in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, who can blame them for being a heck of a lot clingier than usual?
As TCM’s Brian Cady notes, the original 1934 smash hit got Hitchcock started on a nearly unbroken string of wildly popular suspense thrillers that made him “The Master of Suspense.”
|Hitchcock's films were well known for their cymbalism...|
Producer/actress/daughter Patricia Hitchcock O’Connell (Stage Fright; Strangers on a Train; Psycho; Rear Window) described this remake as taking the work of a gifted amateur, and crafting it into the skill of a seasoned pro; we Hitch fans know how detail-oriented a director like “Hitch” could be! What’s more, at that time, Hitchcock owed Paramount another movie, and they felt a new “Man” could more easily adapt to what was then the present day. Also, Herbert Colman, Hitchcock’s longtime Associate Editor and Producer, had to consider that the cast and crew in Morocco had to be mindful of the fast-approaching religious holiday of Ramadan; luckily, they made their deadline. Whew!
And what a cast! Hitchcock had always had great actors for his stars, but I especially liked Man’s great cast here:
*Oscar-winner James Stewart (The Philadelphia Story), returning to rejoin Hitchcock from his triumphs in Rear Window; Vertigo; and Rope;
*Doris Day, talented singer and versatile actress in such films as Love Me or Leave Me; Pillow Talk; Calamity Jane; Midnight Lace; and TV’s The Doris Day Show.
|Not to mention being a spy, eh, Louis?|
The McKenna Family’s Hitchcockian ordeal starts pronto as the family sits in a sightseeing bus in French Morocco, watching the sights from the bus, when suddenly the bus abruptly lurches as little Hank accidentally yanks off a Muslim woman’s veil. Being a Muslim, her hubby isn’t the understanding type, to the Arab’s fury! Luckily, a suave Frenchman, Louis Bernard (The Lovers of Lisbon; Stain on the Snow) quickly calms the Arab, explaining to the McKennas, “The Muslim religion allows few accidents.”
The McKennas are most grateful for Louis’s help, and he invites Jo and Ben to take the family for dinner (with a baby sitter). Louis is both charming and inquisitive, yet he can be surprisingly vague when Jo asks Louis things that shouldn’t be all that mysterious. Moreover, Jo notices later that the angry Arab seemed pretty chummy with that Arab guy later! Jo seems to be the worldly one in the McKenna Family; must be Jo’s show-biz know-how. I say we deputize Jo!; the boys in the McKenna clan seem too darn naïve! Time for a husband and wife pow-wow about Louis Bernard:
Jo: “Now, what do you really know about him?”
Ben: “What do I know about him? I know his name. We were sitting there, we were talking.”
Jo: “You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything there is to know about you.”
|Jo's ability to deal with her new life as a housewife|
reaches the breaking point by the film's climax
Jo: “Broadway musical shows are not produced in Indiana. Of course, we could live in New York. I hear the doctors aren’t starving there, either.”
Ben: “It’s not that I have any objection to working in New York, it’s just that it’d be hard for my patients to come from Indianapolis for treatment.”
Death spoils our family's holiday when a dying Arab stabbed to death before Ben's eyes turns out to be Louis! It turns out Bernard was the Marrakesh version of James Bond, and the authorities at the Deuxieme Bureau are giving the police the Hairy Eyeball (there's a lot of that going around, it seems! Can't we all just get along?). After all this agita, all that Ben and Jo want is to rest and get Hank…but the little tyke is nowhere to be found. In fact, all they hear from their son is a sinister voice warning they’ll never see Hank again if they bring the police and blab about the upcoming assassination--the evil kid-stealing fiends!!
|Never heard of him - what's he been in?|
*Alan Mowbray (I Wake Up Screaming); *Carolyn Jones: Best Supporting Actress Oscar Nominee for The Bachelor Party, as well as TV’s beloved Morticia Addams on TV’s The Addams Family;
*Hilary Brooke from Ministry of Fear; Road to Utopia.; *AlixTalton from The Deadly Mantis; Romanoff and Juliet.
Bernard Miles (Tom Thumb) and Brenda de Banzie, quite versatile as duplicitous Mrs. Drayton. We also love deBanzie as a good gal in the comedy Hobson’s Choice, co-starring another Team B. fave, Charles Laughton. Hmm, could deBanzie be recruited to the good guys’ team after all?
Reggie Nalder, Villain: The original 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much was a tough act to follow with Peter Lorre as the evil Abbott, but in the role of the assassin Rien, Nalder’s Death’s Head grin gave us the willies! Nalder had been badly burned in his youth, with scars all over the scarred lower-third of Nalder’s face, forever casting him as a villain. Nalder had at least three different explanations for them. Whatever the true cause, it was this disfigurement which bestowed upon him a permanent place in the annals of film history.
|Jo sings for Hank’s life at the Embassy!|
Luckily, Mrs. Drayton has a kind heart after all, and between Jo’s lovely loud voice and Hank’s whistling prowess (whistle, Hank, whistle like the wind!), they save the day in time for everyone to wake from their afternoon naps! Still, I don't think Jo and Ben will ever ask any couple to baby-sit for them ever again!
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times praised Man thus: “…Mr. Hitchcock spins a fast tale that sweeps incongruously through a taxidermist’s shop, a cultist chapel, a foreign embassy, and the crowded concert hall. Fast, did we say? It had better be, for the story that John Michael Hayes (Rear Window, among other Hitchcock scripts) has been revamped from the original script by Charles Bennett and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis is quite absurd, and it would be death to leave the audience a moment to stop and think. But logic and credibility were never were Mr. Hitchcock’s long suits. He depends upon daring deception. And that’s what he has in this film.” Works for us, thank you!
|Possibly one of the best closing lines in film!|