DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

The Man Who Knew Too Much, Blu-ray (1934/2013)

The first version of Hitchcock's thriller, shot in England in 1934 and beautifully restored.

Published on January 13, 2013

The Man Who Knew Too Much, Blu-ray (1934/2013)

Cast: Peter Lorre, Leslie Banks, Edna Best
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Studio: Carlton Film Distr./ The Criterion Collection 643 [1/15/13]
Video: 1.33:1 B&W restored, 1080p HD
Audio: uncompressed PCM mono restored
Subtitles: English
Extras: Commentary track from film historian Philip Kemp, New interview/introduction with director Guillermo del Toro, “The Illustrated Hitchcock” – 50 min. interview with Hitchcock from 1972, Audio-only excerpts from Francois Truffaut’s 50 hours of Hitchcock interviews, Demo of  film resolution restoration, Illustrated printed book with essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme
Length: 75 min.
Rating: ****

Debate continues among the many Hitchcock fans whether the films he first made in England are better due to less studio execs looking over his shoulder, less censorship and other factors, or if the widescreen and color Hollywood productions of some of the same titles are better. His 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much certainly is more complex, more colorful, widescreen, and the couple involved have a rockier marriage, but this 1934 production shines in a beautiful restoration and with surprisingly good sound for the time (as well as clever usage of sound, which Hitchcock was among the first coming out of the silent era to do.)

The first film is certainly very British vs. the Hollywood Hitchcock. It has more humor than the later production, and it has the first English language appearance of Peter Lorre.  The Hungarian-Jewish actor had barely gotten out of Germany in 1933 after his success with M, and concealed that he spoke almost no English by learning all his lines phonetically: translating the scenes into German and back into English. His breathy, languid, accented voice was the one that would grace his roles in such later films as Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. Though he is the main villain, there are plenty of others, and the film ends with a spectacular firefight between them in their lair and the police on the street. His big villainy is kidnapping the couple’s daughter, tied in with an assassination plan on a visiting dignitary during a concert in Royal Albert Hall.

There are some now-fakey-looking shots with poor backgrounds of the Swiss Alps etc., and the opening skiing accident is not well done, but Hitchcock’s little bits here and there are fascinating. Such as the slow unraveling of the wife of the couple’s knitting after the husband fastens the end of the yarn to a button on a friend who is dancing with his wife. [Warning - Spoiler Alert!] Also, the completely improbable ending when the wife (who is a noted sharpshooter) grabs a rifle from a policeman and uses it to shoot the baddie who is threatening her daughter on the roof.

Of the extras, the introduction by Guillermo del Toro is most interesting—revealing how Hitchcock influenced him. He even wrote a book on Hitchcock in Spanish. The interview excerpts from the Truffaut/Hitchcock interviews are difficult to listen to since Hitch speaks so very slowly and everything he says is then repeated by a French translator. The restoration demonstration is quite an eye-opener. They had to wait to recent developments in restoration since until recently there was no equipment that could handle the serious warpage the original film had suffered from years of scratch-coating being applied to it.  I haven’t yet seen the 50-minute interview with Hitchcock, but plan to as time permits.

—John Sunier




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