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Universal Studios Home Video presents
The Man Who Knew Too Much (Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection) (1955)

"Que sera, sera / Whatever will be, will be / The future's not ours to see / Que sera, sera." 
- Jo (Doris Day), over and over and over again

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: December 09, 2005

Stars: James Stewart, Doris Day
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

MPAA Rating: PG
Run Time: 02h:00m:11s
Release Date: October 04, 2005
UPC: 025192834622
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-BB+ B-

DVD Review

Remakes are always a perilous business—either you're hanging a Kick Me sign on yourself by inviting comparisons to a much-loved original, or you'll get called out for revisiting a piece of material that may not have been stellar to begin with. So it had to have been with both a kind of willful amnesia and a ferocious amount of confidence that Alfred Hitchcock went about remaking one of his own movies—the original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much starred a young and creepy Peter Lorre, and was made before the director emigrated to Hollywood. Some twenty years later, by switching focus from the bad guys to the Americans abroad, Hitch made a thriller that re-invents the original material cleverly, and provides a typically smart and suspenseful story for those who are coming to this for the first time.

James Stewart plays the title character, Dr. Ben McKenna, in the prototypical wrong place at the wrong time while traveling with his family after a medical conference in Paris. In search of adventure, the McKennas detour to Marrakech, where the trouble begins. They are befriended by Bernard, an overeager Frenchman, who runs hot and cold with his new American friends—inviting them to dinner, then standing them up—right up until he takes a knife in the back while in an open-air market, whispering his dying words into Ben's ears, imparting McKenna with the knowledge that's certain to get him and his family in trouble. The McKennas have waded right into great gobs of international intrigue, and though the bad guys don't know just what Bernard said, they know that you can't unring a bell—to ensure that Dr. McKenna keeps his mouth shut, the band of nefarious characters kidnap his young son, Hank, until their plan is past the point of no return.

Or that's the idea, anyway, until they're vigorously pursued by the good doctor and his lovely wife, Jo, who traded in stardom on the musical stage for homemaking in Indiana. The first part of the film, in Marrakech, is filled with the exoticism and danger of foreign places, and Stewart and Doris Day, who plays Jo, are the very image of wide-eyed American innocence. The story takes us quickly to London, and while the suspense doesn't lag, a sort of familiarity creeps in—Hitch knows how to put these sorts of stories through their paces better than anybody, though, and we're most assuredly in good hands. A long climactic sequence at Albert Hall, featuring the composer of the film's score, Bernard Herrmann, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, is terrifically visceral, and almost entirely without dialogue, the work of a master; similarly, Hitch's streak of sadism is nowhere more clear than in a final sequence, in which Day is called upon to sing verse after verse of Que Sera, Sera, which starts out sweet and ends up maddening.

There's occasionally a peculiar sort of relevance to our time for this story, for central to the plot is a sinister conspiracy to carry out an assassination under the guise of religion, but even if the politics of the unnamed, fictional country playing out at the symphony always seem a bit remote, the filmmaking is always visual and compelling. And we have the usual suspects to thank for that—not just Hitchcock and Herrmann, but also screenwriter John Michael Hayes, and, for making Doris Day look both fetching and maternal, legendary costume designer Edith Head. 

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The only undoing of the strong transfer are the frequent matte shots, which couldn't look more fake—their juxtaposition with footage from location shooting only drives home the point.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Sounds pretty fair, and the real test is the climactic orchestral sequence, which remains well balanced.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much (34m:18s) features the director's daughter, Patricia Hitchcock O'Donnell, talking us through the first incarnation of the story; she's joined here by screenwriter Hayes, associate producer Herbert Coleman and production designer Henry Bumstead for a reasonably thorough history of the production. A gallery (04m:15s) features production photographs, publicity stills, and posters for both the original and the remake; production notes are brief. Best of all may be an original trailer, which features Stewart talking directly to the camera, encouraging us to get out of the house and see the movie.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Vintage Hitchcock, smartly re-imagining an old tale and investing it with new brio and energy. But be prepared to have the movie's most famous song rattle around your head for days—will I be pretty? Will I be rich?


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