Studio:The Criterion Collection Year: 1934 Cast: Peter Lorre, Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Frank Vosper, Hugh Wakefield, Nova Pilbeam, Pierre Fresnay, Cicely Oates, Henry Oscar Director: Alfred Hitchcock Release Date: January 15, 2013 Rating: Not Rated for (adult themes) Run Time: 01h:16m:05s Genre(s): thriller
“Let that be a lesson to you: Never have any children.” - Jill Lawrence (Edna Best)
One of Hitchcock's early thrillers and Peter Lorre's first English-language picture, this is sure to be another excellent effort by The Criterion Collection. I certainly can't wait to see what they've done with the video restoration.
Movie Grade: A
DVD Grade: A
Seen by many film enthusiasts as the movie that changed everything for Alfred Hitchcock, 1934’s
The Man Who Knew Too Much finally makes its way to Blu-ray, thanks to this Criterion Collection release. This
was the first of many great, profitable films that Hitchcock made during his stint at the Gaumont-British Picture
Corporation, a tenure that saw the production and release of such classics as 1935’s The 39 Steps, Sabotage from
1936, and The Lady Vanishes, the last of these films, released in 1938. The Man
Who Knew Too Much also set a
precedent for Hitchcock’s Hollywood films, which, despite being released decades later, exhibited many of the
same amazing, innovative filmmaking techniques that were made legendary in Psycho and The
Birds to name a
Hitchcock went on to remake his own film in 1956, and this Hollywood version of The Man Who Knew Too Much
featured mega stars James Stewart and Doris Day, a decidedly different group of actors than those that made the
original film so memorable. This, the 1934 film finds stalwart performers of the time like Leslie Banks (Henry V),
Edna Best (Intermezzo), and the great Peter Lorre (M), appearing in his first English-language film. The story
begins in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where, at a dinner party, Bob (Banks) and his wife Jill (Best) watch their friend,
Louis, (Pierre Fresnay) murdered by an assassin’s gunshot. It turns out, Pierre was working for the British Foreign
Office and when Bob, upon Pierre’s request, retrieves an important message, the assassin kidnaps his daughter,
Betty (Nova Pilbeam). All Jill and Bob want is to rescue Betty, but once they realize just how deep they’re in this
web of espionage and crime, they know that such a rescue will be a daunting task, to say the least.
There are some great early signs of the brilliant things Hitchcock had in store for us, beginning early on during the
dinner party. Such a simple thing as an unraveling string takes on a great deal of significance as Hitchcock
magically follows the string as it uncontrollably, yet gracefully wraps itself around numerous couple on the dance
floor. Then, just as he has us under his spell, transfixed on this string, the first shocking twist occurs, and we’re left
both shocked by the event and longing to watch more of this beautiful, spider-like activity of the dancing string.
Hitch even finds room for levity, as he includes a rather hilarious sequence involving Bob and family friend Clive
(Hugh Wakefield), as they take in an all-female revival meeting. During this entrancing religious experience, Clive is
practically hypnotized by Agnes (Cicely Oates), to hilarious effect. This occurs not long after Clive goes even further
to aid Bob’s cause, and has some rather unnecessary, yet extremely painful dental work done to enhance the
illusion and allow Bob to accost the dentist (Henry Oscar), pose as him, and get a direct “in” with the assassins.
Such humor would become a staple of Hitchcock’s oeuvre, and only enhances the already great The Man Who
Knew Too Much.
Criterion’s Blu-ray disc presents the film in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and this wonderful, new, 1080p transfer,
was taken from a 35mm nitrate film-grain positive owned by the British Film Institute. It looks amazing, featuring
consistently sharp, detailed images, and, best of all, an amazingly flawless rendering of grays, blacks, and whites,
adding a vibrancy to things that you’d never expect from a film that’s nearly 80-years-old. The LPCM 1.0 audio
track is a 24-bit remastering of an original mono 35mm optical track. There’s inherently nothing dynamic here, but
the clarity is fantastic, and the dialogue is always easy to understand.
Before tackling the excellent supplements, we need to touch on a great audio commentary track by film historian
Philip Kemp, which was recorded by the Criterion Collection in 2012, and delves into pretty much everything you
ever wanted to know about the 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. The supplements section begins
with a great surprise in the form of a 2012 interview with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), a huge
fan of Hitchcock, and writer of the 1990 book Alfred Hitchcock. This 17-minute piece was conducted for The
Criterion Collection, and finds del Toro focusing on Hitchcock’s “British Period,” and discussing the importance of
The Man Who Knew Too Much for the future of this legendary filmmaker’s career. Next, is The Illustrated
Hitchcock, a 50-minute TV show from 1972, during which Hitch, himself, is interviewed by Pia Lindstrom (TV
reporter and Ingrid Bergman’s daughter) and film historian William K. Everson. Another incredible gem of an extra
feature is up next, in the form of 23 minutes of audio-only interviews (conducted over the course of 50 hours) that
took place in 1962 and involved legendary filmmaker Francois Truffaut grilling Hitchcock about the original
version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Finishing up the supplements is a five-minute restoration
demonstration that shows a direct comparison between the original print and what we see on this Blu-ray disc.