FILM: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, Alfred Hitchcock)

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Thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much was made by Gaumont Pictures. The Lawrence family – Bob (Leslie Banks) and Jill (Edna Best), and their daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam) – are on a trip to Switzerland, where they befriend French skier Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay). Louis is assassinated one night and uses his dying breath to tell Jill where to find a note that must be delivered to the British consul. Bob finds the note and reads it but, because of what it contains, the criminal group who killed Louis deem that Bob knows too much, meaning that they kidnap Betty with the intent to dispose of her, should Bob share what he knows.

PROS

  • Good direction from Alfred Hitchcock (who considered himself a “talented amateur” at this early point of his career), who proves more than capable of executing an intimate familial scene and large scale pieces to equal standards. The Albert Hall scene is very suspenseful and meticulously executed, while the film’s climax is slow-burn, edge of your seat stuff indeed.
  • Very good cinematography by Curt Courant, who utilises close-ups and wide shots equally well, and also makes very good use of point-of-view shots. Hugh Stewart’s editing is very tightly and meticulously crafted, meaning that the film is well executed technically.
  • Leslie Banks is a good lead, but the real star is Peter Lorre as primary antagonist Abbott. Lorre could not speak English when he joined the project and learnt his lines phonetically (no easy feat). His final performance is very sinister, while the otherworldly quality to it is both unsettling and rather chilling.

CONS

  • There are some pacing issues, which reflects the fact that Alfred Hitchcock was still at an early point in his directorial career and still developing his own voice. The first 10-15 minutes of the film feel just a little too rushed, whereas the climax is (fittingly) slow-burn.
  • There is one scene that is tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film and feels out of place – an over-the-top farcical scene in which Bob tries to protect himself from the criminal gang by throwing chairs at them.
  • The familial dynamic of the Lawrence family is quite surface-level, meaning that the emotional stakes of the film are a little lacking.

VERDICT: 6/10

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