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Alfred Hitchcock
Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Frank Vosper, Hugh Wakefield, Nova Pilbeam, Pierre Fresnay
Writing Credits:
Charles Bennett, D.B. Wyndham-Lewis, Edwin Greenwood (scenario), A.R. Rawlinson (scenario)

Public Enemy No. 1 of all the world ...

An ordinary British couple vacationing in Switzerland suddenly find themselves embroiled in a case of international intrigue when their daughter is kidnapped by spies plotting a political assassination. This fleet and gripping film is the first of the early thrillers the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, made during the fertile phase of his career spent at the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation. Besides affirming Hitchcock’s genius, it gave the brilliant Peter Lorre his first English-speaking role, as a slithery villain. With its tension and gallows humor, it’s pure Hitchcock, and it set the tone for such films as The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 75 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 1/15/2013

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Philip Kemp
• Interview with Filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro
• “The Illustrated Hitchcock” 1972 Interview
• “Hitchcock-Truffaut” Audio Interview
• Restoration Demonstration
• Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Man Who Knew Too Much: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1934)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 3, 2013)

Remade in 1956, today we’ll look at Alfred Hitchcock’s original 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Man introduces us to the Lawrence clan: Bob (Leslie Banks), wife Jill (Edna Best) and daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam). During a trip to Switzerland, family friend Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay) gets shot.

Before he expires, Louis whispers a secret to Bob that an unnamed statesman will soon be assassinated in London. When questioned, Bob learns that Louis was an intelligence agent. He also receives an ominous note that warns him not to spill the beans or something bad will happen to Betty, who we soon find out has been kidnapped. The film follows Bob’s attempts to rescue his daughter and deal with this disturbing situation.

When I viewed the 1956 film, I found it to offer a disappointment. While I never felt it turned into a bad movie, it seemed like lackluster Hitchcock; there was just something missing from it, and that kept it as a diversion but not much more.

Because I didn’t find anything special about the remake, I hoped to better embrace the 1934 version. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a particularly good movie either. Does it work better than the 1956 edition? Maybe, but both seem like fairly equivalent efforts – the 1934 take remains a somewhat forgettable experience.

Part of the problem here comes from the lead actors, as we find dull personalities at the core. Actually, Hugh Wakefield does fine as Bob’s pal Clive – the movie’s main attempt at comic relief – but Banks and Best are near-total duds as the main characters. They’re so bland that they barely stick to the screen, and this becomes a notable flaw; we care so little about the leads that we find it hard to invest in their peril.

Without much interest in the fate of the Lawrence family, Man lacks much to make it go. The pacing doesn’t help, as even with a short running time, the film tends to move at a fairly slow rate. That wouldn’t be bad if it felt like matters were going anywhere, but the tale develops in such a plodding way that it becomes difficult to maintain interest in events.

Hitchcock does throw out the occasional vivid sequence, and Peter Lorre adds zing as Abbott, our main villain. He brings his handful of scenes to life, as he portrays an unusually cool, laconic baddie; when Lorre appears, the movie threatens to come to life.

But with blustery Bob and milquetoast Jill at the center, The Man Who Knew Too Much remains stuck in neutral. I find this to be a competent film and one that remains reasonably watchable, but it’s far from the high standards I expect from Hitchcock.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

The Man Who Knew Too Much appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This was an impressive transfer.

Overall sharpness seemed positive. I noticed occasional soft shots, as some elements appeared slightly ill-defined. Those instances were exceptions, though, as the majority of the flick was tight and nicely delineated. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering marred the presentation, and I noticed no edge haloes.

Print flaws were a minor nuisance at worst. Some dirt cropped up around the edges of the frame, and I witnessed the occasional thin line on the side, but the movie usually came across as clean. Light grain appeared through the film.

I thought a few shots came across as too bright, but most of them showed good contrast. Blacks were dark and firm, while shadows seemed positive. A couple of low-light shots were a tad dense, but those were exceptions. The presentation seemed quite strong given its age.

I also was pleased with the more than adequate monaural soundtrack of Man. Like most films of the era, speech sounded somewhat thin, but the lines always remained easily intelligible, and they lacked edginess; they came across as reasonably warm for their age. Effects were also without much range, but they seemed fairly concise and didn’t suffer from significant distortion.

Music appeared as source elements – the film lacked a score – and sounded reasonably strong; as expected, these components failed to deliver much punch, but they seemed clear enough. Some light background noise cropped up through the movie, but not to a distracting degree. I felt the audio worked fine for its age.

With that we head to the Blu-ray’s extras and start with an audio commentary from film historian Philip Kemp. He provides a running, screen-specific look at Hitchcock’s career and the film’s place in it, cast and performances, various production details, changes from the shooting script, comparisons between the 1934 and 1956 versions, and a few others areas.

Kempy provides a crisp, concise commentary. He delves into an appropriate mix of topics and does so with clarity. This ends up as a consistently enjoyable and informative piece.

Next comes an interview with filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro. In this 17-minute, 40-second reel, the director discusses aspects of Hitchcock’s career, the film’s production and thoughts about its method/motifs, and comparisons between the two versions of Man. Del Toro gives us a smart, insightful take on Hitchcock and this movie.

The Illustrated Hitchcock delivers a 49-minute, 48-second 1972 TV program. We see Hitchcock interviewed (separately) by Ingrid Bergman’s daughter Pia Lindstrom and film historian William K. Everson. Hitchcock chats about why he likes to make scary movies, working with actors, themes in his films, aspects of his early career, and some other thoughts connected to his work. Hitchcock was always a delightful, engaging subject, and this turns into an enjoyable program.

Under Hitchcock/Truffaut, we get an excerpt from director Francois Truffaut’s extensive 1962 interviews with Hitchcock. The 22-minute and 56-second reel presents those audio elements while we watch art, footage and stills related to Man. Hitchcock covers his career status in the early 30s, the origins of Man, story concepts, production elements, and related material. As always, the constant English/French and French/English translation makes the format somewhat clunky, but the information adds a lot of good observations.

A Restoration Demonstration occupies five minutes, 12 seconds and shows the methods used to create the Blu-ray’s transfer. This isn’t a fascinating reel, but it delivers some decent facts.

Finally, the package includes a 20-page booklet. It features an essay from classic film journalist Farran Smith Nehme that gives us an appreciation of the movie. While not one of Criterion’s more expansive booklets, it adds some value.

Hitchcock fans will always debate whether the 1934 original or the 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much works better. I’d argue “neither”, as both seem mediocre to me. The film has merits at its core – and I like the performance from Peter Lorre as the villain – but this just seems to be a nut Hitchcock never satisfactorily cracked. The Blu-ray delivers very strong picture along with good audio and a positive collection of supplements. Though the film itself is best left to Hitchcock diehards, at least I feel very pleased with its presentation here.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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