By Stacia Woycheck, OGT Blog Squad Member
On Monday, May 6, the Monthly Monday Matinee features Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery drama, The Man Who Knew Too Much. The film was released in 1956 and stars James Stewart and Doris Day.
I settled in to watch The Man Who Knew Too Much on a recent Friday night. Lounging on my couch after a hectic week at work, my eyelids felt like they had ten pound weights tied to them. The film plodded along, scene after choppy black and white scene. About twenty minutes in, it dawned on me: no Jimmy Stewart, no Doris Day. Yet the film had the same title. Same director. After checking the specs of the online rental, the aha moment occurs. Alas, it is a different film!
Alfred Hitchcock directed two versions of the film with the same title. The version I mistakenly rented was made in 1934 during Hitchcock’s British period. The film stars Peter Lorre, of Casablanca fame and has a very different plot with just a few commonalities. Hitchcock is quoted as saying, “Let’s say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional.” I agree, Sir Alfred!
The Man Who Knew Too Much. Take Two. The film that is featured in May at OGT is the second production of the film, released in 1956 by Paramount Pictures. By this time in his career, Hitchcock had many successful films and was an established Hollywood fixture. He cast creative partner and established celebrity, Jimmy Stewart, in the leading role as Dr. Ben McKenna and well known singer Doris Day, Hitchcock’s traditional blonde choice, as Josephine Conway McKenna, his wife and popular retired singer in her own right. In the twenty-two years between films, the expected medium had changed from black and white to color film. The color in this film dances on the screen and creates a vibrant energy for the viewer to bathe in.
Two things stand out for me in this film. The location/sets and the musical contributions. I was immediately captivated by the initial backdrop of the film, Morocco. Being an avid traveler, I appreciate how the geography of a film has the opportunity to create an additional character in the story. The opening scenes capture the couple traveling from Casablanca to Marrakesh. Once they arrive at their final holiday destination, the scenery transcends the audience to the bustle of the Moroccan souq. The allure of the culture is palpable.
Spoiler alert! You will be humming and whistling the featured song for days after viewing. I was struck by the musicality of the film from the clever use of “Que Sera, Sera” (“Whatever Will Be, Will Be”) in the plot of the movie to the powerful, suspense building, performance of Storm Clouds Cantata. It all captivates the viewer and is my favorite part of the film. Doris Day’s beautiful, seemingly effortless delivery of “Que Sera, Sera” weaves its way throughout the film leaving you addicted to the melody. I’m not the only one who recognized the important contribution to the film, seeing as how the song won the 1956 Academy Award for the Best Original Song. Pushing it further into pop culture status, it hit the music charts as second in the United States and topped the British charts.
Later in the film, the characters return to their native London. During the most climactic scenes, we become guests at London’s Royal Albert Hall during a performance of the London Symphony Orchestra. The film’s new music composer, Bernard Herman, makes a cameo as the conductor of the symphony. The music is inserted geniously throughout the film to create intense drama and suspense, but it is the chorale, Storm Clouds Cantata, composed by Australian Arthur Benjamin, that is show stopping. The piece was written for the first production in 1934 and used again for the 1956 film. In the remake, the Cantata is expanded and runs twelve minutes void of dialogue, leaves you at the edge of your seat and drops you at the epitome of drama. This scene alone is worth seeing on the big screen.
As in all of his films, Hitchcock makes a cameo, challenging the audience to identify the mysterious director among a sea of extras. There is so much to love about this film – Hitchcock, Stewart, Day, the music, the locale. If you love a whodunit, you will love this vintage thriller.
Stacia’s love of old movies began as a child, when her mother would take her to the matinee to see classics like Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, and The African Queen. She fast became a Humphrey Bogart and Old Hollywood fan. Her favorite class as an undergraduate student was Film Appreciation. She loves the charm of the Old Greenbelt Theater and volunteers to spread the word. She loves to travel and when she isn’t traveling, she is planning her next trip, painting, or playing with her dog.