Man Who Knew Too Much, The (Blu-ray Review)21 Jan, 2013 By: Mike Clark
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray
Stars Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Nova Pilbeam.
No, it’s not James Stewart, Doris Day, 1956, VistaVision, Technicolor, a strained marriage, edgy wife, Bernard Herrmann scoring or the Oscar-winning song “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera),” which ended up going No. 2 Billboard for Doris.
Instead, this is the same-titled Hitchcock forerunner (and, in fact, the only movie he ever remade), which runs 75 minutes to the subsequent version’s 120 and is thus more streamlined. The great Guillermo del Toro, a director whose understanding of Hitchcock appears to be second to none, says on he prefers the 1934 original, speaking on one of this home release’s bonus extras — as does a second film expert who has become a perpetual personal favorite (critic/blogger Farran Smith Nehme, who penned the accompanying Criterion essay). As did, or at least I suspect he did, my late NYU film prof William K. Everson, who is also seen here on a bonus extra with Hitchcock himself amid a 1972 interview show that I remember catching at the time on its Sunday morning TV airing when Hitch was promoting Frenzy.
I myself much prefer the ’56 version, but it’s all a legitimate matter of taste — especially now that Man ’34’s recent restoration turns it into the first rendition of the movie in decades in which (paraphrasing Lou Lumenick’s funny recent comment in the New York Post) it doesn’t look as if it’s spent decades at the bottom of the Thames.
Arriving during what was a kind of downside in Hitchcock’s early career, Man ’34 was a stylistic and strikingly modern watershed for the filmmaker (Del Toro refers to it as “punk rock” for its day) — if somewhat less so than the Hitch all-timer that would immediately follow: The 39 Steps. Brandishing elements of screwball comedy in its opening scenes, Man (even at its brief length) takes a while to get out of the gate, though its last two-thirds get fairly wild and crazy until it climaxes with the only elaborate shoot-out I can ever remember in a Hitchcock picture. Springboarding from a real-life incident that had taken place many years earlier, the scene brings to mind the original Scarface or maybe a Warner Bros. gangster melodrama from the same 1930s.
As in the remake, the story involves a parent stumbling into information about a planned assassination and getting the family’s only child kidnapped as a result. Leslie Banks and Edna Best are not Stewart and Day by a long shot, though the still pre-Hollywood Peter Lorre is a delicious villain with colorful scar makeup. This typically harmonious Criterion package (film historian Philip Kemp does the commentary) also contains a primer on the restoration plus the Man ’34-portion audio track from the legendary Hitchcock-Truffaut interviews from 1962 (so informal that we can hear Hitchcock, presumably at breakfast, noting that he thinks he’ll eat his melon before moving onto anything else). In addition to the interview with Professor Everson, there’s a second one with Hitchcock (also from 1972) with Ingrid Bergman daughter and longtime popular NYC television personality Pia Lindstrom — who was, I swear, as gorgeous as her mother. It’s a chuckle to hear the director, consummate self-promoter that he was, striving to swing the conversation around to Frenzy as much as he can.