New on Disc: 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' and more …21 Jan, 2013 By: Mike Clark
The Man Who Knew Too Much
Criterion, Thriller, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Nova Pilbeam.
1934. 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 on 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. 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 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 — 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. As in the remake, the story involves a parent stumbling onto 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.
Extras: 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. In addition to an interview with the late NYU film professor William K. Everson, there’s a second one with Hitchcock (also from 1972) with Ingrid Bergman daughter Pia Lindstrom. It’s a chuckle to hear the director, consummate self-promoter that he was, striving to swing the conversation around to Frenzy (which he was promoting at the time) as much as he can.
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Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go to War
PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2012. The least significant of the three men in this whistle-wetting “anniversary” documentary is, of course, the pesky gnat who still outlives JFK and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the two who literally held the fate of the world in their hands during those fateful two weeks in October 1962. But Cuba’s Fidel Castro deserves co-billing because he was, until the end, a key player in the showdown (whose yard was it, anyway?). Covering many of the same events dramatized in director Roger Donaldson’s underrated Kevin Costner starrer Thirteen Days (2000), Crisis is enough of an insider’s account to add a little juice to a well-chronicled story. Employed are a 2010 interview with Kennedy adviser and speechwriter Ted Sorenson not long before his death; also one with Khrushchev’s son (a doctor); and others with KGB and CIA operatives and the pilot who photographed the actual sites that broke the news to Washington. We also get priceless reel-to-reel audio tracks of a JFK Cabinet roundtable that included a lot of pro-nuke, damn-the-consequences hawks who fortunately didn’t capture the president’s ear. During the 13 days, there were a few remarkable sub-cliffhangers brought on by the faulty communications of the day (no World Wide Web to facilitate, just some lonely courier to transport a cable) and by an American pilot who had the misfortune to make a faulty turn at the worst possible spot on the 1962 globe. Not to trivialize it — but for those seeking timeline perspective, the crisis began the very day the Yankees beat the Giants 1-0 in a memorable seventh game of the World Series. It was and is regarded as a classic nailbiter — but absolutely nothing compared to what was about to transpire.
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