Saturday, January 27, 2018

Stubs - The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) Starring: James Stewart, Doris Day, Brenda de Banzie, Bernard Miles, Ralph Truman, Daniel Gélin, Mogens Wieth, Alan Mowbray. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Produced by Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay by John Michael Hayes. Based on a Story by Charles Bennett, D. B. Wyndham-Lewis. Run Time: 120 minutes. USA Thriller

Throughout his long career, Alfred Hitchcock only remade one film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, one of his more successful British films and the one many credit with his long-running fascination with Thrillers. The remake was not initially his idea, but rather David O. Selznick’s, the producer Hitchcock was under contract to when he first came to Hollywood. Selznick bought the rights to the film. However, Hitchcock wasn’t ready to remake it until he was out on his own and under contract to Paramount Pictures. Then he looked at the remake as a way of fulfilling his contract with that studio.
And while he wanted to remake the film, he didn’t want it to be too closely similar to the original.

The writer, John Michael Hayes, who had worked with the director on such films as Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955), was not allowed to watch the original nor read the screenplay. Instead, Hitchcock told him the story and Hayes would outline the script from his notes. He had barely finished the first draft when production got underway.

For casting, James Stewart was a given as the father. The actor and director had worked together prior, in Rear Window, so there was already a familiarity. But Stewart represented a sort of everyman that Hitchcock wanted for his leading man and protagonist.

For the wife, Hitchcock had to fight for Doris Day for the mother. Best known as a singer, Day had appeared in Storm Warning (1951), a film noir thriller; a performance Hitchcock had seen and liked. But Associate Producer Herbert Coleman was not so sure. He suggested other actresses, including Lana Turner, Grace Kelly, and Kim Novak but eventually, Day was cast.

Production began on April 29, 1955, in Marrakech, Morocco. Riots broke out against the French protectorate that ruled the country and the production barely escaped Morocco before the French administrator was assassinated. Second unit photography had to rush their work as well, getting out of Morocco before Ramadan.

The production would move back to London, with shooting in and around the city, including The Royal Albert Hall. After that, the shooting returned to Paramount Studios in Hollywood, where it concluded on August 24, 1955.

The opening credits take place in Albert Hall, where the orchestra is playing Arthur Benjamin's "Storm Clouds Cantata"  which will later play a significant part in the film.

The cymbals are played at the climax of the piece.

After attending a medical conference in Paris, American physician Ben McKenna (James Stewart) takes his wife Jo (Doris Day) and son Hank (Christopher Olsen) to Casablanca, where he had been stationed during World War II and to Marrakech, Morocco. The film opens with the trio on the bus to Marrakech. Hank accidentally pulls the veil off a Muslim woman when the bus lurches, which angers her husband.

After rescuing Hank (Christopher Olsen), Louis (Daniel Gélin)
talks with Ben (James Stewart) and Jo McKenna (Doris Day)

Louis Bernard (Daniel Gélin), a Frenchman and fellow passenger, intercedes and calms the man down. For the rest of the bus ride, he questions the family, learning much about them, including that Ben is a doctor in Indianapolis, but Bernard avoids reciprocal information about himself. Jo is suspicious of Louis as a result. Louis says that he has business to attend to and can’t accompany them to the hotel. Before they separate, they make plans to have dinner that night and to meet for drinks in the McKenna’s hotel suite before.

The bus arrives in Marrakech.

Soon afterward, Jo notices that Louis speaks to the man from the bus as if they are old friends, only adding to her suspicions.

Jo is suspicious of the Draytons, Edward (Bernard Miles) and Lucy (Brenda De Banzie).

When they arrive at their hotel, Jo notices that a passing British couple seems to be watching them, but Ben thinks she’s being paranoid.

That night, Louis meets the McKennas for a drink in their hotel room before dinner. While Jo is getting Hank ready for bed, the two of them sing “Que Sera, Sera” as if this is part of their bedtime routine.

Their plans change when Rien (Reggie Nalder) appears at the McKennas' hotel room door. Rien says he’s looking for someone and leaves quickly, but it’s clear he and Louis have made eye contact. Louis makes a call before telling Ben and Jo that he has a business appointment and promises they’ll do dinner another night.

The Draytons show the McKennas the customs of eating in a different culture.

Later, at an Arab restaurant, Ben and Jo seem out of their element, that is until they meet a British couple, the Draytons, Edward (Bernard Miles) and Lucy (Brenda De Banzie), the same couple who had been eyeing Jo when they arrived at the hotel. The Draytons explain the staring by claiming to be fans of Jo, who was a well-known singer prior to her marriage to Ben. Lucy had seen her on the London stage. The Draytons help the McKennas manage local customs which also involve how to eat without utensils.

While they’re eating, the McKennas see Louis come into the restaurant with a woman.  At first, Ben doesn’t seem to think too much of it, but Jo manages to rile him up and then has to restrain him from confronting Louis.

Hitchcock makes his appearance at the marketplace.

The next morning, the McKennas and Draytons meet at the local marketplace. Lucy seems to take Hank under her wing so Jo and Ben are free to explore on their own. Besides shopping, there are performances by locals. Everyone seems to be having a good time until the police are seen chasing a man through the crowd. But the man is purposefully and fatally stabbed by another man who is also running from the crowd.

The two families witness a murder in the marketplace.

With the knife sticking out of his back, the man stumbles into the crowd toward a surprised Ben. When he collapses in Ben’s arms, some of the dark make up comes off and Ben realizes that it is Louis disguised as an Arab. When Ben leans down, Louis tells him that there is a plot to assassinate an unnamed statesman in London. Ben hurriedly writes down the little bit he’s heard.

The makeup comes off, revealing the victim to be Louis.

The police want to question them. Edward offers to go with them since he speaks French. Lucy offers to take Hank back to the hotel with her. Edward’s presence isn’t required since the police detective speaks English. Ben thinks he’s being accused of somehow being a part of Louis’ murder and bristles. When he’s informed there is a phone call for him, he leaves Jo and goes to take it.

The unidentified man on the other end of the phone threatens Hank if Ben tells the police what he knows. Edward tries to call the hotel to speak to Lucy, but she hasn’t returned. Ben asks him to go back to the hotel to make sure everything is all right and Edward willingly goes.

Ben sedates Jo before telling her Hank has been kidnapped.

When they get back to the hotel, Ben learns that the Draytons have checked out and are gone. Realizing that Hank is now missing, he gives Jo a sedative before telling her what he suspects. She is not surprisingly upset, but too sedated to do anything about it.

By the time she wakes up, Ben has found that the Draytons have flown out on a private plane headed to London, so that’s where they’re going to look for Hank.

At the London Airport, Jo and Ben hear their son's voice on the phone.

When they arrive in London, they are surprised to be greeted by Jo’s fans and the police. Inspector Buchanan of Scotland Yard (Ralph Truman) is already aware that their son has been kidnapped and informs them that Louis was, in fact, a British Secret Agent. Jo pleads with Ben to tell the inspector what he knows, but he refuses. The Inspector, who is also a father, seems to appreciate their situation.
While they’re there, Jo receives a phone call from Lucy, who lets them speak briefly to Hank. Ben tries to get Hank to tell them where he is, but the call ends. The police manage to have traced it to a public phone.

Jo's London theater friends Val (Alan Mowbray) and Helen Parnell (Alix Talton),
 Jan Peterson (Hillary Brooke), and Cindy Fontaine (Carolyn Jones) come to visit and drink.

After checking into a London hotel, the McKennas attempt to call Ambrose Chappell, the name Louis told Ben, but they are interrupted by the arrival of Jo's old acquaintances: Val (Alan Mowbray) and Helen Parnell (Alix Talton), Jan Peterson (Hillary Brooke), and Cindy Fontaine (Carolyn Jones), old friends of Jo’s from her days in London. While Jo stays behind with her friends, Ben sneaks out through the hotel's service entrance to meet Chappell.

Ben goes to the wrong Ambrose Chappell.

The address he has is for the Ambrose taxidermy shop and Ben is slow to realize that neither Ambrose Sr. (George Howe) nor Ambrose Jr. (Richard Wordsworth) is involved in his son's kidnapping, and is forced to make a quick escape after the employees try to detain him for the police.

Ben gets into a scuffle at the taxidermist.

Meanwhile, at the hotel, Jo realizes that "Ambrose Chapel" is a place, not a person, and she leaves her friends to go there. Her friends are still there when Ben returns and he is only there for a few minutes when Jo calls. He leaves again and goes to meet her.

Inside the church, we see that Hank is being held captive by the Draytons, with the help of their assistant, Edna (Betty Baskcomb), who we had seen at the airport when Ben and Jo arrived. Edna is growing tired of babysitting Hank, but Lucy wants her to be nice to the boy.

Edward shows assassin Rien (Reggie Nalder) the musical cue to shoot.

Rien is also there is being instructed by the Draytons as to the exact moment during an Albert Hall concert that it would be safe for him to commit the assassination. It is a climactic cymbal crash in the performance of a cantata, which Edward plays for him several times. It is revealed that they were in Morocco to bring him back for this very mission.

The McKennas go to the right Ambrose Chapel.

Meanwhile, the McKennas enter the chapel just as the service, administered by Mr. Drayton, is about to begin. Lucy is walking around with the collection plate when she sees them standing in the church. She tries to warn her husband, but it is not until he sees Jo leave to call the police that he cuts the service short, sending everyone home to meditate.

The McKennas try not to be seen during the church service.

Ben gets locked in after everyone else leaves. Hearing his son's voice, Ben rushes to Hank's aid, only to be knocked unconscious by one of Draytons' henchmen.

The police arrive, but there is no answer at the church’s front door and they can’t enter without a warrant. The police are told to wait for Scotland Yard. In the meantime, Jo calls Buchanan, but he is unreachable as he is attending an important diplomatic function at a concert at Albert Hall.

In the meantime, the Draytons with their henchman and Hank leave out a back way undetected by the police. They take refuge at a foreign embassy.

When Rien sees Jo in the lobby he tells her Hank is a fine boy.

When the police are ordered to leave, she asks if they can take her to Albert Hall, but they take her to a taxi stand instead. In the lobby, Rien sees her and the assassin makes a point of telling her she has a fine boy as if to remind her that Hank's safety depends on her silence.

Ben makes his escape out of the church through the bell tower.

Meanwhile, Ben makes quite a stir as he escapes the locked chapel by climbing the church bell's rope. Once out, he also makes his way to the concert.

Bernard Herrmann, the film's composer, conducts the orchestra inside Albert Hall.

The concert, which features the "Storm Clouds Cantata", is conducted by Bernard Herrmann, who is playing himself. In the audience, Jo senses that Rien is about to shoot a visiting foreign prime minister and she screams at the appropriate moment causing the startled assassin to merely wound the dignitary in the arm.

Rien's aim is thrown off when Jo screams.

Ben then jumps Rien, and in his attempt to escape, the assassin falls from the balcony to his death. After the concert, the grateful Prime Minister (Alexis Bobrinskoy) invites them back to his embassy.

Lucy is protective of Hank.

Back at the embassy, the Draytons are informed by the ambassador (Mogens Wieth) that their assassination attempt on the prime minister has failed. Over Lucy's objection, the ambassador then orders her husband to kill Hank.

Jo belts out "Que Sera, Sera" at the embassy.

The police are unable to go into the embassy due to diplomatic immunity, so the McKennas enter alone. Jo is asked to perform for the guests, and her singing voice is soon recognized by Hank, when she sings their song “Que Sera, Sera”. Mrs. Drayton, who seems to have taken a liking to the boy, instructs him to whistle along with his mother’s singing. This guides Ben to the room in which Hank is being held.

Edward tries to use Ben and Hank as shields to get out of the embassy.

Lucy encourages them to hurry, but before they’re out of the room, Edward appears, gun in hand and pointed at the boy’s head. Rather than kill them, he decides to use Ben and Hank as human shields so he can escape from the embassy.

As they make their way down the grand staircase, Ben pushed Hank out of the way and pushes Drayton, who is killed when he falls on his own gun and it goes off.

The reunited McKennas then head back to their hotel room, where Jo's friends, now asleep, have been waiting the entire time.

The film was released in the U.S. on June 1, 1956 and turned out to be a box office success, taking in $11.333 million in domestic box-office receipts and $4.1 million in theatrical rentals. The film also received mostly positive reviews, including Bosley Crowther at the New York Times who called it “lean and fluid” and that even in “mammoth VistaVision, the old Hitchcock thriller-stuff has punch.”

Hitchcock must have been pleased with his remake. In his famous interview with François Truffaut, after the French New Wave director asserts that aspects of the remake were superior to the original Hitchcock replied, "Let's say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional."

And there are certain aspects that are far better. While the original film seemed to be in a hurry, the remake seems almost languid in its approach to getting the story going. But it does allow Hitchcock to better set up the relationships between characters. Ben and Jo are shown to be a happily married couple and are presented as a typical American couple for the time period of the film. She naturally gave up her career when she married, to be a wife and mother, again expected of women at the time.

Their relationship with Louis is allowed time to develop and seems more realistic than the Lawrences had with their Louis Bernard in the original. Rather than an intimate stranger, Louis is presented here as a real stranger that the couple is simply friendly with, but still keep him at arm’s length.

James Stewart is, as usual, pretty good. While not my favorite role of his, he seems to really be living the character, warts and all. He is reserved but with a bit of a temper. Ben can be manipulated by Jo but also knows how to manipulate her in turn. He’s a lanky American who can’t help but stand out in the marketplace of Morocco.

Doris Day, despite Herbert Coleman’s reservations, seems like the perfect fit for the role of Jo, especially given her background as a singer. Her best acting here may be when she learns that Hank has been kidnapped. Despite having been drugged by her husband, she is still distraught.

The film is filled with interesting characters besides the main leads, especially the Draytons, who are surprisingly villainous for what appears at first glance to be a doting old English couple. Hitchcock has always liked to show people we think of in one regard in a different light. The nicer and more normal they appear, the more the character is hiding. The Draytons may seem like a God-fearing religious couple, but in the end, Edward would think nothing of putting a bullet through little Hank’s head.

Jo's London theater friends have small roles, but they seem to make quite an impression. You get the real sense that they are a tight-knit group who enjoy talking and drinking. They provide just the right amount of comic relief at the end of the film.

While the original film ends with the mother shooting and killing the assassin, here the ending is more comedic. Jo’s theater friends are still waiting, after many long hours, asleep in their chairs in the hotel suite’s sitting room. There are some other comedic touches, like Ben struggling to figure out how to eat with only two fingers and a thumb on his right hand but the one at the end works best.

The film looks good, though Hitchcock works against himself when he cuts between location shots and obvious studio ones. You have the same thing with other Hitchcock films, like the crop duster scene in North By Northwest (1959). While Hitchcock liked the control that a studio provided, the technology wasn’t there to seamlessly mix the two. Instead, it can be a little jarring at times.

The song “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” which is featured prominently in the film, was written by Jay Livingston (composer) and Ray Evans (lyricist). Doris Day wasn’t actually thrilled with the song herself, thinking it was a children’s song. According to Livingston, “She didn't want to record it but the studio pressured her. She did it in one take and said, 'That's the last you're going to hear of this song.'” Instead, it would become Day’s signature song, reaching number two on the U.S. Billboard charts and win the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song under the title: "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)".

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) like many of Hitchcock’s 50’s films, takes its time getting to the point. Helping to build tension and add to the suspense of the film, but you have to be willing to stick with it. If you can stick with it, the film is worth watching. While the payoff might not be as good as the original's, there is still a lot to like about the movie. If you have the time, stay with it, you’ll like it.

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