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Boston Globe (02/Apr/1984) - The Man Who Knew Too Much



The Man Who Knew Too Much

No filmmaker has ever explored the terror in the commonplace better than Alfred Hitchcock.

In "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1955), one of the most underrated films in his oeuvre, Hitchcock is at the top of his form. Together with "North By Northwest," "Psycho" and "Rear Window," this 1955 release is a prime example of Hitchcock's singular ability to wrap our deep-seated anxieties in the fabric of comedy, suspense and melodrama.

Dr. Ben MacKenna (James Stewart) is a doctor from Indianapolis who decides to take a brief side-trip to Morocco after attending a medical convention in Paris. He wants to show his wife (Doris Day) and son the country where he spent time during World War II in an army hospital. This seemingly innocent side-trip, through a series of bizarre coincidences, soon becomes an excursion into the world of spies, counter-spies, kidnaping and murder.

Revealing more plot might undercut Hitchcock's artful audience manipulation but there are particular sequences that subtly examine the director's themes of paranoia, innocence and the fear lurking just below the surface of everyday life.

The trusting American is perfectly personified by Stewart's MacKenna. On a bus to Marrakesh, he gets involved in a seemingly harmless conversation with a Frenchman named Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin). Bernard asks him where he's from and the affable MacKenna is more than happy to answer. But his wife is skeptical. She's worried that Bernard has more on his mind than just passing the time. Come to find out, she's right.

Before long, a normal American couple is caught up in a string of international intrigues.

Unlike some of his other films where fear is unjustified paranoia, in this one Hitchcock warns us of the danger of knowing too much. One piece of information transforms the couple's life from monotonous to dangerous.

In the penultimate sequence, shot at a concert in London's Royal Albert Hall, Hitchcock created one of the best 12-minute sequences ever recorded on film. The composition, editing and music are perfectly orchestrated until they reach a smashing crescendo.

Doris Day is remarkably good as Mrs. MacKenna, a woman who gave up a promising show-business career for her husband. She is even able to express her fear through a pound of makeup and while wearing some of the silliest-looking dresses of the mid-'50s.

There have been many critical discussions concerning the differences between the 1934 and 1955 versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much," but Hitchcock said it best in his interviews with Francois Truffaut: "... the first version is the work of a talented amateur, and the second was made by a professional."