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Cinema Quarterly (1934) - The Man Who Knew Too Much




Alfred Hitchcock is much more comfortable and successful with this melodrama of a plot to assassinate a foreign statesman in London than he was with the romantic musical comedy of Waltzes from Vienna. The story by Charles Bennett and D. B. Wyndham Lewis has at least its implausibilities and is seldom reasonable; and it is a measure of Hitchcock's melodramatic success that he can still create suspense in these circumstances. His method, as Charles Davy has pointed out, is to attempt to make melodrama realistic by keying it down into a casual, easy-going mood, with clipped dialogue quietly spoken and a few very obvious displays of emotion ; this apparently in the belief that melodramatic events will appear more exciting if they are presented against the background of a normal world. Often, if not always, his method produces the right result—in the "Tabernacle of the Sun" sequence, in the dramatic episode of the Albert Hall concert and in the siege of the gang's barricaded hide-out at Wapping (a reproduction of the Sidney Street affair) . The excitement of those moments is in contrast to the artificiality of, for example, the opening scenes in Switzerland. The acting is for the most part simple and straightforward, but there is real subtlety in the performance of Peter Lorre, the Dusseldorf murderer of M, as the anarchist leader. With Murder in mind, the surprise of the film is the absence of any expressive use of sound.

F. H.