TIME (08/Apr/1935) - The New Pictures
(c) Time (08/Apr/1935)
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Charles Bennett, D.B. Wyndham-Lewis, Edna Best, Gaumont British Picture Corporation Limited, Leslie Banks, Nova Pilbeam, Peter Lorre, Royal Albert Hall, London, St. Moritz, Switzerland, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
- Sloan's Alfred Hitchcock: A Filmography and Bibliography (1995) — page 352, #102
The New Pictures
"The Man Who Knew Too Much" (Gaumont British) follows the formula of old Hollywood gangster pictures in its climactic scene which shows London's Wapping transformed into a shambles when the police bombard a gang of anarchists in their hideaway. Nonetheless, the picture can by no means be pigeonholed as a feeble foreign imitation of the films which many cinemaddicts found among the most satisfactory ever made in the U.S. Alfred Hitchcock's direction, in which the story is told in sharp, abbreviated sequences gathering speed steadily toward their explosive climax, makes "The Man Who Knew Too Much" one of the neatest melodramas of the year. Furthermore it includes the first English-speaking cinema performance of Peter Lorre, who, as the chubby, anarchist fiend, enacts a part which admirers are likely to consider comparable to his famed portrayal of the sadist hero of M.
Based on a story by Charles Bennett and D. B. Wyndham Lewis, "The Man Who Knew Too Much" starts calmly enough in St. Moritz where Lawrence (Leslie Banks), his wife (Edna Best) and their small daughter (Nova Pilbeam) are performing winter sports. A fellow guest at their hotel is mysteriously shot. Dying, he begs Lawrence to find a code message in his room, deliver it to the British Foreign Office. Lawrence finds the message but before he can deliver it, the assassins have kidnapped his daughter, threatened to kill her if Lawrence carries out his mission.
A sense of the reality of Lawrence's predicament grows on the audience as the audience sees it growing on Lawrence. When emissaries from the Foreign Office demand the note which the mysterious abductors have forbidden Lawrence to give up, it gradually becomes established that his daughter has become a trump card in a plot to assassinate a diplomat whose death may mean a war. Following the clue he discovers in the note, Lawrence goes to Wapping, tiptoes into a deserted church, finds himself trapped by a fat smiling monster (Lorre) who orders the little girl brought in. The company sit down to listen to a broadcast of an Albert Hall concert at whose crescendo the anarchists' triggerman will fire his revolver. Good shot: Mrs. Lawrence, in the audience at Albert Hall, watching a gunbarrel emerge slowly from a curtain.