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The Times (10/Dec/1934) - New films in London: The Man Who Knew Too Much

(c) The Times (10/Dec/1934)



The Man Who Knew Too Much. — Mr. Alfred Hitchcock has a rare gift for the macabre. With the aid of a few shadows, a dozen stairs or so, and a sinister-looking figure, he manages to keep his audience in a suspended state of expectation. There is everything; there is nothing. The story has obvious weaknesses; the clues cry out for notice; the villains are patently villainous; the virtuous are tiresomely virtuous: the melodrama is crude, so crude that all interest in the protagonists, as characters, is with one exception killed almost at the outset and the action for long stretches at a time has no surprises. And yet so sure is Mr. Hitchcock's touch in creating an electric atmosphere of expectancy that the audience, against its rational judgment, is enthralled. As in the best of melodrama, reason has no part. Betty, the Lawrences' only child, is kidnapped because her parents inadvertently know too much of a plot to assassinate a foreign politician on his visit to England. The child's safety depends on the parents' silence. The headquarters of the gang is in Wapping, and it is Mr. Hitchcock's success in suggesting every kind of sinister possibility in the dentist's waiting-room, added to the real drama implicit in the presence of a defenceless child among murderers, that keeps interest taut. The idea of the defenceless child may sound sentimental, but Mr. Hitchcock makes it effective by studiously avoiding all the easy opportunities he could have taken, and even the scene between Betty and her father, rashly determined upon a rescue, is filmed with admirable economy and directness. The climax has a parallel in history in the siege of Sidney Street, and what must have been thrilling in real life is almost equally thrilling on the screen. Mr. Leslie Banks, Miss Edna Best, and Miss Nova Pilbeam play the typically English Lawrence family with a straightforwardness demanded by the simple outlines of their characters, but there is real subtlety in the acting of Mr. Peter Lorre, the anarchist leader.