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Variety (1935) - Film Reviews: The Man Who Knew Too Much (Apr)




Man Who Knew Too Much

Gaumont-British production and release. Stars Edna Best and Leslie Banks. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Story, Charles Bennett and D. B. Wyndham Lewis; scenario, Edwin Greenwood and A. R. Rawlinson; additional dialog:, Emlyn Williams; camera, Curt Courant. At Mayfair, N. Y., week March 21, '35. Running time 74 mins.

An action film from England is unusual. This one has enough excitement and production value to stack up. It's not big time, largely because of paucity of names for the U. S., but it ought to please any audience that can be coaxed in and should do okay by itself in nabes, and a cinch for double bills.

An unusually fine dramatic story here and handled excellently from a production standpoint. It's results here may disappoint Britain somewhat because its obviously geared for major playing. The discrepancy is in the names. If this film had one, or two, American names of fair strength it would romp.

Edna Best and Leslie Banks are starred. In Britain that's undoubtedly correct, but in New York what? Peter Lorre and Nova Pilbeam are not even featured in the billing. Lorre's is the best name in the U. S. of the lot, he being at the moment on the Coast waiting Fox-Columbia to find a script, and having caused a stir through his work in 'M,' German talker. Miss Pilbeam starred in 'Little Friend,' a G-B pic earlier this season, and was nicely received. Rest of the cast holds Hugh Wakefield, George Curzon and Frank Vosper, all meaning something in London but not over here. Pierre Fresnay, French star who has worked up a bit of a New York rep, is buried in a walk-on assignment. For the same coin the producers could probably have gotten one or two cast names from Hollywood. Then they'd have had no worries.

Another item is the dialog. A cop walks on and says, 'I'd rather be on point duty.' That's all right in London, but who in New York knows that what he's trying to say is, 'I'd rather be a traffic cop'?

Despite these things film is gripping, speaking much for its basic merit. Built along gangster lines, but from an international crook standpoint, with a lot of melodramatic suspense added.

Starts at a party in St. Moritz. A man is shot during a dance. He whispers to a friend that there's a message in a brush in his bathroom. Friend realizes the dying man was in the secret service and gets the message. Before he can communicate with the police he is handed a note saying his daughter has been kidnapped and will be killed if he talks. Back to London and the cops can't make the man or his wife say anything. Finally man traces a telephone call and, after some adventures on his own, locates the gang's meeting place. Discovers that an attempt will be made to kill a famous international statesman at Albert Hall that night and manages to communicate that news to his wife, although he is held prisoner. Wife goes to the Hall to listen to the concert and manages to foil the shooting, which leads to a raid on the gang headquarters, slaughter of the gang and rescue of the man and the child.

Scene at Albert Hall, taken either in the Hall itself or a replica, is highly exciting and beautifully handled. Raid on the gang headquarters may strike Americans as tame. It is tame, compared to America. But it is authentic for England, where riot cars and machine guns for cops are myths.

Acting is splendid most all of the way. Banks is a fine actor, although the assignment is a bit heavy for him. Miss Best looks well but is not convincing in some of the toughest passages. Lorre's work stands out again. He's the gang chief. His makeup is not what it should be but he impresses nevertheless. Nothing wrong with any of the other parts from a playing standpoint. Picture could have stood more comedy by Hugh Wakefield and some of the minor characters. Latter not unknown in New York through appearing in stage revue.

Film is down to normal running time and that's a help.