The Man Who Knew Too Much (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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This was Hitchcock's first version of the venerable spy story; he filmed it again in 1955 with James Stewart and Doris Day (The Man Who Knew Too Much). Fans argue about which is the better version, and the director himself preferred the later one, but I love them both equally. There's something truly charming about the earlier film, and it includes one great performance that doesn't have a correlative in the 1955 version.
The story is simple and straightforward: A British couple (lLeslie Banks and Edna Best) are on vacation in Switzerland with their young daughter (Nova Pilbeam) when the father accidentally learns a deadly secret from a dying man. A political VIP is about to be assassinated in London by a nasty ring of terrorists led by a vicious psychopath (Peter Lorre, giving the great performance I mentioned above). In order to keep the parents quiet about the plot, the villains kidnap the daughter, which leads to...well, see for yourself.
This was Peter Lorre's first performance in English, and he is truly memorable. Banks and Best are excellent, too, and the swift pace of the movie never lags.Read more ›
I can tell you that this is the BEST The Man Who Knew Too Much has ever looked. An original Nitrate Fine Grain that was made from the Nitrate Camera Original Negatives was used to make this Blu-ray. Apparently the Nitrate Camera Original Negatives are lost or have disintegrated, so this is the best film master available. This Nitrate film Fine Grain was located in the British Archive.
The Gray Tones are perfect, no loss of details in the shadows or light areas.
The focus may not be as sharp as a modern film, but it is very good. Only the original camera negatives would give a sharper image.
The film condition is near flawless. i believe this was a wet-gate transfer (using a liquid that would fill in any scratches when transferring to video). The source film was fairly free of wear to begin with.
Image stabilization was used to steady the picture of the now-shrunken Nitrate film. So no bouncy image.
The audio has also go through a clean-up and is easy to hear. You won't feel like you are in the same room, but you can not expect much more from a 1934 soundtrack recording.
This is the best that existing films and modern technology will give you.
It's not just because one is in black and white, whereas the other is in color, or that one features British and the other American leads. It's more intangible than that. It has to do with pacing, and that this is a more tongue-in-cheek thriller than the remake. Also, while Hitch never stopped pushing the envelope on visual effects, it's so interesting watching this one, because he was learning as he made it. When Edna Best faints upon learning that her daughter (Nova Pilbeam) has been kidnapped, the camera movement simulates the room spinning round and round. It's a sort of primitive shot, one that Hitch didn't smoothly master until the 1940s. That said, it cannot be denied that Hitchcock's primary visual contribution at this point was in applying the German Expressionist montage sensibility to the British cinema, which was theretofore fledgling.
The acting is all right from the good guys, but it's the villains who are most impressive in this version. Peter Lorre as Abbott is creepy, and quite a polished actor, whereas the British actors were a little awkward in reciting their lines. Lorre was smooth, confident, volatile and simply a pleasure to watch. Cicily Oates as Abbott's religious sect "front" is simply mesmerizing when she hypnotizes Leslie Bank's comic relief friend, Clive. There are some stark Expressionistic shots of her through a glass lens, and as the light intensifies on her face, so does her perverse concentration. Almost zombie, cultlike.Read more ›
I found THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH to be a bit of a mixed bag. The first half appears choppy and uneven. Things happen without much motivation and the cast seems to confused as to what exactly is going on. Some of the more experimental scenes and moments just did not seem to work terribly well. The direction is unsteady and a touch confusing at times - I'm still not sure what happened during the opening ski scene and I couldn't figure out why a skiier, when suddenly confronted with a child running in front of him, would just scream and cover his eyes.
However, at about the midway point, the film settles down and becomes quite entertaining. There are some masterfully suspenseful sequences such as the assassination attempt during a concert and a long shoot-out with the police. Hitchcock managed to milk the suspense for all it's worth without once taking it a moment too far. Peter Lorre deserves a lot of credit for crafting a role that initially isn't terribly exciting and infusing it with just the right amount of necessary style. His character is a joy to watch and Lorre steals every scene that he is in. He gets all the best lines and manages to create a character that's chilling even while he's laughing hysterically at his henchmen.
The DVD itself is not bad. The picture seems fine and the audio is quite good. I'm sure that there are better prints available than this, but for the extremely low price, it's a bargain. The bonus footage is a trailer for Alfred Hitchcock's SABOTEUR and is a fairly forgettable extra. And Tony Curtis didn't wear his black, leather gloves for the opening and closing remarks, which is always a good thing.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
My son asked for this for Christmas he was really happy to receive it he specifically requested from the Criterion collection.Published 2 days ago by Shirley L. Scherlin
The Man Who Knew Too Much was the film that really brought Hitchcock into his prime and while I enjoyed Blackmail, Murder! Read morePublished 6 days ago by Garrett
The classic version of this oft-filmed story. Lorre at his "worst" (or is that "baddest"?)Published 24 days ago by Richard R. Rutter
This blu-ray is brilliant, I didn't expect there to be so many special features for a movie made long before Blu-Rays and even DVDs existed, but there was. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Blaze The Movie Fan
One of the most underrated actors, Lorre shows his brilliance not only on screen but in how he got the role. Hitchcock's direction was equally impressive.Published 4 months ago by J Smith San Francisco
Which was far superior to this amateur effort. This film isn't bad, but it isn't the best version. The British do so much fast-talking rambling, subtitles are often needed. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Mystery
This review is based solely on the condition of the DVD. The film only starts working properly after the first two chapters. It's very glitchy and skips around. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Cherie Pi
If you love the James Stewart-Doris Day version then this might be a bit jolting. But I love watching them both together. Read morePublished 12 months ago by ybarry45