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 ›
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is one of those movies that has been in legal limbo for so long, that one despaired of anyone ever doing the legal, much less the archival and restoration work, involved in returning the movie to some kind of presentable state. Unlike most of Hitchcock's other early British thrillers, whose US copyrights were "merely" shaky (a problem partly solved by the GATT Treaty), or where the underlying story-rights had migrated elsewhere, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH had been remade by Hitchcock himself, who was on record as decisively preferring his later version -- it was all very complicated, and contrived to make the prospect of upgrading the original all the more daunting on its face.
But here it is, looking fresher and newer than anyone in 2013 has a right to expect, with details that have been missing for half-a-century or more from extant copies, and killer sound, too. And this reviewer, having done the audio commentary on Criterion's DVD of THE LADY VANISHES, can say all of this with some sense of authority.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Although I had seen this film before, it is the first time I see a restored version of it. Criterion does an excellent job in restoring this film and offering a thorough commentary... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Elvin Ortiz
An early Hitchcock, this one's particularly interesting in its treatment of women, as opposed to how the remake looked at women several years later.Published 2 months ago by A Fan
My son asked for this for Christmas he was really happy to receive it he specifically requested from the Criterion collection.Published 5 months 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 5 months ago by Garrett
The classic version of this oft-filmed story. Lorre at his "worst" (or is that "baddest"?)Published 6 months ago by Richard R. Rutter