Guest Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much

My earliest memories of Doris Day were when she had a TV show back in the 60’s. I don’t really remember anything from those days except that she sang the song “Que Sera, Sera” in the opening credits. But I can still recall the song, which is significant since I probably haven’t even heard it done since those days. (Not including the watching of the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much recently, which I found out is where the song originally appeared onscreen).

An interesting side note about the song. Hitchcock was not particularly agreeable to having a song in his film, but the production company, Paramount, insisted that there had to be one. (Probably due to the fact that Doris Day had been cast for the film.) Hitchcock approached the writing team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans stating that he needed a song, but he didn’t know hat he wanted. After hearing what the duo came up with he told them that that was exactly what he wanted. So what may or may not be Doris Day’s signature song was the result of a happy turn of events necessitated by a production company’s insistence on having a song.

Hitchcock had wanted Doris Day for the role all along, but associate producer Herbert Coleman states in an interview on the commentary of my DVD that he had some misgivings. He didn’t think Day could pull off the dramatic scenes in the movie, especially the pivotal emotional breakdown after finding out about the fate of her son. But Hitch, as always, got his way, and in retrospect Coleman admitted he was wrong and that she was perfect for the role.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956):

Married couple Ben and Jo McKenna (James Stewart, Doris Day) are on vacation in north Africa with their son, Hank (Christopher Olsen). They encounter a Frenchman, Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin) who is very inquisitive about them, arousing Jo’s suspicions. Upon arrival in Marrakesh, Bernard offers to take them to dinner, but cancels out after a mysterious man (Reggie Nalder) appears at their door.

Instead the go to dinner alone, where they meet Edward and Lucy Drayton (Bernard Miles, Brenda de Banzie). The four end up eating together and arranging to go sightseeing the next day.

While in the marketplace, a man in Arabian attire is murdered. It turns out to be Bernard in disguise. H whispers to Ben, just before he dies, that a foreign dignitary is going to be murdered in London and tells Ben to find “Ambrose Chapell”. When Ben and Jo are questioned by the authorities about the murder they discover that Bernard was an agent of the French secret service (a spy).

But before Ben can tell the authorities what happened he receives a mysterious call telling him that Hank has been kidnapped and will be killed if he, Ben, reveals what he knows. Thus, Ben’s driving force is to find out where his son is and save him. To such measures he is even willing to let the events play out with the assassination if only he can retrieve his son safely.

Thus begins the frantic search which leads the two to London. A fruitless attempt to track down Ambrose Chapell reveals that Ben and Jo are on the wrong track. And that people are not all whom they claim to be. Of course, the fact that the Draytons obviously are involved because they were the last ones to be with Hank is not entirely surprising, but there is much more involved in the political intrigue. Even after the assassination attempt is foiled, the two still have to track down and rescue Hank. Which leads them to the embassy of the foreign dignitary.

The Man Who Knew Too Much was a remake of a 1934 film Hitchcock had made with Peter Lorre, but much of the plot was changed so seeing both films together makes for an entertaining evening. Hitchcock himself describes the first film as having been made by talented amateur and the second as having been made by a professional.

One should note a few recognizable faces in the film. Reggie Nalder may look familiar. He was the vampire in the 1979 TV version of Salem’s Lot as well as Zoltan, The Hound of Dracula’s master. And Carolyn Jones, best known as Morticia Addams in the TV show The Addams Family is also recognizable, despite the fact that she is decked out in very short cropped red hair. And look for Walter Gotell, a familiar Russian agent from James Bond movies in a brief role as a Scotland Yard policeman.

Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.