Hitchcock Gives Doris Her Day
3 of my favourite things James Stewart, Doris Day and Alfred Hitchcock which means that I should absolutely love the 1956 version of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" which sees these 3 talents coming together for one movie. But strangely I don't love it, despite James Stewart and Doris Day doing a nice acting job as well as Hitchcock giving us his usual style. There is just something which is missing and that for me is a storyline which at times just feels unimportant and lacks tension. It makes me wonder if Hitchcock's original "The Man Who Knew Too Much" from 1934 is in fact the better movie, although not having seen it I can't yet say.
Having been in France for a conference Dr. Ben McKenna (James Stewart - The Man from Laramie, his wife Jo (Doris Day - Love Me or Leave Me) and their son Hank (Christopher Olsen) decide to have a small vacation and head to Morocco but on the way there they meet the mysterious Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin) who seems very interested in the American couple. The next day whilst visiting the local market with some friends they made the night before they witness Bernard being killed but before dies he manages to pass a message to Ben about an assassination attempt which will take place in London. Things get messy when Ben and Jo are questioned by the Moroccan police and in their absence Hank is kidnapped by the plotters who want to force Ben to remain silent about what he knows. Fearing for their son's life, Ben and Jo head to London to try and sort things out for themselves.
So I am going to get my major gripe out of the way and quite frankly the storyline to "The Man Who Knew Too Much" just didn't grab me. It's a decent idea, kidnapped child with the parents doing everything they can to rescue him in fear that he may be killed, whilst also getting dragged into an assassination plot, but it almost feels plain. Even the hopping between Morocco and London as the McKenna's frantically try to find their son lacks any real oomph. And most disappointingly the twists end up feeling like damp squibs, revealing themselves without any real big moment of tension to make them spectacular.
But that is the negative and unfortunately it's a big one. The good news is that for the deficiencies in the storyline Alfred Hitchcock makes up for it in style. The chase sequence in Morocco may not be action packed but it is beautifully shot and the close up on Mr. McKenna's face when he receives the first phone call telling him of his son's kidnap is just brilliant. But the real big spectacular moment comes in London at the Royal Albert Hall when Mrs. McKenna watches the assassin placing himself ready to shoot the dignitary. There's no dialogue, just the orchestra playing whipping up to a frenzy with Mrs. McKenna panicking as to what to do, try and stop the assassin or keep quiet and save her son. It is far the best scene in the movie and I don't want to sound negative but that one scene makes "The Man Who Knew Too Much" worth watching.
Whilst Hitchcock embellishes "The Man Who Knew Too Much" with his style the combination of James Stewart and Doris Day work adequately together as Mr. & Mrs. McKenna. I say adequately because together there seemed a real lack of chemistry, no spark which made me believe that they were a long time married couple but individually they both deliver. When Mr. McKenna is questioned by the Moroccan Police over the death he witnessed you can see the sense of rage boiling up inside him, yet when his son gets drawn into the mess you get that sense of fear. It's the type of performance which makes Stewart stand out from the crowd because he becomes the character and so delivers the emotion.
Doris Day is just as good on her own and equally convinces as a woman on the edge, someone who is being torn apart from stopping a murder plot and saving her son. Plus of course we get Doris Day singing with a lovely rendition of one of her more famous songs "Que Sera Sera". I just wish that the chemistry between Doris Day and James Stewart had been more believable as it is one of the weaknesses.
And talking of weaknesses I have to say that the ending borders upon the corny. I'm not going into detail but I found myself laughing instead of being gripped by the tension, which there really wasn't much off.
What this all boils down to is that "The Man Who Knew Too Much" is a good movie, but compared to other Alfred Hitchcock thrillers it seems a little weak. The trouble is that whilst James Stewart and Doris Day are good and Hitchcock gives us some lovely styling the storyline just doesn't really deliver the tension and atmosphere you would expect. But "The Man Who Knew Too Much" is worth watching even if it's only for the magnificent Royal Albert Hall scene.