The Man Who Knew Too Much

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Details At A Glance

Category Suspense Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1934 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 75:47 minutes Other Extras Introduction - Tony Curtis
Theatrical Trailer - Saboteur
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 1,2,3,4,5,6 Director Alfred Hitchcock

MRA Entertainment

Starring Leslie Banks
Edna Best
Peter Lorre
Frank Vosper
Hugh Wakefield
Nova Pilbeam
Pierre Fresnay
Cicely Oates
D.A. Clark-Smith
George Curzon 
Case Amaray
RRP $19.95 Music Arthur Benjamin

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio No Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
16x9 Enhancement No Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.37:1
Macrovision ? Smoking Yes
Subtitles Spanish
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    As we look back at the history of film in the twentieth century, one name will no doubt loom large amongst those discussed as being the most influential filmmakers of the century. His range of films was actually quite limited, for he was the undisputed master of one genre - the suspense thriller. But what films he gave us in that genre over an extended period of time! And thanks to MRA Entertainment, distributors of Laserlight DVDs, we are thankfully able to view most of the early work of this iconic figure of film. Of course, it is none other than Alfred Hitchcock. When we look back at films such as Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963) and Frenzy (1972), it is sometimes difficult to remember that he directed his first film way back in 1925, just as film was struggling out of the silent era and into the talkies. His early films were of course made in England, as his first US made feature was Rebecca in 1940, and overall are not as well known as his later US films. However, there are some gems there just prior to his switch to Hollywood, amongst them such classics as The 39 Steps (1935), The Lady Vanishes (1938) and this little effort from 1934: indeed this effort was deemed so worthy by Hitchcock himself that he remade it in 1955.

    Like so many Alfred Hitchcock films, the broad plot is quite simple. Bob Lawrence (Leslie Banks) and his wife Jill (Edna Best) are on holiday in Switzerland with their daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam), enjoying the typical resort lifestyle of upper class Brits in the thirties - skiing, clay pigeon shooting and so on. Whilst there they meet Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay), who turns out to be a little more than first appearances would suggest. He whispers to Jill a message that sets the Lawrences on a path that is, in typical Alfred Hitchcock fashion, fraught with little twists and turns. This time it is a plot to kill a European dignitary, masterminded by the mysterious Abbott (Peter Lorre - boy does he turn up in a few films from the era!). Bob comes into possession of vital information regarding the plot, but Abbott comes into possession of Betty and suggests that if the Lawrences wish to see their daughter alive again, they had best not reveal anything to the Swiss police about the murder of Louis. The action then switches to London, where the import of Louis is discovered as the Foreign Office attempts to get the Lawrences to reveal what they know. Instead they attempt to locate Betty themselves and resolve the matter. The whole story then proceeds in usual Alfred Hitchcock fashion to the inevitable conclusion.

    Now in general, it is fair to say that these earlier films from Alfred Hitchcock are not in the same league as his later films, which is only to be expected as they are really the proving grounds for the techniques that he used so successfully later on. So this is not the sort of masterpiece that we later see in the form of films like Rebecca or Psycho, and to be blunt this is occasionally quite patchy. But there is no mistaking the hand of Alfred Hitchcock, and very little of what he did was ever unwatchable. It is even fairer to say that the acting on offer here is decidedly second rate, and some of the "effects" work is even worse. As a result the suspense here is somewhat diminished, although as usual Peter Lorre is his ever reliable self. If you really are a devotee of bad acting though, check out the performance of Edna Best - she comes up with the most unconvincing fainting act that has probably been committed to film - ever! And some of the dying scenes are so bad as to be utterly precious. I remember the last time I saw this on the big screen was at a university film festival many years ago, when the audience comprised about three hundred students all stoned out of their minds. For some reason the film looked so much better then.

    Whilst the film is decidedly showing its age nowadays, there is always something to be gleaned from watching an Alfred Hitchcock film and it is pleasing to see the return of the film to home video. I only wish that we also had the 1955 remade version on a locally released DVD, so that we are able to make a direct comparison between the two films.

Transfer Quality


    Sixty six years old it is, and the transfer really shows every one of those years quite badly. Note that it is an NTSC format disc and can only be viewed on display devices capable of playing the NTSC signal.

    The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format.

    To be fair, it is a little difficult to call this a black and white transfer - it is more like a grey and grey transfer, and as a result exhibits all the usual problems associated with those murky grey colours. Overall, this is not an especially good transfer, with some reasonably poor definition, that really falls into the diffuse category. At times the transfer is rather too diffuse and is very difficult to watch. The reference on the rear cover to this being "digitally mastered from the best available sources for the highest quality possible" is seriously overstating the mark in my view. Of course, most of the problems would be as a result of inherent problems in the source material now, but this really looks as if it has been given no real restoration work at all, which really is a great pity. The transfer is anything but clear in general. There did not appear to be any problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    The grey tones are very inconsistent, sometimes almost becoming distinctly black and white but at others being very, very murky greys. If you need to have depth to the blacks in black and white films, you will be sadly disappointed here. Apart from a few sequences where things are mysteriously better, you have such an overwhelmingly dull grey on offer that the effort required to watch the film is worsened.

   There did not appear to be any MPEG artefacts in the transfer. Film-to-video artefacts were also noticeably absent. Film artefacts? You bet there are, but what else would you expect of a film of this age? These are rampant throughout the transfer and at times are very distracting.

   The Internet Movie Database lists the runtime for this film as 84 minutes in the United Kingdom and 76 minutes in the United States. Since this release is from the United States, we obviously have exactly the length as the listed for the USA, but it does raise the question as to whether anything was removed from the US release of the film, since it is a significant difference in length. It may of course just be an error on the IMDb.


   All we have on offer here is a rather rawish sounding mono English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack.

   The dialogue was marginally clear at times and not too easy to understand.

   There did not appear to be any significant audio sync problems.

   The musical score is credited to Arthur Benjamin, but to be honest I barely noticed that there was a score, so little was it highlighted by the film. This is one area that had yet to demonstrate the typical Alfred Hitchcock style.

   This is a very blatant mono soundtrack, rather recessed too, but thankfully free from any hiss. The problems with the dialogue are probably due to degradation of the original soundtrack, and are to some extent expected in a film of this vintage. There are a few inconsistencies in the audio level throughout, but overall I found this to be acceptable given the age and source of the audio. You can forget your surround speakers and subwoofer here as they get not a smidgen of action at all.


    Not much on offer here I am afraid.


Introduction - Tony Curtis (2:30)

    This is a recently recorded introduction from someone who I am battling to understand would have any connection with Alfred Hitchcock. The introduction is not so much about the film but rather about Alfred Hitchcock. It does not add a huge amount to the package and is in no way an acceptable substitute for some erudite pontificating by a film historian on the importance of the film in the Alfred Hitchcock legacy. This is presented in a full frame format, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Theatrical Trailer - Saboteur (1:55)

    An interesting enough insight into film promotion but quite what it has to do with the subject film, I do not know. Naturally presented in a full frame format with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound.

R4 vs R1

    This is identical to the version available in Region 1.


    Okay, the audio and video are not the best but then again how much could we reasonably expect from a sixty six year old film? Well, to be honest, slightly better than we got here, as this certainly suffers a little in comparison with say the Force Video release of Fritz Lang's classic from 1931, M. Still, it is gratifying to have The Man Who Knew Too Much available locally, and at the asking price Alfred Hitchcock devotees probably need no further incentive to indulge. But really, this would look acceptable as a VHS tape, so needs something more to encourage casual viewers to part with $20.

    A barely acceptable video transfer.

    A reasonably acceptable audio transfer.

    Not much in the way of extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
21st February 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL