The Man Who Knew Too Much (Universal) (1955)

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Released 26-Sep-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Making Of-(34:18)
Gallery-Art
Trailer-Trailer Compilation (6:14)
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:08)
Booklet
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1955
Running Time 114:55 (Case: 120)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (82:22) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring James Stewart
Doris Day
Brenda de Banzie
Ralph Truman
Bernard Miles
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Bernard Herrmann


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Varies Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
German
Dutch
Swedish
Danish
Norwegian
Finnish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

   Amongst his extensive collection of films, Alfred Hitchcock's British period is best remembered for a couple of great films like The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes and The Man Who Knew Too Much. So when his American period needed some contractual films to be made, it is not surprising that Alfred Hitchcock looked to those earlier films as a source of potential fodder. Requiring a film to meet his contractual obligations to Paramount, Hitch innocently asked why not remake The Man Who Knew Too Much? So screenwriter John Michael Hayes went away and independently came up with a treatment that seemed to satisfy Hitch and a new version of The Man Who Knew Too Much was born. It should be clearly understood that the 1956 film owes little more than its name to the 1934 classic, and they are two distinctly different films. It is perhaps something of a large misnomer to suggest that the 1956 version is a remake of the 1934 version. What it really is is a return to a basic story in the light of twenty years more experience and twenty years of technical advances in film.

   And it is yet another return to that favourite theme of Alfred Hitchcock - the ordinary man put in extraordinary circumstances. Hitch might have flogged this theme to death, but he did it so much better than anyone else ever has that you never really tire of seeing it, time after time after time...

   The cast is headed by Alfred Hitchcock's quintessential ordinary man of an actor, James Stewart. This time he plays Dr Ben McKenna, a surgeon from Indianapolis, Indiana who is taking a vacation side-trip with his wife Josephine "Jo" (Doris Day), former Broadway singer Jo Conway, and son Henry "Hank" (Christopher Olsen) to Morocco and in particular Marrakech. The bus ride down to this famous town is highlighted by Hank inadvertently tearing the veil off a woman, thus enraging her husband. This provides a meeting with Louis Bernard (Daniel Gélin), a mysterious man who aids them in their argument with the enraged husband, and befriends the McKennas. Whilst in Marrakech, the McKennas arrange to have drinks and dinner with Mr Bernard, but he makes an unexpected exit, forcing them to the restaurant alone, where they just so happen to befriend an English couple, Lucy Drayton (Brenda de Banzie) and her husband (Bernard Miles). After a pleasant evening highlighted by Mr Bernard turning up at the same restaurant with a woman, the McKennas and the Draytons agree to join each other for a wander around the famed markets on the morrow. Whilst enjoying the sights and sounds of the markets next day, they are eventually accosted by Mr Bernard who just so happens to have a knife in his back. As he dies, he whispers something to Ben McKenna and instantly the McKennas are plunged into an extraordinary situation.

   It all involves a kidnapping, the disappearance of the Draytons and a desperate flight back to London to save Hank. And nothing further shall be revealed.

   It is perhaps a bit unfortunate that this film was watched straight after one of the maestro's true gems in Rear Window, for the inevitable comparisons are decidedly not in favour of The Man Who Knew Too Much. It is also perhaps a response to the 1934 version of the film, which does tend to give some plot hints away, but the 1956 version simply does not seem a particularly great film. A bad sign for any film is the number of times you hit the time remaining button whilst watching it: this one copped that fate four times. Whilst Hitch might have liked the treatment, frankly I find it a little laboured and it could have done with some judicious pruning here and there in my view without really destroying any of the suspense that might actually be here. By anyone else's standards, this is a good film, but by Hitch's standards I frankly find it a little average. And it is also a fact that Hitch should have told Paramount where to go when they insisted upon a song for Doris Day to sing. Okay, it is no average song, being Que Sera, Sera (which copped an Oscar for best song in 1956), but an Alfred Hitchcock thriller with a hit song? Mon dieu!

   The ever reliable James Stewart does his usual decent job, but this certainly is no performance in the league of that in Rear Window. Whilst not being especially memorable in any way, there is nothing really disappointing about the performance. The pairing with Doris Day is also not quite that with Grace Kelly, and in some ways the casting of Doris Day seemed an odd choice. At the time, she was almost exclusively known as a singer, and it must have been a bit risky to cast her in what was quite a dramatic role. She certainly ended up doing a decent enough job though. The rest of the cast were really only there to make up the numbers and that they did without much trouble. The featurette reveals that this was the first occasion that many had seen Alfred Hitchcock working in something other than a suit. Not only was he a bit relaxed in his choice of clothing in the Moroccan heat it seems, but that relaxation extended just a little to his direction. In hindsight, this might actually have worked in favour of the film, for the slight relaxation allowed perhaps a more natural style to the film.

   This is not amongst the true gems of Alfred Hitchcock's output, and whilst in my personal view is something of a disappointment, it remains a good film by everyone else's standards. Indeed, many a filmmaker alive today could only dream of being able to attain this sort of film-making ability.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Whilst this does not seem to have enjoyed a full restoration along the lines of Rear Window, it is a decent enough transfer that should be acceptable to most. One point at issue in the transfer however is the aspect ratio. The Internet Movie Database suggests that the original theatrical release of the film was 1.66:1, and the usually reliable Widescreen Review describes the theatrical aspect ratio as variable. Since the film is just a little before my time, and thus I have no personal knowledge of the aspect ratio, I would suggest that both are correct: this may be one of those instances where the film was presented in the United States in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 whilst it was presented in Europe at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Nonetheless, if anyone has the definitive answer, it would be appreciated. Whatever the original ratio, the transfer is presented here in an aspect ratio of 1.82:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is generally quite sharp throughout, with little in the way of lapses. Even those that are present are quite acceptable given the age of the source material. Detail is a little problematic throughout: many of the shots, especially in Marrakech, give the distinct impression of being shot against blue screen. The background is really quite flat-looking and lacking in any serious depth to the image. It takes just a little getting used to, as it is almost certain that the scenes were shot live action. Other than that, the detail is quite acceptable. Shadow detail is again a place where the film shows it age - it is quite good but certainly not good enough to bear comparison with more recent films. There is a consistent presence of grain in the transfer, but nothing that is especially distracting. As a result clarity is not quite as good as perhaps it could be. There did not appear to be any problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    The colours on offer here are very evocative of the locations, which means that those in Marrakech have a suitably dusty look to them. Overall, the colours are quite well saturated and entirely believable in the the respective colourscapes of both Marrakech and London. There are just a few minor inconsistencies in the colours as a result of source material degradation. There does not appear to be any issue with oversaturation or colour bleed in the transfer.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. The film-to-video artefacts in the transfer comprise some relatively minor aliasing at times (none of which is that noticeable), plus some cross colouration in the suit worn by James Stewart early on (2:10, 8:04 and 8:22 being the worst examples). There is also some evidence of telecine wobble around the 88:35 mark but this is only mildly noticeable. There were quite a treasure trove of film artefacts on offer in the transfer, but nothing that was especially large so nothing that was especially distracting. There was a sequence around the 42:00 minute mark which is blighted with some spots that would appear to be residual blemishes of mildew.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming at 80:22. The immediate reaction to this one was appalling and even after watching it several times, I can think of no better way of describing it. It comes mid-scene as Doris Day is walking back down the street, boom she stops and then starts again. There would have to have been many places where the layer change could have been better hidden.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two soundtracks are on offer on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack and a German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. I listened only to the English soundtrack.

    The dialogue comes up reasonably clear and easy to understand in the transfer. There did not appear to be any serious audio sync problems in the transfer.

    The original music score for the film comes from Bernard Herrmann, who also gets the rare treat for a composer of appearing in the film. Unusually, since the music he conducts is the pivotal scene of the film, he elected to stick with a reorchestration of the piece of music from the original film. However, his own score is actually quite excellent and provides an effective contribution to the film.

    There is nothing terrific about the soundtrack on offer here. It does its job fairly well but you do on the whole miss the additional oomph of some surround encoding or even some bass channel support. The quality of the original material is quite possibly not the best, and so the soundstage here is perhaps not the best, being quite central as it should be, but it is by no means the worst mono soundtrack that I have ever heard. It is free of any serious distortion, which is perhaps the most important point here.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    A decent extras package has been put together by Universal for this release.

Menu

    They are 16x9 enhanced, and the main menu does come with audio enhancement, but the theming is only decent (and reflecting a commonality in the menus of the other DVDs in the collection). Decent enough without being truly spectacular.

Featurette - The Making Of The Man Who Knew Too Much (34:18)

    Another recent effort prepared by Universal, and featuring interviews with some of the crew members involved in the film, this is quite an interesting voyage through the making of the film. Presented in a Full Frame format, with film excerpts at their correct ratio, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is quite a good featurette overall and worthy enough of a view. It is unfortunately somewhat blighted with aliasing, sometimes quite badly (such as James Stewart's suit).

Gallery - Art (4:16)

    Comprising 63 stills of publicity and behind the scenes photographs together with poster work for the film, they are all unannotated. Whilst of decent enough quality, barring the glaring cross colouration in number 48 in the sequence (not James Stewart's suit this time but rather his tie), a bit of annotation would not have been amiss. It is a self-running presentation (a bit of inconsistency here) and has musical accompaniment.

Trailer - Trailer Compilation (6:14)

    Narrated by James Stewart, this is an extended promotional effort for the five films acquired from Paramount by Universal, duly restored and reissued in the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, it is blessed with some oversaturation of the red credits, as well as some noticeable dot crawl. The presentation is in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 which is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The quality is pretty good overall, but I am guessing that by the time I finish this collection I will be pretty fed up of seeing it.

Theatrical Trailer (2:08)

    Another distinctively different approach to promotion of an Alfred Hitchcock film, albeit one that is not of the best quality at all. It suffers pretty badly from hissy sound, with plenty of crackle to boot, and has some fairly lousy colour. Add to the mix a somewhat diffuse image, and you will have guessed that this is really showing its age. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version misses out on:     The Region 4 version misses out on:     It would seem that there is little to favour one version over the other, especially as Region 1 reviews seem to indicate a similar standard of transfer.

Summary

    The Man Who Knew Too Much is by Alfred Hitchcock's standards a somewhat middling effort - better than what anyone else could do but not amongst the best he could do. It is been given a generally acceptable transfer with only some relatively minor blemishes to detract from the overall package.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Sunday, July 01, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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