The Man Who Knew Too Much (Universal) (1955)
Main Menu Audio
Trailer-Trailer Compilation (6:14)
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:08)
|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|
Universal Pictures Home Video
Brenda de Banzie
|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|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||Varies||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
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.
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.
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.
|Surround Channel Use|
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515, using S-Video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|