As with many Alfred Hitchcock movies, elements of The Man Who Knew Too Much are ahead of it’s time. For starters it’s a loose remake, something which was fairly uncommon back in the 1950s (unlike today). Second of all, it had an everyman hero, not someone who was a spy, trained or prepared for their experiences but a hero who could be anyone and everyone of us.
To play this everyman Hitchcock used the perfect actor. James Stewart is not an action hero. He isn’t a hard man but someone you could imagine having a drink with or being friends with your Dad. In fact, it is his family-man status which made him such a perfect character, looking out for his family and being brought to the edge to get them back.
This is what also makes the story so compelling. It isn’t a spy versus a villain but a man who just wants to help his kidnapped child. As the title suggests, it plays on the idea of a man who is in over his head. That is quite common nowadays and movies like Taken made it super successful but back in the 1950s, this kind of thriller was rare.
It is a thriller too. There are plenty of moments of intrigue, where Stewart is literally fighting his way through mobs or having to do legitimate detective work to get himself the answers he needs and the location of his family.
He is ably supported in this too. To add to the desperation and the idea of the ordinary person doing the extraordinary, Doris Day plays Stewart’s wife, also embroiled in the plot. The plot itself is a simple one and there is a great set-piece at the Albert Hall involving the orchestra and a well-timed symbol-crash. It is typical and well-staged Hitchcock, something he would go on to be recognised and known for.
Even smaller aspects of the plot play bigger roles later in the movie, a certain song made famous by Doris Day helping along the rescue plot to end the movie. Unfortunately, with many other Hitchcock films, the ending is the weakest part, being quite abrupt and quite random after the well-written and directed plot which precedes it.
Overall, The Man Who Knew Too Much is typical Hitchcock, which isn’t a complaint. It is a well constructed, focused story which throws everyman James Stewart at the forefront successfully. Some of the set-pieces are tense with a clever concept but as always, the ending doesn’t do the movie any real justice.
Rating – 4.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)