Tuesday, August 08, 2017

How Much

TCM showed a whole bunch of Hitchcock films last month.  This gave me the change to catch both versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much--1934 and 1956--neither of which I'd seen in years.

When Hitchcock came to Hollywood from Britain, a lot of critics said he lost his spirit.  Later, though, auteurism took over film criticism, and Hitchcock was raised to the highest level, and critics now saw that most of his masterpieces were made in America.  Hitchcock himself said the different between his early work and his Hollywood movies was the difference between a talented amateur and a professional.

I've always considered him a great entertainer and true craftsman.  But his films tend to be artificial, with very obvious, if often delightful, effects.  And the truth is neither version of The Man Who Knew Too Much is great.

Part of it is the story.  I suppose a child being kidnaped while the couple can't talk to the police about it could work, but in both films, it's awkward.  The officials know what's going on, but nothing is being done.  And the parents go on weird adventures (I know Hitch regularly puts normal people in extraordinary situations, but it's just strange how he plays it here) which don't quite make sense.

Of the two, the first is more fun.  For one thing, it really moves--it's 75 minutes long.  The set-up, as mentioned, is awkward, but once it gets going--with the protagonist acts like a dentist to get information, and later pretends to be part of a cult--really pay off.  But after the (good but overpraised) Albert Hall sequence, the mystery is over and the film concludes with a lot of ungainly action.

The Hollywood film is two hours long.  I don't mind a film taking its time, but this takes too much time.  It also has lavish sets, is short in color, and features big Hollywood stars, Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day, who are charming, but I wouldn't say at their best.

It starts with a fair amount of domestic comedy and ominous foreboding, though neither work that well.  Finally there's some action, with a murder and then the kidnaping.

Once again, it doesn't really make too much sense how it's played.  Maybe if the story were moving better I wouldn't care so much.

Instead of the dentist scene, there's a taxidermy scene, which isn't that great (some Hitch fans love it, of course) and is a dead end.  Then you get the church scene, which isn't quite as good as in the first film.  Though the Albert Hall stuff is probably better than in the original, and the ending at the embassy, even though it's also awkward, works better than the violent ending of the original.

Hitchcock was capable of superior entertainment, as long as everything was working right. For instance, of his British films, there's The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes, and in Hollywood, Strangers On A Train and North By Northwest.  But when it comes to TMWKTM, he missed the boat twice.


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