Movie review: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

This 1956 film is a remake of a 1934 version of the same name. The interesting bit is that the director is the same person: Alfred Hitchcock. The broad strokes of the plot are the same but particulars are modified. British couple with a daughter morphs into an American couple with a son.

Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day star in the 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. After attending a medical conference in Europe, the McKennas decide to take a quick trip to Morocco, where they encounter the mysterious Louis Bernhard. Jo is instantly suspicious of him and all of his questions about them. Ben is a much more trusting Midwestern. Until things go south.

The McKennas are befriended by another travelling couple who end up being the suspicious married couple that Bernhard was on the lookout for. Bernhard is chased through a marketplace and ultimately dies in Ben’s arms from a knife in his back. But before dying, he gives Ben a few final words about a planned assassination of a diplomat in London.

Ben and Jo are hauled away by the police for questioning. The man of the couple who befriended them goes with them to the police station. The woman offers to take their son Hank back to the hotel. Only she never makes it back to the hotel with Hank.

At the police station, Ben receives a threatening call, telling him that if he tells the police what he heard, his son would die.

Not only has the woman disappeared with Hank, but so has the woman’s “husband”. Ben and Jo then embark on a trip to London that leads to meeting with Scotland Yard, thwarting an assassination attempt, and singing what became Doris Day’s signature song—Que Sera, Sera—at an embassy.

The film is slow-moving, not what I would consider one of Hitchcock’s best suspense movies. It is an interesting snapshot into the 1950s about culturally ignorant Americans travelling abroad and male-female relations in the US.

The movie shows some aspects of Morocco that are different from the US, such as the importance of women being veiled, the use of hand driven sewing machines in the marketplace, typical transportation being by bus or horse-drawn wagon, eating with the right hand and not the left. The McKennas are a bit ignorant of these things and either are amazed by them or violate taboos.

True to the 1950s, men are everywhere in position of authority or employment. Women, except for the female criminal, are window-dressing. But even our female nemesis succumbs to emotionality, helping Hank escape rather than be killed. Men know best and make all-important decisions. Ben, as the doctor (aka voice of authority), insists that Jo down some tranquilizers before he gives her the bad news that their son has been kidnapped and is in danger. She is reminded that she has a history of emotionality and can’t hold it together. Ben is the calm, cool, rationale one. You know, he is the man. Ah, the 1950s.

Ben takes off, looking for the person that Louis Bernhard mentioned to him. It was refreshing when Jo figured out that the name in the message from Louis Bernhard was a place, not a person. And off she goes in pursuit without waiting for Ben. Nice to see a little intelligence and spunk in the female lead.

Another nice bit in the movie was the moral dilemma that Jo faced. When she sees the person to be assassinated and the killer, she chose to help prevent the murder, even though doing so might have cost the life of her son. Ben then joins in the decision by hunting down the killer in the concert hall. To save another at the risk of losing your son? That decision could haunt you for the rest of your life. Which decision would you make?

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