***½/**** Image A Sound B Extras A+
starring Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Nova Pilbeam
screenplay by Charles Bennett, D.B. Wyndham-Lewis, Edwin Greenwood and A.R. Rawlinson
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
by Walter Chaw The first fascination of Alfred Hitchcock's original The Man Who Knew Too Much is that when a dashing foreign agent (Pierre Fresnay) is shot just minutes into the film, it's Jill (Edna Best), the wife in the heroic central couple, who's privy to his last words. They're dancing together in the middle of a ballroom that feels like a glass cage (naturally) when the dastardly deed is done, a married English woman on holiday with husband Bob (Leslie Banks) and daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam), who look on approvingly. When Hitchcock remakes this movie 22 years later with Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart, he has Ugly American Jimmy (the one privy to the dying man's last words) drug his hysterical wife in the first of many instances of Hitchcock undermining Stewart's status as everyone's favourite Yank. 1934's The Man Who Knew too Much, like so much of Hitchcock's British output (this is the first of his six films for Gaumont), remains current for scholars looking for tropes, images, sequences that prefigure his later work. The premature demise of what would have traditionally been the star of the picture (poor, dead Louis, also a champion ski-jumper) prefigures Psycho, of course, while the glass cages recur everywhere from Young and Innocent (which likewise features the musical plot point of this film) to Notorious to Hitch's collaborations with Tippi Hedren. A gaze at the 34-minute mark through wrought-iron gates predicts the moment of discovery in Strangers on a Train, followed fast by a deliciously uncomfortable dentist sequence I'm surprised Hitch never came back to. Leave that, I suppose, to William Goldman and Marathon Man.