A family vacation in St Moritz turns terribly awful for Jill Lawrence (Edna Best) and her husband Bob (Leslie Banks) when their teenage daughter Betty (Nova Philbeam) is kidnapped by a group of criminals, led by the slimy Abbott (Peter Lorre), after they unwittingly uncover a plot to murder a European head of state. Forced not to reveal anything to the authorities, lest their daughter is killed, Bob and Jill turn amateur sleuth to hunt the kidnappers down. But when Bob discovers their hideout back in London, he puts his own life on the line to rescue Betty.
Lord High Minister of Everything Sinister!
This is the original classic version of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, which he remade in 1956, starring Peter Lorre in his first English language film. It may lack the polish of the James Stewart/Doris Day version, but Lorre’s splendidly malevolent turn as the beaming chain-smoking bad guy steals the show, while Hitchcock’s ability to create suspense from the most mundane of settings is best illustrated by the film’s memorable dental sequence. The film’s climax, meanwhile, practically re-stages the real-life Siege of Sidney Street that took place in Stepney on 3 January 1911.
Playing the Nick and Nora Charles-styled London couple are Leslie Banks and Edna Best. Cult film fans will recognise Leslie Banks for his role as the villainous Count Zaroff in the classic Joel McCrae/Fay Wray 1932 horror The Most Dangerous Game, while Edna Best also appeared in 1947’s supernatural romance The Ghost and Mrs Muir. Juvenile actress Nova Pilbeam would next appear (all grown up) as the lead in Hitchcock’s 1937 romantic thriller Young and Innocent. The film’s writer Charles Bennett, who wrote all of Hitchcock’s pre-war films, later adapted MR James’ Casting of the Runes into the celebrated 1957 British horror Night of the Demon.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
The Man Who Knew Too Much is available on Blu-ray in the UK as part Network’s The British Film collection, and is featured in a brand-new High Definition transfer from the original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. The special features include an introduction from film historian Charles Barr; Aquarius: Alfred the Great, a BBC TV 1972 interview with the director on location while making Frenzy (this is great btw); and an image gallery. These were also included on Network’s 2008 DVD release. A US Blu-ray version was brought out by the Criterion Collection in 2013.
• Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1930s features Young and Innocent (1937) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) are also available on Blu-ray from Network Distributing from 19 January. Click on the links for more information.