Friday, February 20, 2015

"The Man Who Knew Too Much" (two films): Hitchcock uses music skillfully to make a point very relevant to today's crisis


Not often is a major symphonic work composed for a movie and its climax worked into the plot, but Alfred Hitchcock accomplished this with Australian composer Arthur Benjamin and his “Storm Clouds Cantata”, for both versions of the classic and now very pertinent mystery “The Mann Who Knew Too Much”.

I’ve seen the 1956 film on television before, and will return to it on my Wordpress blog. But tonight I watched the Netflix disk of the 1934 film, in grainy black and white.
  
  
Leslie Banks and Edna Best play Bob and Jill Lawrence, on a ski vacation in Switzerland.  Jill loses a clay pigeon shooting contest to a stranger Abbott (Peter Lorre) after being contacted by a stranger Louis (Pierre Fresnay).  Jill is dancing with Louis when he slumps over, from a bullet through the window (eerily reminding one now of Copenhagen).  He gives her a note of an assassination plot against a head of state to happen at a concert in London.  But then their daughter is kidnapped, to keep the couple silent. 
  
The plot line is well known for showing how an ordinary person or couple can be accidentally caught up and become a pawn in a foreign struggle. But the couple had not sought attention.  Since Bob has a family to protect, he feels he cannot cooperate with police, the goon idea usually known in Mafia movies later.
  
The villains have a bizarre religious cult, which again could be compared to Waco or to Jonestown, or even ISIS. 
  
During the concert, which occurs about an hour into the film, Jill deflects the assassination at the moment of climax of the music.  The movie denouement leads to a tremendous shootout in primitive London streets, before the villain kills himself when cornered.  It sounds too familiar by today’s headlines.  But maybe living as a “know it all” can be dangerous.
   
The film has some memorable lines, such as one about not having children.  There is a curious scene with an electric train, that looks like the Mars train I had as a boy, but running on an elevated track.  Later, Abbott takes on a disguise by going to the dentist, strangling and then masking him with laughing gas, a scene that reminds one of “The Clutching Hand” (which ran on “Movies for Kids” in the 1950s) and even the first “The Little Shop of Horrors” movie with the scene of the masochist and sadist.


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