Alfred Hitchcock is one of my all-time favorite directors and I think that few scenes in his oeuvre of brilliant set pieces can compare with the Royal Albert Hall scene from The Man Who Knew Too Much. While that scene may be more polished, better edited, and even more suspenseful in Hitchcock’s masterful 1956 remake, special attention must be given to the 1934 original for doing it first.
1934’s The Man Who Knew Too Much feels very much like a film ahead of its time; a testament to Hitchcock’s abilities as a director. At a time when early talkies were often stodgy, plodding affairs, The Man Who Knew Too Much moves at a nearly breakneck pace. Barely twenty minutes have passed and all of the plot points have been introduced and set the stage for the rest of the film. In some respects, this is the film which truly defined the style with which Hitchcock would become forever associated during the remainder of his incredible career. It has all of his usual hallmarks: an ordinary set of characters in the most unordinary of circumstances, danger, intrigue, a memorable villain (played by Peter Lorre in his English film debut), set-pieces played out against real-life landmarks, a tense climax, and a vein of pitch black humor woven through it all.
Hitchcock obviously took a liking to this film deciding to do it again in 1956 with James Stewart and Doris Day. While the remake is the superior film, the original Man Who Knew Too Much shows what “the talented amateur” had in store. Without this film, it’s unlikely that we would have The 39 Steps, Saboteur, North by Northwest, and Frenzy. The Man Who Knew Too Much is, perhaps, not Hitchcock’s finest hour, but surely one of his most important.