Bob Lawrence (Leslie Banks) and his wife, Jill (Edna Best) are vacationing with their daughter, Betty, in what appears to be the Swiss Alps. Why only "appears"? Well, watch this opening scene and tell me how much of it you believe:
That sure is a...um...convincing ski accident, Hitch. And by "convincing," I of course mean "insultingly idiotic." How old is that girl supposed to be? I think you learn at a pretty young age to not put your life and the lives of others in danger and then laugh about it. I am not one to advocate child abuse, but if there is an argument for it, Betty could be it.
Anyway, that scene shows the Lawrences laughing it up with Mr. Can't Ski, AKA Louis (Pierre Fresnay) and sharing a few laughs with the sinister (not in this scene, though) Abbott (Peter Lorre). Not long after the skiing accident, Jill and Louis are sharing a dance when he is assassinated by a sniper's bullet. With his dying words, he urges Jill to find an important secret in his room, and pass it on to the British consulate. Naturally, since Jill is a delicate woman (who is a champion skeet shooter...?), Bob takes over. In Louis' bedroom, he finds a shaving brush, and inside that brush --- apparently he had the Rambo survival knife of brushes --- there is a note.
|Of course! This explains...um...nothing?|
|"We'll consider it. Don't call us, we'll call you. Maybe."|
Hitchcock movies are not particularly famous for having great acting parts; he's a master director, and the plot usually supersedes the actors involved. Such is the case with The Man Who Knew Too Much. I found Edna Best to be fairly vapid in the lead female role. Hitchcock generally had pretty strong female parts in his films, but Best appeared genuinely helpless, even when she was taking action.
|Her lines are written on her palm|
|"Well...I'm only mostly evil."|
In all fairness, the cast wasn't working with much. The script is not very clever and many parts of it are just stupid (like the ski jump scene or the chair-throwing battle). Alfred Hitchcock's direction --- which I assumed would be great --- is shockingly poor. It's not awful, just mediocre, which is "shockingly poor" for a master. I thought the story was edited together (and written) poorly; this is a bit of a mess from a plot standpoint. I'm still not entirely sure what was going on here --- I think the Lawrence child was kidnapped to prevent the Lawrence parents from showing the police a note that would lead them to...a dentist? That can't be right. Hitchcock does show flashes of his future brilliance, with many of Lorre's scenes being filmed impeccably and some of the transitions between scenes were inspired, but there is just too much mediocrity in this film --- acting, script, plot, and occasional stupidity --- to give him a pass. I was very surprised when I realized that I didn't like this movie. Normally, I can enjoy a Hitchcock film because the story is entertaining. In this instance, I'm still not sure when Bob becomes a Man Who Knows Too Much; for most of the film, he appears to be half-cocked and mostly clueless. I also thought some of the story elements were handled clumsily; was there really a doubt how the film would end when Jill's skeet-shooting nemesis turns out to be a bad guy? My biggest complaint is that this is a suspense/thriller movie with neither suspense nor thrills. The story is too incoherent to effectively build tension, despite nearly non-stop action. Is this Alfred Hitchcock's dumb action movie? I think it is. No wonder he wanted a second crack at this one.