THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, Alfred Hitchcock’s 18th go at directing, came out in 1934 in England, a year later in the States (six more pictures and he would move across the Atlantic). More famously remade 22 years later, in color, on location, with bigger stars, this oldie is still amusing, if a bit creaky. It did give the strange, rather kinky Peter Lorre (at once appealing and repulsive) his first English-language part. *
On a sporting vacation in Switzerland, a British couple (Leslie Banks, Edna Best) discover a murder plot and as a result have their child kidnapped. They follow the criminals (a cultish lot) to London and end up tackling them, with a spot of help from the local coppers.
“Perhaps those who may be among us tonight for the first time and who have not yet come initiated into the mysteries of the first circle of the seventh old ray, may be wondering what is going to happen now. I would tell them, before proceeding to the mysteries, which are only for the initiate, it is of course necessary for the minds and souls of us all to become purged and to be made clean.”
Some nifty camera moves accentuate the tension, although the archaic acting from the leads and most of the supporting players makes pretty stiff going. A swell piece of music figures in one key scene in Albert Hall—a cantata written by Arthur Benjamin. The concluding shootout is clumsy and unconvincing, but there is an offbeat battle royale beforehand with the combatants using flung chairs and tables to batter each other with. Best aspects are the sly and easy scene-stealing from Lorre as the polite, chuckling nutcase in charge of the bad guys, and the chilled belfry dwelling of Cicely Oates as the creepy fanatic ‘Nurse Agnes’.
Shot economically for £40,000, quite roughly $3,646,000 today, it runs a 75 fast minutes, with Hugh Wakefield, Nova Pilbeam and Frank Vosper.
* With 15 German films under his belt, the 30-year old Hungarian ex-pat learned his lines phonetically. His light touch on the villainy set a standard for future Hitchcockian cultivated ne’er-do- wells. The day after filming concluded, Lorre and his first wife, actress Celia Lovsky, boarded a Cunard liner, bound for the New World and 68 film roles (plus 46 TV episodes). English actress Cicely Oates died a few months after this film came out, just 45.