We should soon be seeing the results of the British Film Institute’s major fund (and publicity) raising drive to restore the nine surviving silent films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. If the quality of Criterion’s new release of the 1934 “The Man Who Knew Too Much” is any indication, we should be in for some major revelations. A film that spent many years in the public domain, subjected to all kinds of mistreatment by budget DVD labels, “The Man Who Knew Too Much” now looks far less like a battered relic and more like the movie Hitchcock actually made. One of several films in which Hitchcock examined the inner workings of a marriage — with infinitely more insight and honesty than Sacha Gervasi’s deplorable Oscar bid, “Hitchcock” — it was also Hitchcock’s first venture into the international intrigue genre, a form he would perfect with “The 39 Steps” a year later. Most conspicuously, it is the only film of his that Hitchcock felt moved to remake, and the 1956 version with Doris Day and James Stewart does indeed correct some of the structural flaws of the 1934 film while considerably advancing its analysis of the couple.
I lay out of few lines of comparison in my column this week for the New York Times, which also includes a look at one of my favorite actress’s slow progress toward stardom as reflected in “Carole Lombard: In the Thirties,” a new three film set from the Turner Classic Movies Vault Collection that includes Walter Lang’s “No More Orchids” (1932) and two films by the forgotten David Burton, “Brief Moment” (1933) and “Lady by Choice” (1934).