Too Much, Too Soon

no more orchids lc 2 small

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).

51 comments to Too Much, Too Soon

  • nicolas saada

    It is still a common cliche in France to state that the films directed by Hitchcock in the uSa were superior to his British ones. It show how little attention was brought to such ge’s as SABOTAGE or SECRET AGENT. THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is also fascinating. Hitchcock already had full contriol of his art in 1934: at the heart of his English films, there is a beautiful mastering of details and scenes that will progressiveoy disappear as Hitchock films become mo and more abstract.

  • Barry Putterman

    I’ve always felt that there was a good number of actresses who had become established as leading ladies at the beginning of the sound era, but whose distinct personalities did not register forcefully until the establishment of the Production Code. Along with Carole Lombard, I would include Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy and Jean Arthur in this group. And their personalities were quite different from such stars of the pre Code era as Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak and Nancy Carroll who became less prominent after the Code had its effect. This is not a qualitative distinction, but rather a stylistic difference between the kinds of films and characters that were popular in the two periods.

    By the way Dave, a minor glitch here. You correctly named David Burton as the director of the two Lombard films in the Times piece, but he is David Howard in the above paragraph. Howard was the the director, most notably, of George O’Brien’s 1930s westerns. Both Davids directoral career ended in 1941 (Howard’s due to death) and neither has been given much examination since.

  • Thanks for spotting the Howard/Burton slip, Barry. I’ll correct it.
    Do you have a theory about how the Production Code brought out the best in Lombard and the others? I appreciate your point, but technically “Twentieth Century” is pre-code, having been released on May 3, 1934 — just under the wire. The Production Code seal first appears on John Ford’s “The World Moves On,” released on June 28, 1934. Likewise, “It Happened One Night” and Claudette Colbert (Feb. 23, 1934) and “The Thin Man” and Myrna Loy (May 25, 1934).

  • I love Carole Lombard, she’s magnificent, both in comedy and in tragedy. Beside her well-known films, there are two films by Mitchell Leisen that are not to be missed, HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE and SWING HIGH, SWING LOW. Two of four films she made with Fred MacMurray, the others are THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS and TRUE CONFESSIONS (In PRINCESS COMES ACROSS she plays a actress who pretends to be a Princess Olga from Sweden, modelled on Garbo). They’re not as good, but worth checking out.

    But her film with Hitchcock is a film I cannot bring myself to like, not sure why. But 1930s Hitch are great. THE LADY VANISHES is one of my absolute favourites, and I have a very soft spot for YOUNG AND INNOCENT (aka THE GIRL WAS YOUNG). THE 39 STEPS is a 90 min precursor to NORTH BY NORTHWEST and I prefer it actually. EAST OF SHANGHAI (aka RICH AND STRANGE) is indeed a bit strange but I like it too. SABOTAGE (aka A WOMAN ALONE), based on Conrad’s SECRET AGENT, is very intense and an early example of Hitch’s reflexivity, as it is set in a cinema. In an important scene the heroine (Sylvia Sidney, the actress with the saddest eye in movie history) watch the cartoon WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN after she has got the news that her little brother has been killed. MURDER! is also very good. Well, they’re almost all wonderful, as well as being very inventive and thrilling. And although they have a charm that few of his American films have, there’s also a cruelty and unexpectedness to them. And some show the importance of Murnau and German expressionism on Hitchcock.

    The 1930s titles though are confusing, primarily the fact that his version of Conrad’s SECRET AGENT is called SABOTAGE whereas his version of Somerset Maugham’s ASHENDEN is called SECRET AGENT. (Also with Peter Lorre by the way.)

    I just looked over the latest discussions. I like that Will Hay got some appreciation. I’m a fan of his films, and I’m pleased that Gregg name-dropped his two partners Moffatt and Marriot. OH, MR PORTER! is a treat indeed. Many future writers and directors worked on these films. Frank Launder, Val Guest, Basil Dearden, and Ealing-writers John Dighton and Angus MacPhail among them. To neatly tie everything together, MacPhail also worked with Hitchcock on several films, such as THE WRONG MAN, SPELLBOUND, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and the war-time shorts.

  • Barry Putterman

    Not a full theory at this point. But it has to do with need for indirection and metaphor in the expression of desire that the Code created. I think that it was the actresses who could embody irony as opposed to cynicism regarding the battle of the sexes who thrived in the post Code world.

    THE THIN MAN and IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT may technically be pre Code films, but they more or less set the template for what the post Code world would be like. After all, it isn’t as though everybody didn’t know that the Code enforcement was on its way and that adjustments would have to be made. I don’t think that Hollywood threw a switch on June 28, 1934 and suddenly the world moved on.

    Anyway, I think that it is a good topic for a general discussion. And an interesting starting point might be Barbara Stanwyck who, for me, was equally effective in both the pre and post Code worlds.

  • What about Jean Harlow from this code perspective? I agree about Barbara Stanwyck being great on both sides, but then she could do anything.

  • skelly

    Then there’s the case of Loretta Young who saw her career thrive post-code (the characters she played became as wholesome as her real world self) – but, to me at least and subject to a few key exceptions, it’s only her pre-code work that remains interesting.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Ginger Rogers would be another actress who was as good post as pre code.

    Jean Harlow to me belongs to the pre code era, I think she was at her very best in RED HEADED WOMAN.

  • Barry Putterman

    Fredrik, tragically Jean Harlow did not make enough post Code films for us to know whether she would have continued as a major figure in the post Code world from my perspective. If I can bring myself to face it again some day, WIFE VS. SECRETERY might be an interesting test case in that regard.

  • Yes, she didn’t last very long but there at least a handful of titles after the code appeared. I’ll have a look at them again, when there’s time…

  • jbryant

    Am I going blind, or is there no link to Dave’s column in the above post?

  • Tony Williams

    Jerry, No, you are not.

  • To paraphrase William Beaudine, you mean someone’s actually reading this stuff?

  • alex

    Great comparison of 2 MWKTMs on all criteria – international picaresque, marriage under tension ( and moral seriousness Re Tarantino) .

    Still, “multi- locale picaresque thriller” would also encompass SABOTEUR and NBNW — and the use of marriage in US MWKTM gains power pitting 50s family against Cold War evils.

  • David Cohen

    One could also raise the larger question of why there were so many fabulous comedic actresses in the 1930s compared to just about any other (or perhaps all other) decades of American film.

  • Brian Dauth

    As I started reading the comments, the first actress that came to mind as being great both pre- and post-code was Barbara Stanwyck, and presto!, she appears in the next posts. I think Barry nails it when he speaks of indirection. BABY FACE is about as direct as you can get, while THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS is indirection sublime. But in both cases, the films luxuriate in their chosen path which is what makes them so pleasurable. (You can also think of Cukor’s OUT BETTERS vs. his later HOLIDAY as demonstrating his having traversed the span from directness to indirection)

  • Gregg Rickman

    Brian, OUR BETTERS is actually a pretty good movie. OUT BETTERS would however have been an even better title in Cukor’s filmography.

  • Tony Williams

    Dave K, Your term “this stuff” ironically echoes the words of a past Chair of my department who called me an “elitist” (?) because I championed the value of teaching Howard Hawks to students. “They don’t want to see this stuff!” Instead, his idea of film was screening masterpieces like “Wayne’s World” and “Spice World” in a class titled “Irony in the Public Sphere” designed to promote his “democratic” feelings against classical cinema and his contempt for old movies.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well isn’t that one of the central paradoxes of our American national character? On the one hand we are strivers, determined to be winners, champions, # 1. On the other we are obsessed with being “of the people;” in mortal fear of being snobs, aristocrats, “elitists.”

    Speaking of Irony in the Public Sphere, if it is so important that the students be democratic, why are they going to college in the first place?

    In any event, as a long time Baltimore football fan, I take pride in associating myself with the elitists who won the Super Bowl.

  • Alex Hicks

    “It is still a common cliche in France to state that the films directed by Hitchcock in the uSa were superior to his British ones. It show how little attention was brought to such ge’s as SABOTAGE or SECRET AGENT. THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is also fascinating. Hitchcock already had full contriol of his art in 1934: at the heart of his English films, there is a beautiful mastering of details and scenes that will progressively disappear as Hitchock films become mo and more abstract.”

    nicolas saada,

    Good points, especially for pinpointing the “mastering of details and scenes” in UK Hitchcock (though I don’t think Hitchcok’s mastery of “scenes” does anything but improve through as late as MARNIE.) However, if detail means socio cultural and psuchological detail of the sort associated with realism, I d say that the transition away from such detail toward abstraction in Hitchcock never really begins until somewhere in the 1950s (as with the rather stylized fantasy OF TROUBLE WITH HARRY, the modernism of REAR WINDOW and VERTIGO and the shere narrartive playfulness of NxNW). Hitchcock’s realist detail possibly peaks with such U.S. productions as SHADOW OF A DOUBT and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN — quite as masterful as Americana as, say, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE or IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. (See, e.g., Freedman et al.’s “Hitchock’s America”).

  • “It is still a common cliche in France to state that the films directed by Hitchcock in the uSa were superior to his British ones.”

    Very interesting nicolas. It was a common cliche in the USA that Hitchcock’s British pictures were superior to his Hollywood films. As late as 1966 Hitchcock was catering to that cliche in interviews with American journalists (while at the same time he agreed with Ian Cameron who interviewed him for “Movie” that the Hollywood pictures were better.) In 1961 Ezra Goodman in “The 50 Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood” described the Hollywood pictures as “relatively flabby” in comparison with the British pictures.

    I don’t think the turn around was complete in the US until the early 1980s when “Rope” and the 4 Paramount films were re-released.

    I suppose that at the present Hitchcock’s reputation is at an all time high, given the exalted status of “Vertigo” and two bio pics. Of course sooner or later there will be back lash, perhaps taking the form of championing the British movies at the expense of the Hollywood movies.

    By the way, I watched “F3080″ aka “A Memory of the Camps” on Holocaust Memorial Day and read an interesting account of the production at a Sephardic website. Hitchcock gave detailed instructions to the cameraman who was interviewed for the article, and then viewed hours of footage in London for a couple of weeks. Apparently he assembled a rough cut before the project was canceled.

    The extant version is 53 minutes long and has a voice over narration by Trevor Howard recorded in 1982 or 83.

  • Shawn Stone

    X- As late as 1967, in Sidney Lumet’s BYE BYE BRAVERMAN, the characters still voiced this attitude toward Hitchcock. Jack Warden’s character says something to the effect, “one of the good ones, like THE LADY VANISHES.”

    (Though I also prefer the ’34 MWKTM to the remake.)

  • Brian Dauth

    Barry: I like OUT BETTERS too for Cukor’s filmography LOL. The last time I watched OUR BETTERS was during TCM’s Constance Bennett retro and following it was a later film (might have been LAW OF THE TROPICS), and what struck me was how quickly what I experienced as the freedom/unclutteredness of OUR BETTERS became the clutteredness of the subsequent film. Lately, I have become fonder and fonder of early talkies which seem “freer” (and it may be just because the technology of sound film was less advanced at the time) than subsequent films when the density of spectacle seems to take a more prominent role. Another early sound film I just saw — TAXI! with Loretta Young and Jimmy Cagney — had that same sense of freedom – as if the grammars of sound film were still being worked out and had not yet solidified/congealed into routine.

  • David Cohen

    When we were discussing Hitchcock’s British movies, I assume we are talking about his films from the 1930s, particularly from 1934 to 1938?
    The melodramas from the 1920s all seem to me to have some good Hitchcock touches but really aren’t particularly pleasing to watch.

  • Barry Putterman

    Brian, it was Gregg who made the point about the rather clever OUT/OUR situation.

    I think that is an interesting point about the period of sound film where the stiffness of much of the early sound era has been overcome and the assurance about how to use the grammar hasn’t yet become second nature. I hope that you are planning multiple trips to Film Forum for the 1933 series which begins Friday.

  • Robert Garrick

    Regarding the debate about Hitchcock’s British versus American output:

    Robin Wood, who wrote of Hitchcock’s unparalleled “string of masterpieces” starting with “Vertigo” (1958) and ending with “Marnie” (1964), would certainly weigh in on the Hollywood side. So would Andrew Sarris, whose list of Hitchcock’s best films (starting with “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Notorious”) included none of the British titles.

    I’m with Wood and Sarris here, and I don’t consider it a tough call. It’s important to remember that back in the 1960s, the establishment view was that all British films were superior to American ones.

  • Tony Williams

    Robert, The problem is here is that in the final edition of HITCHCOCK’S FILMS REVISITED Robin was beginning to change his mind about the British films to the extent of including BLACKMAIL, YOUNG AND INNOCENT and THE 39 STEPS in the content. He also expressed a debt to Charles Barr whose ENGLISH HITCHCOCK was beginning to result in a sea-change very much like Andrew Sarris with Billy Wilder. The problem with many of these British films has been poor quality copies remedied with the Criterion 39 STEPS and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), soon to be followed by the BFI collection of Silent Hitchcock

  • Robert Garrick

    The greatness of the British Hitchcocks has never been in question; we’re only discussing degrees here. Wood isn’t around to talk about this anymore but I’d be really surprised to see him rank any of the earlier films ahead of the five “masterpieces.” Sarris certainly held all of the British films in high regard, as can be confirmed with a look to the back of “The American Cinema,” but he thought Hitchcock grew as an artist, at least through “Marnie.”

    After Hitchcock became a star (roughly, post-1960), he was often asked to name his favorite film, and he always named an American one (though the title would change from time to time). For a while his favorite was “Shadow of a Doubt,” then it was “The Wrong Man,” then it was “The Trouble With Harry.”

    The whole Oxbridge “Movie” movement was largely a response to the “good taste” criticism that prevailed well into the 1960s, but while American critics were honoring British films (mainly by Carol Reed, David Lean, and a few others) for their literary qualities and tastefulness, they were woefully ignorant of British cinema in general. Again, this is an area where William K. Everson was indispensable, for those of us who were lucky enough to be around him. Everson knew everything about British film–I can’t think of another major critic living in America about whom that would have been true–and to him the British cinema was a fully nuanced whole, with dozens of interesting directors. Many of the important titles are still largely unknown, except to a few experts, and they are rarely shown in the United States.

  • Tony Williams

    Robert, The British films Bill Everson spoke of are bwecoming available on DVD in the UK especially many titles listed in Steve chibnall’s “The British B Film”. Others till remain unavailble such as TEMPTATION HARBOUR directed by Lance Comfort with Robert Newton, Simone Simon, and William Hartnell based on a Georges Simenon novel. A copy is in the National Film archive but I think copyright issues related to the Simenon Estate have so far prevented this interesting British film noir seeing the light of day.

  • Patrick Henry

    I couldn’t helo thinking that the rumor or speculation that Beyonce slyly performed the secret hand signal of The Illuminati at the Superbowl is something that could have served at the springboard for a Hitchcock movie. (And the power outage would naturally be part of the plot!)

  • Alex Hicks

    Id very much agree with Garrick’s case for, and conclusion of, Hitchcock’s higher U.S. than U.K. peaks. But Hitchcock is unique: Take away all the U.S. films and I still think we have a Pantheon director. I don’t think there’s another director from whom one could away his twenty, or even ten, best years and have one of the dozen or so greatest directors ever –not Renoir (who’d need his 1930s), not Ford (who, for me, would need 1946-1956), not Bunuel (If anyone, maybe Ozu who seems to me on a very high plateau close to his peaks from 1930 onward, or Bunuel who soars from at least 1950 well into the 1970s).

  • According to David Bordwell, and he should know, Ozu was being hailed as one of Japan’s greatest directors as early as 1938. (As was Sadao Yamanaka, who died at the Chinese front that very year.)

  • Brian Dauth

    Gregg: I am so sorry for the misattribution of your great comment. Please forgive me.

    Barry: Your notion of grammar not having yet become second nature is exactly the idea I was looking for, but did not find. Maybe an auteur is an artist whose mise en scene never feels produced by artistic recourse to “second nature” — the art work is assured, but a spectator feels an element of daring involved as well. Also, I will be definitely at Film Forum for 1933 — I am especially looking forward to the Leisen movie.

  • Steve elworth

    One of the interesting extras of the new disc of TMWKTM is an interview from 1972 around the time of the release of Frenzy of Hitchcock interviewed by Bill Everson, about AJH’s British films including Number 17 and Hitchcock’s experiences in Germany in the 1920s.

  • Jean Denis

    I don’t want to encourage a futile exercise in ranking, and I very much like BLACKMAIL, THE 39 STEPS, SABOTAGE, and THE LADY VANISHES, but I don’t at all agree that Hitchcock’s British films alone would put him amongst the dozen or so greatest directors, or for that matter that his British work exceeds Renoir’s post-30s output (e.g. THE RIVER, FRENCH CANCAN), much less Ford’s pre-1946/post-1956 output (PILGRAMAGE, STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND, YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, STAGECOACH, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, etc.) And I’d certainly take the lesser American half of Lang’s career over the lesser British half of Hitchcock’s. Perhaps a closer comparison is pre-1948 Ophuls – that is, everything preceding LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN.

  • Brian, no problem, but I think Barry must be amused that he’s automatically credited with the humor around here.

    Rather than think of two Hitchcocks I like to think of just one, who deployed the same themes across two countries and several decades. Thus, to pick an example mentioned by Dave, the grisly marriages of RICH AND STRANGE and FRENZY. Moreover the evolution and changes in Sir Alfred may well have taken place in whatever country he worked in, simply as he matured as an artist.

  • Barry Putterman

    Yes Gregg, I claim all humor on this blog as my intellectual property.

    And I couldn’t agree more with your Hitchcock comments. The entire philosophic thrust of auteurism is to view careers as organic wholes. Individual films and particular periods are certainly more or less satisfying to each viewer, but as Susan Alexander could certainly tell us, you can’t fully understand the jigsaw puzzle without fitting all of the pieces together.

    Futile exercises in ranking (I’m considering claiming that excellent phrase as my intellectual property as well Jean Denis), which for me would include canons, Halls of Fame, 10 Best Lists and other forms of arbitrary judgment passing, seem to me to be more about the viewer’s personal expression than the artist’s.

  • Robert Garrick

    Jean Denis is exactly right, though I can’t confirm the Ophuls comparison because I haven’t seen enough of Max’s early work.

    By 1941 John Ford was easily the most respected American director, with three Oscars for Best Director already (he would win a record fourth one for “The Quiet Man” in 1952) and with his own “string of masterpieces” underway, starting with “Stagecoach” in 1939, and ending with “How Green Was My Valley” in 1941. Then, like Ted Williams, Ford walked away from his career at its peak to join the war effort.

    Andrew Sarris has noted that the Academy might actually have been right (for once) when it gave “How Green Was My Valley” the Best Picture Oscar in 1941, over “Citizen Kane.” (Sarris does, though, rank “Kane” higher than “Valley” in the back pages of “The American Cinema.”)

    Anyway, by 1941 there was no question of Ford’s (or Lang’s) Pantheon worthiness. Hitchcock probably gets into the Pantheon by 1941 too, but in my opinion his eight or nine greatest films were still to come.

    Jean Denis is also right to warn against a “futile exercise in ranking.” We should be talking about the early Hitchcocks here; they’re great enough and they’re not discussed enough. It’s not necessary to pull other directors down in order to elevate Hitchcock.

  • x359594

    “Jean Denis is exactly right, though I can’t confirm the Ophuls comparison because I haven’t seen enough of Max’s early work.”

    Some years ago I was able to see most of Ophuls’ extant pre-Hollywood films at a LACMA retrospective. I would describe him as an accomplished auteur on the basis of those films, in particular “Liebelei”, “La signora di tutti”, and “Komedie om geld” are the equal of his best Hollywood and post-Hollywood films.

    I’m in complete agreement with Gregg and Barry not only about the continuity of Hitchcock’s body of work but also with the notion of organic wholeness. I suppose that if Hitchcock (or Ford or Ophuls)turned from narrative film making to abstract or experimental work, then we could talk about a break in artistic direction.

  • Alex

    Discussion of Hitchcock’s favoriote Hitchcock film is interest, but what of Hitch’s favorits films by other.” All I can think of are “Double Indemnity” (“Since Double Indemnity, the two most important words in motion pictures are ‘Billy’ and ‘Wilder'” –p. 139 Lally’s 1996. “Wilder Times”) and “Blow Up” (“I’ve just seen Antonioni’s Blow-Up. These Italians are a century ahead of me in terms of technique. What have I been doing all this time” — quoted by Howard Fast as variously cited on the web).

    There certainly is a case to be made for the director of “Judge Priest,” “The Informer,” “Long Voyage Home, Grapes of Wrath,” “Stagecoach” and “How Green Was My Valley” as Pantheon quality. (and they may well be better than “39 Steps” and “Lady Vanishes”). But none of these films seem to me up to the standards of “The General,” “Greed” and “The Merry Widow,” The Navigator,” or “Kane” to me, though “Fort Apacher” and “Yellow ibbon,” “Clementine,” The Searchers” and possibly “They Were Expenable,” and “The Quiet Man” do.?

  • Alex

    Oooops! Forgot the great “Young Mr. Lincoln”!

  • “…Gervasi’s deplorable Oscar bid…” How right! The story and the character both seem wide off the mark, and of course it is not easy to play somebody so well known by nearly everybody. However, it is quite a mystery – or the usual Hollywood practice – how they have turned Rebello’s very interesting and thoroughly researched 1990 book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho into something as lightweight as HITCHCOCK.

    If my memory serves me, there was nothing in the book about Alma and the script writer friend. There are some minor details from the book that have been taken into the film, but HITCHCOCK could as easily have been made on the basis of general knowledge about the master. The film just is not the book and is not a good advertisement for Rebello’s fine work.

    By the way, I have always preferred the leaner, tougher British THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and cannot wait to see the Blu-ray! The Hollywood version is a bit slow compared and just a bit too polite, although affecting.

  • CHAMPAGNE seems startlingly good among Hitchcock’s silents. A scene at the second half in a nightclub is especially creative visually: One of Hitchcock’s major set pieces.

    CHAMPAGNE is remote in genre from most of Hitchcock. It is in the same genre as the “sexy comedies of high life” made by De Mille, Lubitsch and others in the silent era.
    ***
    On the average, I think Hitchcock’s later American films are better than the earlier British ones. However, these later films establish a very high standard indeed. And there is much to value in the early British works.

  • alex

    To paraphrase Keynes’ last recorded words, “I wish I ‘d seen more CHAMPAIGN! Will try to make up.

  • “I have always preferred the leaner, tougher British THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and cannot wait to see the Blu-ray! The Hollywood version is a bit slow compared and just a bit too polite, although affecting.”

    Ezra Goodman lives!

    Seriously, Hannu, the two versions are two different pictures, the 1934 version is better than how Hitchcock described it to Truffaut in the interview book, “the work of a talented amateur,” but is a fast paced thriller characterized by careful editing and sharp black and white compositions.

    The 1956 film is about a marriage, about “innocent” Americans aboard, about patriarchal power and is shot with breath taking virtuosity. Beginning the story in Morocco and keeping the Americans foreigners throughout was not an accident as Bill Krohn shows in “Hitchcock at Work” and creates a rich political sub-text.

    By the way, the use of the word “slow” never convinced me when used normatively rather than descriptively, as though all movements in a symphony should be fast for example. But if you like fast movies you couldn’t do better than Peter Kubelka’s “Unsere Afrikareise”!

  • David Cohen

    I agree that the two MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCHs seem much different in intent – the first one is a rapid-fire thriller, the second a very rich evocation of many of the themes Hitchcock tackled in the 1950s. I am also in awe in the remake of that extended, essentially wordless sequence at the Royal Albert Hall. (That sequence came up in a conversation with friends a year or two back after a clueless studio exec argued that audiences are smarter now that they used to be, that they didn’t need to be told everything like they did back in the 1950s. That sequence is a great counter-argument.)

  • Barry Putterman

    Well if today’s audience doesn’t need to be told everything, why does it now take twice as long for the movies to tell the same stories that they did in the 50s?

  • Nicolas Saada

    1934 MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH has the energy and invention of the early recordings of Duke Ellington and Jimmy Blanton. The fast paced rythm of the narrative allows nevertheless striking “ufa esque” images. There is a dryness there, an incredible sense of pacing. It’s to Hitchcock what HARLEM AIR SHAFT was to Duke Ellington : the discovery of the full range of directorial choices through a specific genre.
    1956 MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is Hitchcock’s counterpart to the ELLington FAR EAST SIDE SUITE. The motifs are extended to the point where the palette is displayed with infinite beauty. I love both versions. Doris Day’s nervous beakdown in the hotel room in Marrakech is only matched by Preminger, Minnelli or Kazan during the same period. The sense of dread, sorrow and danger is unique. The use of color reminds one of Delacroix and foreshadows the mystique of the Hammer Horrors (Ambrose Chapel’s store, the fight in the church). Not to forget the sublime cuts from the embassys lounge to the room where the boy is held prisoner: a series of still lives (staircase, corridors) which Scorsese will duplicate at the ending of TAXI DRIVER. Nothing is greater than greatness. And it’s like discussing Great wines here…

  • “Doris Day’s nervous beakdown in the hotel room in Marrakech is only matched by Preminger, Minnelli or Kazan during the same period.”

    Absolutely nicolas. Powerfully acted by the principals, each shot in the sequence complements the performances in camera position and editing. One of Hitchcock’s greatest passages of film making, and we haven’t even mentioned the resonant dramatic power this lends the thematic elements of the movie.

    And this is not to slight the 1934 film at all, itself a tour de force of film making as you’ve described above.

  • “Doris Day’s nervous breakdown in the hotel room in Marrakech is only matched by Preminger, Minnelli or Kazan during the same period.”

    Absolutely nicolas. Powerfully acted by the principals, each shot in the sequence complements the performances in camera position and editing. One of Hitchcock’s greatest passages of film making, and we haven’t even mentioned the resonant dramatic power this lends the thematic elements of the movie.

    And this is not to slight the 1934 film at all, itself a tour de force of film making as you’ve described above.