THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956)

The crux of the complicated plot is this: A politically apathetic Indianapolis couple, Ben and Jo McKenna, are tourists in French Morocco when their young son, Hank, is kidnapped to buy their silence pertaining to an assassination plot, against a visiting foreign leader, they have learned is imminent. In London they attempt to find and rescue their boy.
     Jo notes that their whole misadventure is dreamlike; indeed, the film is structured as a dream, with elements approached by the camera rising closer to consciousness. Behind a façade of composure, the McKennas host a troubled marriage. Jo has traded in international stardom as a singer to play the role of doctor’s wife according to society’s strictures and her husband’s conforming male prerogatives. But Ben is equally dissatisfied with their life back home: “One of the reasons I came to Marakech is so I could say things . . . without people hearing us.” A British couple, the Draytons (Bernard Miles, brilliant; Brenda de Banzie, nearly so), are at least united by political purpose. They are the kidnappers.
     The film is tantalizingly full of theaters (a real one, Albert Hall, and another masquerading as something else) and characters wearing visible and invisible makeup, masks, veils. Her old theatrical friends in London, beyond providing comic relief, reacquaint Jo with her career ambitions; indeed, her participation in the scheme to reclaim her child perhaps readies her to pursue these once again.
     Without stepping foot in the U.S., Alfred Hitchcock’s remake of his 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much bristles with criticism of the homefront, as when, at bazaar, Hank notes that a row of women at work at sewing machines resembles a television commercial.
     James Stewart is excellent as Ben (the creep!).
     Third-rate Hitchcock; but sheer pleasure.

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