Alfred Hitchcock’s earlier work is sometimes sadly overlooked. He is known by many for his American films, and too right; Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho and Rope are just some of his exceptional later films. Still, Alfred Hitchcock was an Essex boy. He began work in silent cinema with respected films such as The Lodger. Hitchcock’s work in the 1930s remains quintessentially British. The 39 Steps remains one of my favourites and Hitchcock returned to his British roots and mannerisms in the likes of Stage Fright in 1950. It is fascinating to me that one director can be viewed, simultaneously, as so British and so American. Hitchcock undoubtedly conquered the film industries of both countries and remains a major influence over film-makers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. His versatility to work in both America and Britain is blatantly obvious in The Man Who Knew Too Much, made in 1934 and remade by Hitchcock himself in 1956. The 1934 version takes place in Switzerland and London. When an English couple and their daughter take a skiing holiday they find themselves witnesses to a murder and plans for an upcoming assassination. Their daughter is then kidnapped in order to keep the couple silent and away from the police. The couple must try to find their daughter whilst also attempting to uncover the details of the upcoming murder attempt.
The performances remain one of the film’s key elements that make it so charming and old-fashioned. The characters are all rather eccentric and out of date. Peter Lorre plays the film’s iconic villain, Abbott, who is both sinister and just a little bit silly. The actors move through the space unnaturally, delivering their lines rather stiffly. This all makes for a thoroughly enjoyable film; yes, it is dated and rather amateur but it has a lot of character and originality. The best scenes involve Leslie Banks, who plays the husband and father, Lawrence, on the hunt for his daughter’s kidnappers. These scenes are well choreographed, suspenseful and exciting. The film gradually builds to a dramatic climax in the Albert Hall. The piece is at its weakest in the closing twenty minutes. Following the dramatic events at the concert hall, the film descends into a shoot out that is far too drawn out and, sadly, just a little dull. Hitchcock himself preferred his original version of the film because of its flaws. The remake allowed Hitchcock to correct and extend parts of his story as well as americanising it. Viewing the original, however problematic it may be, remains an endearing experience. This is a film with flaws but it’s a film with a hell of a lot of charm.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.