Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Man Who Knew too Much (1956) - Alfred Hitchcock, there's a reason the man has a reputation for excellence

Viewing context:
Second film into my Hitchcock box-set and first one to watch with an old friend; a Hitchcock evening that we are going to make a regular occurrence. The main thing about seeing these films at said friend's house is that there is a certain amount of herbal wisdom added to the viewing.

Directed by Hitchcock. Screenplay by John Michael Hayes, who also worked with Hitchcock and Stewart on Rear Window. Written originally for Hitchcock’s own 1934 version by Charles Bennett.

What Happened:
Ben McKenna (Jimmy Stewart) is on holiday with his family in Marakesh when he is told about an imminent assassination attempt due to take place in London. He cannot relieve any of his intel to the authorities mind, as the assassins-to-be have kidnapped his son and are pulling his strings. Stewart and his wife Josephine (Doris Day) go to London to find a way to foil this assassination and retrieve their (really annoying) son.

What it did particularly well:
Intrigue all the way through. Vertigo was a little different, as there was a reveal followed by a different kind of intrigue; this was much more straight forward, as the first half was all intrigue and build up, whereas the final section was pure suspense as we knew what was coming but had to sit through it all (in a good way).
The masterful way that Hitchcock speaks to the audience through the characters is so clever; it is obvious yet not jarring. The scene where the kidnapper is explaining the point in the performance where the hired gunman can shoot, is done in such a way that is practically speaking straight at us, so our suspense is built to maximum throughout the final scene as we constantly listen out for the musical cue.
The framing of characters (and objects) throughout the whole film is always clear; there are so many times that the camera leaves about four things layered in importance on screen, and has just a little pause to show exactly how the power structure is being constructed; it is again, obvious without being jarring. The same can be said for the harrumping score; it is really hammered home, and though it does not go unnoticed, it doesn't seem out of place at all, nor does it detract from the immersion; rather, it does the exact opposite and locks you right in.

What unimpressed or didn't quite reach potential:
The kid was really fucking annoying.

There was a great deal of exoticism, as the very American family traverse the foreign lands of Marakesh and London. Both places are alien to this settled unit; the unfamiliarity with certain customs can be used for humour, yet more importantly to build a sense of unease or lack of protection for the central characters. The second foreign area, London is a little more unsettling as it is somewhere that should feel more homely, especially as Josephine used to sing here, yet the authorities still treat them with some trepidation and frustrate with their unhelpfulness. It therefore evoked a sort of uneasiness in international relations; it made the world small and easier to traverse, but showed how this can cause a certain amount of tension or misunderstanding.

Performance of the film:
Big Jimmy of course - what a legend

Scene of the film:
The scene described above, when the assassin (and the audience) are told precisely when in the performance he should shoot. Excellently obvious exposition, and just cheekily, cockily even, nodding at that fourth wall, without actually breaking it down.

Final word:
Masterful display of first, pure intrigue, then having everything revealed in order to see and feel the suspense of the last act play out.

No comments:

Post a Comment