The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) – Alfred Hitchcock

James Stewart and Doris Day find themselves caught up in international intrigue and a political assassination in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, a remake of his own film from 1934.

While on a working holiday that takes the family to Paris, Casablanca and Marrakesh, Dr. Benjamin McKenna (Stewart), his wife, Jo (Day) and young son, Hank (Christopher Olsen) find themselves in a world of trouble when the pair are mistaken by a member of the French secret service, Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin), for a different couple.

When Bernard is murdered in the marketplace, he whispers his secrets to McKenna, but before he can act on them, Hank is seized and held captive to maintain his inaction and silence. Will Ben and Jo find a way to stop the murder, and rescue their son?

It’s a crisp, entertaining thriller that lets both Stewart and Day shine as a loving married couple that is thrown into a situation in which they never expected to find themselves, all of it culminating at a concert in England’s Albert Hall (a wordless sequence that lasts twelve minutes, and is wonderfully tense), overseen by the composer of the film’s score, Bernard Herrmann.


That sequence opens up another can of worms, and the McKennas learn who is really involved in the attempt, and make a desperate gamble to rescue Hank. Jo, in the film, much like Day, is a popular recording artist, so they know going into the film’s climax, a party, that she will be asked to sing, freeing Ben to conduct his search and rescue.

And speaking of music, this film was the originator for the song most associated with Doris Day, Whatever Will Be, known more popularly as Que Sera Sera. She sings it during a quiet moment with Hank, and it immediately became iconic.

I like Stewart and Day together, there’s a nice chemistry, and Day is practically luminous. There’s also an emotional trying sequence when the reveal that Hank has been taken hits, and Ben has given Jo a sedative to keep her calm. That’s a tough scene, and brings lots of questions to mind about the nature of their marriage, whether they love one another or not.

Hithchcock continues to prove that he was the master of putting the common man (and woman) in extraordinary situations, and seeing how they handle it, as they fight to maintain their lives, and do what is right.

While not my favourite Hitchcock film, I delighted in Day in this film and Stewart, as always is perfectly entertaining, the epitome of the onscreen gentleman. And through it all there is Hitchcock’s eye for framing and crafting of tense sequences that play out as beautiful images that make the most of the art form.



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