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1956 film poster

"A man... A statesman... Is to be killed... Assassinated... In London... Soon... Very soon. Tell them... In London... Ambrose Chappell..."
Louis Bernard
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The Man Who Knew Too Much was first a 1922 book of detective stories, then a 1934 film by Alfred Hitchcock, who remade the film in 1956.

  • The 1934 film: Leslie Banks and Edna Best are Bob and Jill Lawrence, a British couple couple who find themselves having to help stop an assassination. The Lawrences are in Switzerland, where Jill is competing in a clay pigeon shooting contest. Jill is passing the time by flirting outrageously with another hotel guest, the charming Louis. The flirting comes to an end when Louis is shot in the chest while dancing with Jill. Louis has just enough time before he dies to tell Jill to retrieve a message hidden in a brush in his room. It turns out that Louis is a spy, and the message has to do with a plot to assassinate a foreign diplomat about to visit England. The bad guys, led by Abbott (Peter Lorre in one of his first English roles) attempt to keep Bob and Jill silent by kidnapping their teenage daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam, who starred in Hitchcock's Young and Innocent a few years later).

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  • In the 1956 film: Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day star as Ben and Jo McKenna, Americans traveling to Morocco with their son Hank (Christopher Olsen)note . On the bus they meet the amiable Bernard, who puts Jo on edge for remaining mysterious while asking them numerous questions about themselves. Soon her suspicions are confirmed when Bernard stumbles out of a crowd, in disguise and mortally wounded, to whisper a secret message to Ben with his dying breath. Unwittingly embroiled in events beyond their understanding, Ben and Jo quickly learn that there are dangerous people out there who very much want to keep the information a secret.

Has nothing to do with The Man Who Knew Too Little beyond the title and a similar theme for the plot.


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The 1934 film has examples of the following:

  • Adult Fear: The heroes try to thwart the assassination plot mainly because the assassins kidnap their child, Betty, and threaten to destroy her if they give the police the information that Bernard left.
  • Butt-Monkey: Clive, who always seems the get the worst of whatever situation he encounters with Bob, including getting a healthy tooth pulled and getting hypnotized.
  • Cacophony Cover Up: The whole point of staging the assassination at a concert.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Many of the elements appearing in the first two scenes become significant later on.
    • Jill's sharpshooting ability comes in handy when rescuing her daughter at the end.
    • Ramon's shooting, demonstrated in the same scene, becomes part of the assassination plot.
    • Abbott's musical watch alerts us to his presence when he reappears.
    • Jill gives Betty a brooch. The brooch is later given back to Jill as a reminder that the bad guys still have Betty prisoner.
  • Concert Climax: The bad guys are plotting an assassination to take place during a concert at the Albert Hall.
  • Depraved Dentist: Justified in that he's actually a foreign spy trying to stop the hero from interfering with the assassination.
  • Genki Girl: Betty Lawrence, whose impetuousness keeps distracting her mother during the shooting competition.
  • Hand Gagging: How Betty is silenced as she's being taken away.
  • High-Class Glass: If being named "Clive" wasn't enough to mark Clive as ultra-British, he also sports one of these.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Makes the standard "pfft" noise when Louis is killed by a rifle shot.
  • Hypno Pendulum: Variation, as Nurse Agnes uses a shiny gemstone held stationary to initiate Clive into "The First Degree of the Sevenfold Ray" at the Tabernacle of the Sun.
    Nurse Agnes: You are already feeling sleepy. Do you hear me?
    Clive: Yes...
    Nurse Agnes: Your mind is becoming quite blank. You feel that, don't you? Quite, quite blank.
    Clive: Yes. Quite blank. (closes his eyes and quickly falls into a trance).
  • I Have Your Wife: Or child, as the case may be.
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: Louis, shot in the chest, has just enough time to tell Jill about the secret message hidden in a brush in his room.
  • In Name Only: The films to the original book, which is a collection of short stories about a detective who deduces who committed various crimes in the Blue Blooded milleau — and why the criminal will get away with it. Hitchcock had the right to adapt some of its stories, but decided all he really wanted was the book's title.
  • Mama Bear: Jill grabs a rifle and plugs Ramón when he goes after her daughter at the end.
  • Monumental Battle: At Royal Albert Hall. Alfred Hitchcock seems fond of this trope.
  • Musical Trigger: The assassin's cue to kill is a specific cymbal clash in a cantata, since it marks a loud climax in the music that can mask the gunshot.
  • Notable Original Music: The music in the Royal Albert Hall scene, the Storm Clouds Cantata, was composed specifically for the film by Arthur Benjamin. It was re-used for the remake.
  • Papa Wolf: Bob.
  • Path of Inspiration: The Tabernacle of the Sun seems like a benign small, urban church (with hints of being a Mystery Cult), but it's harboring Abbott and his men.
  • Police are Useless: Well, not entirely, but when Clive shows up to rescue Bob with a single bobby, the cop not only refuses to break into the church, but turns around and arrests him!
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: There's a lot of music (the dance orchestra, the hymn at the tabernacle, the cantata), but it's all diegetic.
  • Skunk Stripe: Abbott the slimy villain has one.

The 1956 film has examples of the following:

  • Adaptation Expansion: It's 45 minutes longer than the first film. Most of the 1934 film's plot points were imported, but the first act is much longer here, and the relationship of the married couple gets explored further, plus other little added bits.
  • Adaptational Badass: The father gets captured by the assassins in both versions, but Ben manages to escape earlier than Bob did. Ben also brings two of the criminals to their deaths.
  • Adaptational Wimp: The mother changed from a clever Gunslinger to a clever retired singer.
  • Adapted Out: The mother's brother, who helped search for the assassins' base in the '30s movie.
  • Adult Fear: The heroes try to thwart the assassination plot mainly because the assassins kidnap their child, Hank, and threaten to destroy him if they give the police the information that Bernard left.
  • Artistic Title: An orchestra performs the main title against the opening credits to establish the importance of music in the plot.
  • Becoming the Mask: Mrs. Drayton, who pretended to be nice to Hank, only to try and save the him near the films climax.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • Bernard speaks Arabic and French unsubtitled at different moments.
    • The assassin's name is Rien, which means "nothing" in French.
  • Black Comedy: Ben's and Jo's conversation about how as a doctor, people must suffer in order for Ben to make enough money for vacations.
  • Break the Cutie: Jo has a Heroic BSoD after Ben tells her about Hank's kidnapping not only out of Adult Fear, but also out of anger for Ben tricking her into swallowing a sedative beforehand, as an attempt to keep her nerves calm.
    • Look at her face during the Albert Hall sequence, and you can see a woman who's about to lose it, who knows that something terrible is about to happen and cannot do a thing about it... Until she just snaps and screams.
    • Near the climax, she hears Hank whistle to "Qué Será, Será" while she plays on the piano. Because she knows he's nearby, but can't do anything to help him, except play.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Jimmy Stewart hosted the trailer as himself, telling the viewers of different places he visited for Hitchcock's then-upcoming movie. The ad also dubbed over a clip so that one of the characters would refer to Jo as Doris Day.
  • Brick Joke: In the second act, Ben and Jo excuse themselves from some guests, claiming that they have to pick up Hank from his babysitters. In the epilogue, they return to the apartment a full day later to find the guests are still there, asleep, and apologize for taking so long.
  • The Cameo:
  • Chekhov's Skill: Jo's strong singing voice averts the assassination and helps locate their son. Hanks whistling also plays a role in his location.
  • Cloak & Dagger: A lot of that going around.
  • Concert Climax
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Bernard just happens to stumble into Ben on a crowded street just before dying. The police point out how unlikely that is.
    • It's also convenient that by the time Jo tries to call the Scotland Yard inspector to help save Ben from the kidnappers, he has left for Albert Hall. When Ben and Jo go there to see him, all three of them end up at the site of the assassination attempt.
  • Disney Villain Death: The assassin falls off a balcony.
  • Eureka Moment: When Jo realizes that Bernard's dying words, "Ambrose Chappell," refer not to a man, but a place: Ambrose Chapel.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Mrs. Drayton has a soft spot for children. She admonishes another woman for being rude to Hank and is against killing him.
  • Foreign Remake: This movie provides an Americanization of one of the movies Hitch made while still in England.
  • Gender Flip: In the earlier film the protagonists' child whom the villains kidnap is a daughter; in this film it's a son.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: invoked Jo has an avid fanbase as a singer in England.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: The Title Drop of "Que Será, Será". It's been called non-grammatical, but the proper Spanish form for "Whatever will be, will be" (Lo que será, será) is close enough.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Mrs Drayton.
  • He Knows Too Much: Naturally.
  • I Have Your Child
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Mr. Drayton's gun misfires to kill him.
  • In Name Only: The films to the original book. Hitchcock had the right to adapt some of its stories, but decided all he really wanted was the book's title.
  • Karma Houdini: The ambassador's assistant who hired the Draytons to kill the ambassador in the first place. Though he may have been apprehended off-screen.
  • Long Song, Short Scene: Jo doesn't get to sing "We'll Love Again" in its entirety, and what little viewers do hear from it gets mostly drowned out by the confrontation between Ben and Mr. Drayton.
  • Mama Bear: Jo.
  • Mistaken for Spies: Bernard mistakes Ben and Jo for the spy couple that he's looking for. The Moroccan police also find it very suspicious that Bernard just happened to stumble into Ben and Jo on a crowded street just before dying.
  • Monumental Battle: Once again, at the Royal Albert Hall.
  • Musical Trigger: A cymbal crash, just like the original, which gets specifically foreshadowed in the opening caption.
  • Not My Lucky Day: Bernard.
  • The Noun Who Verbed: The title.
  • Papa Wolf: Ben.
  • Plot-Based Voice Cancellation: The music drowns out Jo as she explains the assassination plot to Ben when he shows up at the concert.
  • Police are Useless: The Moroccan police are suspicious and unhelpful. When Jo calls the London police saying that they've cornered the kidnappers and her husband is in danger, the head officer is away and his subordinate seems uninterested in helping. He's eventually convinced to send a single squad car, who don't do anything but knock on the door.
  • Red Herring: Ambrose Chappell the taxidermist has nothing to do with the assassination plan, or the kidnapping.
  • Ruritania: The story centers on a plot to assassinate the prime minister of a fictional, unnamed European country, complete with a flag for the country draping his box at the concert.
  • Sequel Escalation: Considering the two of them share the same director and largely the same plot, many viewers will be surprised how more down-to-Earth the original was compared to the epic scale of the 1956 remake.
  • He's a Girl in England: Bob and Jill had a kidnapped daughter, while Ben and Jo have a kidnapped son.
  • Sinister Minister: Mr. Drayton turns out to be a minister, with his own chapel and congregation, as well as an assassin.
  • Smug Snake: Mr. Drayton's one nasty piece of work.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: "Qué Será, Será" was written for the film. Its upbeat tune and lyrics were intended as an ironic counterpoint to a story about kidnapping.
  • Tap on the Head: Happens to Ben.
  • Taxidermy Is Creepy: Undoubtedly one of the reasons Ben suspects Ambrose Chappell the taxidermist of being the one who's holding his son hostage.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: Used as a plot device. Doris Day sings "Qué Será, Será" multiple times, ultimately using it in a game of Marco Polo so our heroes can find their kidnapped offspring.
  • Women Are Wiser: Played straight many times. Jo becomes Properly Paranoid of Louis and the Draytons earlier than Ben does, and later throws off the aim of the Prime Minister's assassin. Ben plays a larger role than she does in Hank's rescue, though.

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