There are two versions of this film, both made by Alfred Hitchcock. The first was filmed in 1934, and the second in 1956. The two movies apparently differ quite dramatically in the details and style (for one, the first is in black and white, the second is in technicolor). Since I have only seen the 1956 version, I shall limit myself to that one, and someone else can fill in the details for the 1934 version.

Plot Summary (1956)

A couple on vacation in Morocco with their young son run afoul of an assassination plot. When the father learns of the plot from a man who has just been shot, the couples son is kidnapped and held to prevent the parents from going to the authorities with the information.


James Stewart .... Doctor Ben McKenna
Doris Day .... Jo McKenna
Brenda De Banzie .... Lucy Drayton
Bernard Miles .... Mr. Drayton
Ralph Truman .... Buchanan
Daniel Gelin .... Louis Bernard
Mogens Wieth .... Ambassador
Alan Mowbray .... Val Parnell
Hillary Brooke .... Jan Peterson
Christopher Olsen .... Hank McKenna
Reggie Nalder .... The Assassin
Richard Wattis .... Assistant Manager
Noel Willman .... Woburn
Alix Talton .... Helen Parnell
Yves Brainville .... Police Inspector

Cast list courtesy of


This film intrigued me enough when it aired late one night on CBC that I resolved to rent it (I was too tired to watch it at the time). I thought it was quite a good movie. I found most of the acting quite good, but Doris Day's hysteria when she is told that her son has been kidnapped is... annoyingly done. The suspense that builds as James Stewart goes to visit the wrong Ambrose Chapel is quite well done though.

The other thing that annoyed me about this film is the friends that come to visit the McKenna's at their hotel room in London. The McKenna's take off to get their son back and foil the assassination plot, and when they return, the friend are all still there, sleeping on the chairs and sofas. Really now, if people you came to see were gone so long that you were going to fall asleep in their hotel room, wouldn't you go and do something more interesting? It does give James Stewart a nice closing line though, and it really isn't a big deal anyway.

Another reviewer on IMDB mentioned that the sound and picture were of rather poor quality, but I didn't notice this. Perhaps my "home theater" isn't good enough to detect such flaws, or perhaps I subconsciously chalked such imperfections up to the character of the film. Overall, I would give The Man Who Knew Too Much eight out of ten.

The main differences between the two versions are as follows:

1. The earlier version was shot in black and white.
2. The cast was British/European, starring Edna Best, Leslie Banks, and Peter Lorre.
3. Instead of a young son, the couple (Bob and Jill Lawrence, not Dr. Ben and Jo McKenna) had a teenage daughter, Betty.
4. Jill, an expert markswoman, shoots a villain (I can't remember if it was the always incredible Peter Lorre or a henchman) off of a rooftop in order to save her daughter.
5. The story starts in Switzerland, instead of Morocco, before moving to London.

Technically, the second is regarded as the more complete film, what with its better constructed sequences of suspence, the hit song Que Sera Sera, and Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day in the lead roles, which have been further complicated and developed from the original. However, I personally like the story of the earlier version better, since the wife is more proactive in the couple's efforts and because I'm not horribly fond of Doris Day as an actress. My film professor, who has a somewhat unhealthy obsession with her, thought that her persona as America's Sweetheart was completely subverted by this film. That still didn't make it any more watchable for me! Also, oddly enough, it felt like the second film took longer to play out than the first - and I'd seen the second earlier than the original.

I recommend watching both, if you can, and deciding which you like better for yourself.

Also of note: This was Alfred Hitchcock's only official sequel, though a lot of his films are patterned after The 39 Steps, including The Lady Vanishes and North by Northwest.

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