I’m starting to think Hitchcock doesn’t have a fascination with the average middle-aged American, but rather, the box office does. The Man Who Knew Too Much, Hitchcock’s remake of his own 1934 film, desperately tries to entertain. Hitchcock might like this story enough to make it twice, but it doesn’t seem to be a personal vision, rather a capitalist spectacle.
Hitchcock’s idea to remake his 1934 film was first considered in 1941. He later brought the idea back in 1956 in order to fulfill a contractual demand with Paramount, and it’s just what the film feels like: a product of a legal document. The story lingers through sequences of hollow display: street performances, setting exhibition, and pointless comedy, rarely informing the plot, instead creating a spectacle, then remembering they have a story to get back to — clearly trying to create a parade for audiences to look at. There’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, I think it’s admirable that Hitchcock cares so much for the audience’s amusement, but it becomes a problem when it gets in the way of the story.
“A single crash of Cymbals and how it rocked the lives of an American family.” That’s the opening intrigue of The Man Who Knew Too Much. The American family is simply that: an American family — somewhat characterless, white, upper-class. After a series of suspect encounters with a Frenchman, the “American” father (James Stewart) becomes intertwined in a plot of political intrigue. His wife (Doris Day) — a popular singer — mainly tags along. It would be unfair to call this film misogynist. However, Doris Day’s character device is simply to be emotional for the sake of stakes (she has two helpful strides, but even then is waiting for a man to do the task). She is even drugged by her husband in fear of her “womanly” sensitivity. It’s possible that I would think that her character would be on the border of misogyny if the other characters weren’t so one-dimensional as well.
The thing is this: regardless of story, regardless of character building, regardless of gender stereotypes, regardless of money hungry executives — The Man Who Knew Too Much, being a Hitchcock film, is extraordinarily crafted. Hitchcock’s depth of frame, and perfect — yes, perfect — camera — which doesn’t waste a movement or cut — provides endless aesthetic credibility to be found in the 2-hour running time.