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To Catch A Thief (#110 of 2)

Take Two #10: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) & The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

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Take Two #10: <em>The Man Who Knew Too Much</em> (1934) & <em>The Man Who Knew Too Much</em> (1956)
Take Two #10: <em>The Man Who Knew Too Much</em> (1934) & <em>The Man Who Knew Too Much</em> (1956)

[Editor’s Note: Take Two is an occasional series about remakes, reboots, relaunches, ripoffs, and do-overs in every cinematic genre.]

Like Leo McCarey, Alfred Hitchcock returned to one of his signature 1930s works two decades hence, armed with stunning color cinematography, A-list movie stars, and the commercial license to tell his story more leisurely. And there’s where the similarities end. As I wrote, McCarey’s An Affair to Remember feels like the director’s ultimate vision of a very personal story made manifest; Hitchcock’s film, while as handsome and expertly made as one could expect from the Master in the ’50s, also routinely feels like a technical exercise. Granted, even the guy’s technical exercises rank as some of the most fully realized films ever made, but the 1956 Man Who Knew Too Much doesn’t so much add to the 1934 original as repurpose its plot for a couple bravura suspense sequences and some luscious Morocco-set photography. It’s an uneven film, an indisputable breather between masterpieces, but still so technically ravishing that it renders the initial film almost moot.

The Conversations: Minor Hitchcock

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The Conversations: Minor Hitchcock
The Conversations: Minor Hitchcock

Ed Howard: Alfred Hitchcock is one of the eternal touchstones of the cinema. He’s been a major influence for many of the best filmmakers to work in his wake, and films like Psycho, The Birds, North by Northwest, Rear Window and many others remain cultural markers that would be recognizable even to those who have never actually seen them. With a director this major, very little of his career hasn’t been explored in depth, with the possible exception of his fertile British period, which seems to get less attention than his later work. However, we’ve decided to discuss two of the master’s Hollywood films that, while perhaps not overlooked (indeed, both are remembered more or less fondly), are generally considered to be “minor” Hitchcock: Rope (1948) and To Catch a Thief (1955). My own perspective is that these supposedly “minor” films are, in their own ways, keeping in mind their quirks and undeniable limitations, major works nearly as rich and rewarding as Hitchcock’s better-known milestones.

They’re very different films, though, and there are very different reasons for their somewhat lesser stature in Hitchcock’s oeuvre. Psycho is mostly remembered for its audacious formal gimmick: it is composed entirely of a series of unbroken 10-minute-or-less takes, and the cuts between shots are often disguised in ostentatious ways to create the (not very convincing) illusion of a single take weaving through the enclosed set. This trick dominates the film to such an extent that it’s all many people remember about it, and I think this is unfortunate. If Psycho is remembered as a formal experiment and little more, To Catch a Thief is often viewed as Hitchcock making a hangout movie with some of his favorite stars, Grace Kelly and Cary Grant, on the French Riviera. Hitchcock said as much, and even opened the film with a shot of a tourism office’s front window (setting up the dark humor of the second shot, an abrupt cut to a screaming woman). So what we have here is one film that’s usually cited as a simple formal exercise, and another that’s considered a fun, sugary entertainment. Are these minor works from a major director? Or are they two more examples of Hitchcock’s mastery and genius, as well as his often-underappreciated range?