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Alfred Hitchcock's first thriller was The Lodger (1927), but it wasn't until the success of The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1934 that Hitchcock began a near-unbroken string of suspense thrillers that made him world famous. Twenty-two years later, he returned to the scene of the crime for the only remake of his career.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) took its time getting started. Producer David O. Selznick bought the rights to the original movie in 1941 and urged his staff director Alfred Hitchcock to craft a U.S. version. At the time, Hitchcock thought he had no new spin to put on the story and declined. By January 1955 however, Hitchcock was his own producer and felt the time was finally right. Just prior to this, he and his wife had gone on a 28th wedding anniversary tour of Europe and made a detour to Morocco. The location led Hitchcock to imagine the reaction of a vacationing American couple stumbling into the middle of foreign intrigue.
Since Hitchcock's then star screenwriter John Michael Hayes (Rear Window, 1954, To Catch a Thief, 1955) was busy, Hitchcock began putting the story together with old friend Angus MacPhail. James Stewart was connected to the project from the beginning and, for the wife, Hitchcock wanted Doris Day as an important part of the plot involved the mother being a singer. Without giving away too much, a section of the story is based on an old legend concerning Richard The Lionheart. Captured on his return from the Crusades, Richard was discovered when his troubadour went outside the castles where Richard might be held and sang the first verse of Richard's favorite song. When Richard joined in with the second verse, the troubadour knew he had found his king.
Finally available, Hayes began writing the screenplay in March and elaborated on the tension caused by the wife having stifled her stage career for home and family. He based Doris Day's character on the then popular singer Jo Stafford and, as comic relief, gave her show business friends based on actual theatrical figures in London.
Hayes barely completed his first draft as Hitchcock, actors and company left for London and finally Morocco where filming began on April 29th. The shooting there was not only on the set. Riots broke out against the French protectorate that ruled the country and the production barely escaped Morocco before the French administrator was assassinated.
London followed with another month of filming, mostly centered on the Royal Albert Hall sequence. Hitchcock asked his new musical collaborator, Bernard Herrmann, to not only conduct the orchestra on screen but write a new piece as well. Herrmann accepted the former offer but declined the latter, re-orchestrating Arthur Benjamin's "Storm Cantata" from the original movie. Meanwhile the important song, needed for part of the film's story, was commissioned from songwriters Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. Asked for something with an "international" feel, they supplied "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" that had been inspired by the movie The Barefoot Contessa (1954). The song would provide The Man Who Knew Too Much with its only Academy Award®.
Hitchcock's remake would be a huge box-office success but it did cost him. Screenwriter Hayes was infuriated when Hitchcock submitted both Hayes' and MacPhail's names to receive credit for the screenplay. Hayes demanded the credit be sent for arbitration to the Writers Guild of America who judged Hayes the sole author. Though he was successful in his bid for credit, it caused a never-healed rift between Hitchcock and the man many feel was his best screenwriter. Their last collaboration, however, remains one of the most popular of Hitchcock's films and one of the most successful movie remakes.
Director/Producer: Alfred Hitchcock
Associate Producer: Herbert Coleman
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes based on the screenplay by Charles Bennett and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Art Direction: Henry Bumstead, Hal Pereira
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Editing: George Tomasini
Cast: James Stewart (Dr. Ben McKenna), Doris Day (Jo McKenna), Brenda De Banzie (Lucy Drayton), Bernard Miles (Edward Drayton), Ralph Truman (Buchanan), Daniel Gelin (Louis Bernard)
C-120 min. Letterboxed.
by Brian Cady