Man Who Knew Too Much, The (1934)

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Secrets, spies, kidnapping, the love and wit of British parents, and a big gun battle.

This is not as deft as his later efforts, but here we see Hitchcock developing the genre he would quickly master: the semi-comic action thriller. He told Truffaut it was the work of a "gifted amateur", although I am never sure how much to believe of what he says at such times. I doubt if he felt obligated to bare his soul to interviewers. He later said the first version was more spontaneous, less logical than the second, but also that "logic is boring".

Peter Lorre is magnetic whenever he is on screen, simultaneously jolly and loathsome. His character was originally meant to escape but the censors wouldn't allow that. Lorre is said to have memorized his English at this stage, but I wonder.

Two things make me uneasy about the story: kidnapping a teen girl is more harrowing than entertaining. Maybe we're supposed to understand that nothing bad will happen to her, but the threats are seriously murderous. Second: we have an unusually high body count at the end when they replicate the Siege of Sidney Street.

Many good bits:

Criterion Blu-ray with a much better image than I have seen before. The commentary track gives background on the production and actors. He doesn't like the remake at all, but says the 1950s Albert Hall sequence was very good.