The Man Who Knew Too Much: The Christian Hipster’s Summer Guide to Hitchcock

Intercultural relations, classical music, Doris Day, and a guy with a gun in the opera box. What’s not to love?


The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. With James Stewart and Doris Day.

Reasons Hipsters Will Like This Movie:

  • It’s perhaps Hitch’s most accessible, audience-friendly film that isn’t mainstream.

This film has flown more under the radar than other Hitch films, which means hipsters will love rediscovering it. The reason might be because it belongs to the canon of Hitch films that were purchased back from the studios, given to his daughter Pat, and were not released for many years. According to IMDB these films, “have been known for long as the infamous ‘Five lost Hitchcocks’ amongst film buffs, and were re-released in theatres around 1984 after a 30-year absence. The others are Rear Window (1954), Rope (1948), The Trouble with Harry (1955), and Vertigo (1958).” The first and last films on that list get most of the attention, so hipsters should have fun showing off their Hitchcock film buff prowess after watching this film. Also, the plot is much less psychological. Instead, it’s a fairly straightforward kidnap/attempted assassination/you-play-the-piano-and-sing-while-I-go-rescue-our-kid story that mixes music with the action. Therefore,

  • It’s kind of a Hitchcock musical.

Bernard Herrmann composed the music (except for the cantata

Hmm, that might come up again...

Hmm, that might come up again…

performed at Albert Hall, which is the same piece composed by Arthur Benjamin for the original 1934 Hitch film of the same name), and appears in the film conducting the concert. His name is even on the poster outside. And Doris Day sings, several times.

This is the Hitchcock film for people who prefer thrilling to spooky. Music is foregrounded (literally, there’s a title card that gives away the climax of the film) and is highly imperative not only to plot, but also to character.

  • It’s a lesson in global relations.

    Never use your left hand.

    Never use your left hand.

The beginning scenes of the film are set in Marrekech. In one famous scene, Ben McKenna (Jimmy Stewart) has to figure out what to do with his long legs while sitting at the low table, and eat with the proper hand. It’s a cross cultural lesson that will leave you nodding in understanding if you’ve been to a similar culture.

  • It has a midwestern nuclear family.

    Just another family vacation. Hitchcock style.

    Just another family vacation. Hitchcock style.

This Hitch film isn’t about a woman with no identity, a man who tails a woman with a changing identity, or a man who wants out of a marriage and then oops the wife is killed by a wacko he meets on a train. The McKenna family (Stewart, Day, and Christopher Olsen as their son Hank), from Indianapolis, Indiana, is a family fairly devoid of psychological hangups. They’re just having a pretty rotten Moroccan vacation.

Things For Hipsters To Look For:

  • Day’s rare dramatic turn as Jo McKenna,

    "I promise, no bell towers for you."

    “I promise, no bell towers for you.”

singer turned midwestern mom whose doctor husband gives her sedatives to tell her their son is missing (one of Day’s best dramatic scenes, she nails it).  This time, Day’s reaction shots carry the film. And she’s scared in most of them. Reportedly, she got frustrated with a lack of direction from Hitch, who replied, “My dear Miss Day, if you weren’t giving me what I wanted, [then]  I would have to direct you!”

Tradition also says that Day’s lifelong advocacy for animal rights starts with her witnessing the cruelty to animals (camels, goats, etc.) during the marketplace sequence, shot in Morocco.

Don't worry, son. Mom is a musical celebrity.

Don’t worry, son. Mom is a musical celebrity.

Day’s chemistry with Stewart is wonderful. And she meets Hitch leading lady qualifications because she’s a blonde (who also wears a grey suit, not an Edith Head one, though) but she’s a much more active female protagonist than most Hitch women. Her husband does coerce her into taking a sedative, but she’s psychologically in control, and actively helps in rescuing Hank. In fact, her playing and singing a slightly manic version of her famous “Que Sera Sera” is what tips off Hank that his parents are in the building.

  • Things in frames.

People stand in doorways, between curtains, or are placed in the shot between pillars, edges of the street, and cymbals.

  • The zoom to close up.

    Rendered powerless, but significant, by the camera.

    Rendered powerless, but significant, by the camera.

Always important, and used several times in this film to indicate notable characters or their notable reactions. The best is the high angle shot of Ben and Jo on the phone, bargaining with the kidnappers. The shot is also high angle, making them helpless and observed.

  • The 12 minute concert sequence shot at Albert Hall, London.

    The classic and often copied "gun around the curtain."

    The classic and often copied “gun around the curtain.”

It is completely without dialog, and is a textbook on editing for suspense. Hitchcock 101.

  • Best film fight in a taxidermy shop.

Who knew a stuffed leopard has potential as a weapon?

Things for Hipsters to Beware Of:

  • Friendly frenchmen on buses.

    Oh shoot, now I know too much.

    Oh shoot, now I know too much.

Even if they do give your kid a cross cultural lesson on the wardrobes of Muslim women. If they cancel dinner and show up later in the marketplace, wearing a disguise and carrying a knife between their shoulder blades, you can pretty much assume your happy vacation is taking a turn for the worst.

  • Strange couples at hotels that offer to babysit your son.

I know he’s just witnessed a murder, but don’t send him back images-9with people you met the previous evening. Really?

  • Trying to be inconspicuous while singing a hymn in a chapel if you sing like Doris Day.

Use your inside voice, Jo, you don’t want to throw off the kidnappers. Oh wait, that is your inside voice…

Things Hipsters Will Do After Watching This Film:

  • Watch Please Don’t Eat the Daisies or The Glass Bottom Boat.

The other two films where Day sings “Que Sera Sera.” Oddly, both were made after this film. Day was already famous for the song, however. (Nice use of persona there, Hitch.)

  • Listen to “Que Sera Sera” on vinyl.

Or just go to a resale shop and look for Doris Day records.

  • Go out for Moroccan food.

Great, now I’m hungry for it, too.

  • Be tempted to throw a cocktail party where they leave their guests to go looking for Ambrose Chappell (chapel?).

Don’t worry, he’s (it’s?) a MacGuffin. But also a clue.

  • Be reminded of how problematic it is when one doesn’t have a church key.

Oh well, maybe you can climb up the rope to the bell tower. (Note: the church bell is another use of sound for emphasis.)

  • Put Albert Hall, London on their “to visit” list. But maybe not right after Marrakech.
  • Make an intentional effort to have their children learn popular songs they are famous for singing, so that the children will be able to recognize and locate them anywhere (including foreign embassies).

    Trust me, I'm a movie star dad.

    Trust me, I’m a movie star dad.

Don’t worry, Hank. Your mom is a famous singer and your dad is a movie star. Even in Hitch’s world, you’re in good hands.

  • Make this film their own Hitch-loving Hipster Mother’s Day classic.

Please. Even the English kidnapper has a mom moment and let’s the boy whistle so his mother can hear him then gives him to his father. Come on, kids, it’s both heartwarming and slightly terrifying!




About jenletherer

BA, Theater and Speech Communication; English:Creative Writing. Siena Heights University, 2002. MFA, Film Production. Boston University, 2005
This entry was posted in Hipster's Guide and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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