Posted on Tuesday, November 10th, 2020 by Hoai-Tran Bui
(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
Where You Can Stream It: The Criterion Channel, HBO Max
The Pitch: On a family vacation in Switzerland, a couple (Leslie Banks and Edna Best) befriend a man staying in their hotel. But when they witness that man get assassinated, he passes on secret information to them, making them a target of a band of foreign assassins. To keep them silent, the assassins kidnap their daughter, forcing the couple to attempt to decode the information and find their daughter themselves.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Peter Lorre, a few years removed from his career-defining role in the Fritz Lang thriller M, sports a massive facial scar and a bleach-blonde streak in his hair to set him apart from all the other lowly criminals in Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Man Who Knew Too Much, but he doesn’t need either. The German actor is a screen presence unto his own: a chilling, dead-eyed villain devoid of all empathy who you could believe is evil incarnate. It’s a performance not unlike his knockout turn in M, which was what earned him Hitchcock’s attention and landed him his first English-language role even though his command of the language was still limited (Lorre would end up learning his lines phonetically and he still killed it). Lorre is an unrivaled standout in The Man Who Knew Too Much, a solid early British thriller from the filmmaker, who would end up remaking the film 22 years later with a much more starry cast and a more confident handle of his skills. But without Lorre, the 1956 James Stewart-starring remake just doesn’t have the teeth of the original.