Arlecchino Cinema > 14:00

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH/Man from the South


Tuesday 28/06/2022


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

“My English is not good enough to know,” says the actor Peter Lorre in his second line of dialogue in Hitchcock’s first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. It is a moment of self-referential irony, this being the displaced actor’s first English-language film. Lorre, who couldn’t speak a word of English, had to memorise his lines phonetically. The great actor knew too much, but could not yet express the fact in English. A cigarette dangling from his mouth like a lollipop, a deep scar running down his forehead and a dash of white, greasy hair combed down, Lorre appears like some arch-nemesis from a comic strip, but is at the same time perverted and vulnerable (he refers everything to his nurse, a classic Hitchcockian ‘mother figure’).
One of Hitchcock’s archetypal chase thrillers, the film centres around the kidnapping of the daughter of an English family. As her parents venture to save her from the spies responsible, the viewer is taken on a rollercoaster ride of odd and amusing scenes, from Switzerland to Wapping and finally the Royal Albert Hall – all reconstructed at Shepherd’s Bush studios in London. As irrational as these situations are, the narrative always flows irresistibly; every scene seems to have a meaning which, as the film leaps swiftly to the next absurd situation, evaporates before it can be grasped. Hitch takes perverse pleasure in defying any incessant meaning.
Hitchcock remade the film in the US in 1956 but even that refined version couldn’t top his now legendary Albert Hall sequence, where a planned assassination is synchronised to the crash of cymbals during a concert. With its pointed gaze, the ominous relevance of the choir and the intense subjectivity of the shots where Edna Best’s tears blur her vision, this is one of the finest set pieces Hitchcock ever created. As with his other Gaumont British Pictures films, a sense of anxiety due to the political climate in Europe is palpable. The array of German exiles on the set – who aside from Lorre included the cameraman Curt Courant and art director Alfred Junge – was a testimony to that recognition of growing disquiet in the world.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Cast and Credits

Sog.: Charles Bennett, D.B. Wyndham-Lewis. Scen.: Edwin Greenwood, A.R. Rawlinson, Emlyn Williams. F.: Curt Courant. M.: H.St.C. Stewart. Scgf.: Alfred Junge, Peter Proud. Mus.: Arthur Benjamin. Int.: Leslie Banks (Bob Lawrence), Edna Best (Jill Lawrence), Nova Pilbeam (Betty Lawrence), Peter Lorre (Abbott), Hugh Wakefield (Clive), Pierre Fresnay (Louis Bernard), George Curzon (Gibson), Frank Vosper (Ramon), Cicely Oates (l’infermiera Agnes), D.A. Clarke-Smith (Binstead). Prod.: Michael Balcon, Ivor Montagu per Gaumont British Pictures – 35mm. D.: 75’. Bn.


Film Notes

The Alfred Hitchcock Presents series featured eerie situations extended to half an hour of suspense and ironic fright. Here, Peter Lorre plays a sickly Las Vegas hotel guest who invites a total stranger (Steve McQueen, appearing along with his wife Neile Adams) to take part in a curious bet: if McQueen can light his cigarette lighter 10 times in a row without missing a strike, he’ll win a convertible. If he loses, one of his fingers will be chopped off. (In his epilogue to the episode, Hitchcock uses the situation to suggest how Venus de Milo lost her arms.)
The contrast between the ungracefully aged Lorre and McQueen – the latter would hone his act for his role as a major gambler in Cincinnati Kid – looks deliberately ludicrous. If McQueen was a stranger to this world, both Lorre and director Norman Lloyd had a long history with the Hitchcockian universe. Lloyd received his first acting credit for Saboteur (1942) and went on to direct and produce many episodes of the series; Lorre made his first English-language film with Hitchcock and had starred in one episode of Presents in 1957. But this is a far cry from the louring Lorre of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Looking like a sad frog, with his edge now blunted and his presence almost pitiful, he still retains enough quiet menace to make this a cult episode. In Quentin Tarantino’s remake of the same story (by Norwegian/Welsh author Roald Dahl), which appears as a segment in Four Rooms (1995), he cites Lorre.

 Ehsan Khoshbakht

Cast and Credits

Dal racconto omonimo (1948) di Roald Dahl. Scen.: William Fay. F.: Lionel Lindon. M.: Edward Williams. Scgf.: John J. Lloyd. Int.: Steve McQueen (lo scommettitore), Peter Lorre (Carlos), Neile Adams (la ragazza), Katherine Squire (moglie di Carlos), Tyler McVey (l’arbitro), Marc Cavell (il fattorino), Phil Gordon. Prod.: Joan Harrison per Shamley Productions – DCP. D.: 26’