Ben and Jo McKenna (James Stewart and Doris Day) are holidaying in Morocco with their son Hank (Christopher Olsen) when a ruckus on a bus causes them to meet Frenchman Louis Bernard (Daniel Gélin). They spend some time with the mysterious man, as well as an English couple, the Draytons (Brenda de Banzie and Bernard Miles), but when at a market the next day, Bernard is killed and, with his dying breath, tells Ben a few fragmented details of an assassination attempt in London in the near future. When Hank is kidnapped, the McKennas must attempt to solve the case without assisting the police, or risk their son’s wellbeing.If the above synopsis sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because it’s very similar to the film I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, the original The Man Who Knew Too Much, because this is one of those rare occasions wherein a director remade his own movie. Considering how similar many of Hitchcock’s premises are anyway, I’m rather surprised he didn’t just give it a different name and claim it to be an original property, but there we go. This film follows the earlier picture along the same key story beats, but switches around a few of the roles and locations, swapping snowy Switzerland for sandy Marrakesh and bumping up the action involving Jo, who essentially takes the place of the character of the brother from the original film.So the main question must be, is this version better? Well, yes, but not by much. This is a much more accomplished film, benefiting from an additional 22 years of Hitchcock’s directing experience, a better cast and presumably increased budget, but it finds itself lacking in some departments the former flourished in, such as the villain, for example. Anyone attempting to be a better villain than Peter Lorre will find themselves left wanting, but they could have at least tried. Lorre was a significant presence on screen, you knew when he was there because he took everything over, stealing every opportunity. The villain here – to say who it is could potentially spoil things – is far too ordinary and devoid of character that a real gap is felt in the film. There’s a sly twinkle of Hitchcock’s sense of humour – at one point our lead villain can be found dressed as a vicar – but other than that any scenes featuring the man are a disappointment.Fortunately, James Stewart and Doris Day are on hand to counterbalance things. I love Stewart in anything, and I’m happy here just watching him attempting to position his gangly, angular frame in a comfortable position (for a solid minute) on the unusually low Moroccan chairs, or trying to break a piece off his dinner using just the customary few fingers on one hand. Few actors have been able to balance the comedy with the drama whilst retaining his everyman likeability as Stewart. Day, however, is a new presence for me. I’ve never seen anything she’s been involved in before, only knowing her name as a singer and some kind of a legend. I was a little dubious of her casting, initially believing she was just there to fulfil a few scenes that required some singing, but in fact she performed much better than expected, so well done her.One area the remake is surely superior is in the set-pieces, particularly the Royal Albert Hall-set assassination attempt. Plot-wise it was a little shaky as to why all the characters were there, but it made for a cracking scene that was all but transplanted from the original, with a few additions here and there. The clunky, overdrawn climactic shoot-out was wisely eschewed in favour of a much more personal, tenser finale that didn’t feel nearly as tacked on as the end of the first movie. Also, the scene that sees James Stewart having a fight in a taxidermist’s, surrounded by dozens of stuffed animals who all seem intent on getting in on the action, was just marvellous.Regrettably I felt this viewing was marred by my very recent viewing of the original, but it also allowed me to definitively consider this one the better version. It’s by no means an essential Hitchcock movie, but it’s still a damn good one.
Choose Film 7/10