The Man Who Knew Too Much

The Doris Day Blogathon

Welcome to the Doris Day blogathon! hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood.

In The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) Day stars with Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s Technicolor thriller. The 1934 black-and-white version featured Leslie Banks, Edna Best and Peter Lorre. Screenwriter John Michael Hayes updated the story while keeping highlights of the original. In both films, there’s the familiar Hitchcock device of a mistaken identity that sets the story in motion.

The intrigue begins in Morocco, the most exotic of locations. On a family vacation, Midwesterners Dr. Benjamin McKenna (Stewart), his wife Jo (Day) and young son Hank (Christopher Olsen) are traveling from Casablanca to Marrakesh. On a crowded bus, young Hank inadvertently commits the major faux pas of ripping the veil off a female passenger. As soon as you can say “get the infidel!” a French-speaking stranger named Louis Bernard (Daniel Gélin) intervenes.

Jo was formerly Jo Conway, a popular singing star. She’s recognized by fellow tourists. A British couple stares at them in a curious way but seems friendly enough. Lucy (Brenda De Banzie) and Edward Drayton (Bernard Miles) invite the McKenna’s to dinner. At the restaurant, they’re snubbed by Louis Bernard who pretends to not recognize them. It’s off-putting and bizarre to the McKennas.

Robert Burks [Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958)] was the director of photography with editing by George Tomasini. Hitchcock preferred shooting in the studio. Some of the outdoor scenes are obviously done with rear projection though with others it’s hard to tell.

No one except Hitchcock wanted Day for the part which now seems incredible. Producer Herbert Coleman didn’t know she could act and wanted anyone but Doris. Fortunately, Hitchcock won out. She does double duty, singing “Que Sera Sera” which became a big hit. Jay Livingstone and Ray Evans won the Academy Award for Best Song.

There’s a murder and a kidnapping which force the couple to London. Day proved to the skeptics that she was a superb dramatic actress, vindicating Hitchcock. 

Their desperation continues in London where they reunite with old friends including Carolyn Jones [The Adams Family]. The friends are kept in the dark and their reaction to Ben and Jo’s odd behavior offers comic relief. There’s more absurdity when Ben mistakes a taxidermists’ for the rendezvous spot with the kidnappers.

Edith Head designed the costumes. Day was the first to wear the gray “Madeleine” suit made famous by Kim Novak in Vertigo (1958). For lovers of 50s fashion, this is your film.

Stewart with Kim Novak in Vertigo

Just as in the 1934 original, the chase ends with a crash of cymbals at Royal Albert Hall. Bernard Herrmann [Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960)] who wrote the score, conducts the London Symphony Orchestra performing Arthur Benjamin’s “Storm Clouds Cantata,”

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