Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 21, 2016)
Not too many directors remake their own flicks, but Alfred Hitchcock took that step via 1956’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. A reworking of his 1934 film of the same title, Man introduces us to the McKenna family: Ben (James Stewart), wife Jo (Doris Day) and son Hank (Christopher Olsen). During a trip to Europe, they decide to stop in Morocco for a few days.
On a bus ride, Hank accidentally removes a veil from a Muslim woman. Her husband goes ballistic but a helpful Frenchman named Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin) intervenes and halts the trouble.
Grateful, Ben talks with Louis and invites him to dinner. He expects no trouble, but Jo grows suspicious of Bernard, especially when she sees him chat with the veiled woman’s husband in what appears to be a friendly manner.
Jo’s suspicions prove correct. A weird police chase ends in the stabbing of Bernard – oddly, while the Frenchman is made up as a Moroccan. Before Bernard expires, he whispers a secret to Ben that an unnamed statesman will soon be assassinated in London.
When questioned by police, Ben learns that Bernard was an intelligence agent. He also receives an ominous call that warns him not to spill the beans or something bad will happen to Hank, who we soon find out has been kidnapped. The film follows Ben’s attempts to rescue his son and deal with this disturbing situation.
When I watched all the James Bond movies, I noted that even a lackluster 007 effort still has reasonable entertainment value. I feel the same about Hitchcock’s work, as even his weaker efforts manage to provide something to occupy me.
I mention this because I find Man to provide decidedly ordinary Hitchcock. It follows themes found in many of the director’s releases, as Hitch loved the idea of the average man in extraordinary circumstances, and Man exemplifies that.
Actually, it broadens a bit to include the average man and woman, as both Ben and Jo essentially act as equals here. That’s an unusual touch, and one that adds a little life to the film.
But not enough. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about Man just leaves me cold. The film just seems off, as it never prompts the usual levels of intrigue and tension.
Indeed, Man strikes me as dull much of the time, again for reasons I can’t quite explain. The plot boasts the requisite twists and intrigue, but it just never really comes together. The movie strikes me as one with all the right parts - they simply fail to connect in a satisfying manner.
I can’t help but feel that Doris Day is miscast here. She may be a blonde, but otherwise she never strikes me as a real “Hitchcock woman”. Granted, since Jo’s a mother, Man offers an unusual part for its leading lady when compared to female leads in the director’s other works.
Nonetheless, I think someone less wholesome would make more sense. On the surface, Day makes sense as the wife of a Midwest doctor, but she never fits in the Hitchcock world. She’s also supposed to be more sophisticated than her “country doctor” husband but that doesn’t come across via Day’s performance.
Of course, Stewart feels right at home in these surroundings, but even he doesn’t bring much to the material. It seems like he’s on cruise control throughout the movie, as it rarely appears to really occupy him.
Perhaps the tale’s split focus on Ben and Jo creates some problems, since it lacks one true central figure. There’s no reason Man can’t pull off that bifurcation, but it doesn’t. The dual focus is awkward and doesn’t integrate in a strong manner.
Man does manage to entertain at times, and a few sequences work quite well. I rather like a bit in a taxidermy shop, and the climax in the Royal Albert Hall reminds us of why Hitchcock was such a special director.
In the end, though, the whole feels like less than the sum of its parts. This is an ordinary Hitchcock offering that just doesn’t do much for me.