The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 film)

The Man Who Knew Too Much is a 1934 British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, featuring Peter Lorre, and released by Gaumont British. It was one of the most successful and critically acclaimed films of Hitchcock's British period.

The Man Who Knew Too Much
US film poster
Directed byAlfred Hitchcock
Produced byMichael Balcon (uncredited)
Written byCharles Bennett
D. B. Wyndham-Lewis
Edwin Greenwood (scenario)
A.R. Rawlinson (scenario)
StarringLeslie Banks
Edna Best
Peter Lorre
Nova Pilbeam
Frank Vosper
Music byArthur Benjamin
CinematographyCurt Courant
Edited byHugh Stewart
Distributed byGaumont-British Picture Corporation
Release date
  • December 1934 (1934-12) (United Kingdom)
Running time
75 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£40,000 (estimated)[1]

The film is Hitchcock's first film using this title and was followed later with his own 1956 film using the same name featuring a significantly different plot and script. The second film featured James Stewart and Doris Day, and was made for Paramount Pictures. The two films are very different in tone. In the book-length interview Hitchcock/Truffaut (1967), in response to filmmaker François Truffaut's assertion that aspects of the remake were by far superior, Hitchcock replied, "Let's say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional." However, it's been claimed this statement cannot be taken at face value.[2][3][4]

The 1934 film has nothing except the title in common with G. K. Chesterton's 1922 book of detective stories of the same name. Hitchcock decided to use the title because he held the film rights for some of the stories in the book.[2][5]


Bob and Jill Lawrence (Leslie Banks and Edna Best) are a British couple on a trip to Switzerland, travelling with their daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam). They have befriended Frenchman Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay), a skier, who is staying at their hotel. Jill is participating in a clay pigeon shooting contest. She reaches the final but loses to a male sharpshooter, Ramon (Frank Vosper), because at the crucial moment she is distracted by the noise of a chiming watch that belongs to Abbott (Peter Lorre).

That evening, Louis is fatally shot as Jill dances with him. Before he expires, he tells Jill where to find a note that is to be delivered to the British consul; she in turn tells Bob. Bob reads the note which, it transpires, contains vital indications concerning a planned international crime.

The criminals involved in the shooting kidnap Betty, and threaten that she will be killed if her parents tell anyone what they know. Unable for that reason to seek help from the police, the couple return to England. They follow a series of leads and discover that the group, led by Abbott, intends to assassinate the head of state of an unidentified European country during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The group has hired Ramon as gunman for the assassination. Jill attends the concert, and distracts Ramon's aim by screaming at the crucial moment.

The criminals return to their lair, which is behind the temple of a sun-worshipping cult in the London district of Wapping, near the docks. Bob had entered the temple as he searched for Betty; both are being held prisoner in the adjoining house, in separate rooms. The police surround the buildings, and a major gunfight ensues; the police are issued with rifles. The criminals hold out until their ammunition runs low and nearly all of them have been killed.

Betty climbs up to the roof, fleeing from Ramon, who follows her. A police marksman dares not attempt to shoot him, for he is standing so close to Betty. Jill grabs the rifle and her sharpshooting skills finally triumph—she shoots Ramon, who falls off the roof without harming Betty.

The police storm the building. Abbott, the criminal mastermind, is still alive and hiding behind a door, but he is betrayed by the chiming of his watch, and is shot and killed by the police.

A terrified Betty is reunited with her parents.



Before switching to the project, Hitchcock was reported to be working on Road House (1934), which was eventually directed by Maurice Elvey.[6] The film started when Hitchcock and writer Charles Bennett tried to adapt a Bulldog Drummond story revolving around international conspiracies and the kidnapping of a baby; its original title was Bulldog Drummond's Baby. The deal for an adaptation fell through, and the frame of the plot was reused in the script for The Man Who Knew Too Much, the title itself taken from an unrelated G.K. Chesterton compilation.[2][5]

The story is credited to Bennett and D. B. Wyndham Lewis. Bennett claimed that Lewis had been hired to write some dialogue that was never used and provided none of the story, though this account has been disputed.[7][2]

It was Peter Lorre's second English-language film, following the multiple-language version of M (1931). But he was still unable to speak English, having only recently fled from Nazi Germany, and learned his lines phonetically.[8][2]

The shoot-out at the end of the film was based on the Sidney Street Siege, a real-life incident that took place in London's East End (where Hitchcock grew up) on 3 January 1911.[9][10][11] The shoot-out was not included in Hitchcock's 1956 remake.[12]

Hitchcock hired Australian composer Arthur Benjamin to write a piece of music especially for the set piece at the Royal Albert Hall. The music, known as the Storm Clouds Cantata, is used in both the 1934 version and the 1956 remake.[2]

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo appears 33 minutes into the film. He can be seen crossing the street from right to left in a black trenchcoat before Bob and Clive enter the chapel.


The Man Who Knew Too Much opened in London in December 1934.[13] The film received its opening in New York on 21 March 1935.[13]


Contemporary reviews were positive, with C.A. Lejeune of The Observer stating that she was "happy about this film [...] because of its very recklessness, its frank refusal to indulge in subtleties, to be the most promising work that Hitchcock has produced since Blackmail".[14] The Daily Telegraph referred to it as a "striking come-back" for Hitchcock, while the Daily Mail stated that "Hitchcock leaps once again into the front rank of British directors".[14] The New York Times praised the film as the "raciest melodrama of the new year", noting that it was "excitingly written" and an "excellently performed bit of story-telling".[15] The review praised Alfred Hitchcock as "one of England's ablest and most imaginative film makers" and stated that Peter Lorre "lacks the opportunity to be the one-man chamber of horrors that he was in [M]" but "is certainly something to be seen", comparing him favourably to actor Charles Laughton.[15]

The film has an approval rating of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 32 reviews, with an average rating of 7.76/10.[16]

The Man Who Knew Too Much, like all of Hitchcock's British films, is copyrighted worldwide[17][18] but has been heavily bootlegged on home video.[19] Despite this, various licensed, restored releases have appeared on DVD, Blu-ray and video on demand services from Network in the UK, Criterion in the US and others.[2]


  1. WORKING WITH HITCHCOCK Montagu, Ivor. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 49, Iss. 3, (Summer 1980): 189.
  2. "Alfred Hitchcock Collectors' Guide: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)". Brenton Film.
  3. Coe, Jonathan. "The Man Who Knew Too Much". Sight and Sound. BFI. Archived from the original on 8 January 2006. Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  4. "Hitchcock".
  5. "The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much", The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) DVD
  6. Ryall p.103
  7. Pat McGilligan, "Charles Bennett", Backstory 1, p25
  8. "Multiple-Language Version Film Collectors' Guide: M (1931)". Brenton Film.
  9. TimeOut Review: "shootout re-enacting the Sidney Street siege"
  10. "Review". modelled on the notorious Sidney Street siege of 1911
  11. "Review". based on the Sidney street siege
  13. "The Man Who Knew Too Much". American Film Institute. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  14. Yacowar 2010, p. 135.
  15. Sennwald, Andre (31 March 1935). "Peter Lorre, Poet of the Damned". New York Times. p. X3.
  16. "The Man Who Knew Too Much (1935)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 15 September 2019.
  17. "Alfred Hitchcock Collectors' Guide: Slaying the public domain myth". Brenton Film.
  18. "Alfred Hitchcock: Dial © for Copyright". Brenton Film.
  19. "Bootlegs Galore: The Great Alfred Hitchcock Rip-off". Brenton Film.


  • Ryall, Tom. Alfred Hitchcock and the British Cinema. Athlone Press, 1996.
  • Yacowar, Maurice (2010). Hitchcock's British Films. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0814334946.
  • Youngkin, Stephen D. (2005). The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-2360-7.
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