The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 film)

The Man Who Knew Too Much is a 1956 American suspense thriller film directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock, starring James Stewart and Doris Day. The film is Hitchcock's second film using this title following his own 1934 film of the same name featuring a significantly different plot and script.

The Man Who Knew Too Much
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlfred Hitchcock
Produced byAlfred Hitchcock
Screenplay byJohn Michael Hayes
Story byCharles Bennett
D. B. Wyndham-Lewis
StarringJames Stewart
Doris Day
Brenda de Banzie
Bernard Miles
Christopher Olsen
Daniel Gélin
Reggie Nalder
Music byBernard Herrmann
CinematographyRobert Burks
Edited byGeorge Tomasini
Filwite Productions, Inc.
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • May 16, 1956 (1956-05-16) (New York)[1]
Running time
120 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.2 million
Box office$11.3 million[2]

In the book-length interview Hitchcock/Truffaut (1967), in response to fellow 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."[3][4]

The film won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)", sung by Doris Day. It premiered at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival on April 29.[5]


An American family – Dr. Benjamin "Ben" McKenna, his wife, popular singer Josephine “Jo” Conway McKenna, and their son Henry "Hank" McKenna – are vacationing in Morocco. Traveling from Casablanca to Marrakesh, they meet Frenchman Louis Bernard. He seems friendly, but Jo is suspicious of his many questions and evasive answers.

Bernard offers to take the McKennas to dinner, but cancels when a sinister-looking man knocks at the McKennas' hotel-room door. At a restaurant, the McKennas meet friendly English couple Lucy and Edward Drayton. The McKennas are surprised to see Bernard arrive and sit elsewhere, apparently ignoring them.

The next day, attending a Moroccan market with the Draytons, the McKennas see a man chased by police. After being stabbed in the back, the man approaches Ben, who discovers he is Bernard in disguise. The dying Bernard whispers that a foreign statesman will be assassinated in London and that Ben must tell the authorities about "Ambrose Chappell". Lucy offers to return Hank to the hotel while Ben, Jo and Edward go to a police station for questioning about Bernard's death. An officer explains that Bernard was a French Intelligence agent.

Ben receives a phone call at the police station; Hank has been kidnapped but will not be harmed if the McKennas say nothing to the police about Bernard's warning. Knowing Hank was left in the care of Lucy, Ben dispatches Edward to locate him. When Ben and Jo return to the hotel, they discover Edward has checked out. Ben realizes the Draytons are the couple Bernard was looking for and are involved in Hank's abduction. When he learns the Draytons are from London, he decides he and Jo should go to London and try to find them through Ambrose Chappell.

In London, Scotland Yard's Inspector Buchanan tells Jo and Ben that Bernard was in Morocco to uncover an assassination plot and that they should contact him if they hear from the kidnappers. Leaving friends in their hotel suite, the McKennas unsuccessfully search for a person named Ambrose Chappell. Jo realizes that "Ambrose Chapel" is a place, and the McKennas arrive at the chapel to find Edward Drayton leading a service. Jo leaves the chapel to call the police. After Drayton sends his parishioners home, Ben confronts Drayton and is knocked out and locked inside. Jo arrives with police, but they cannot enter without a warrant.

Jo learns that Buchanan has gone to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, and asks the police to help her get there. Once the police and Jo leave, the Draytons take Hank to a foreign embassy. In the Royal Albert Hall's lobby, Jo sees the man who came to her door in Morocco. When he threatens to harm Hank if she interferes, she realizes he is the assassin sent to kill the foreign prime minister.

Ben, having escaped the chapel through its bell tower, follows Jo to the hall, where she points out the assassin. Ben searches the balcony boxes for the killer, who is waiting for a cymbal crash to mask his gunshot. Just before the cymbals crash, Jo screams and the assassin misses his mark, only wounding his target. Ben struggles with the would-be killer, who falls to his death.

Concluding that Hank is likely to be at the embassy, but that it is sovereign and exempt from an investigation, the McKennas secure an invitation from the grateful prime minister. The ambassador organized the plot to kill the prime minister, and blames the failed attempt on the Draytons. Knowing that young Hank can testify against them all, he orders the Draytons to prepare to kill the boy.

The prime minister asks Jo to sing. She loudly performs "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)", so that Hank will hear her. Lucy, who is guarding Hank while Edward prepares to murder him, is distressed at the prospect of killing a child, so she encourages the boy to whistle along with the song. Ben finds Hank. Drayton tries to escape with them at gunpoint, but when Ben hits him, he falls down the stairs to his death.

The McKennas return to their hotel suite. Ben explains to their now-sleeping friends, "I'm sorry we were gone so long, but we had to go over and pick up Hank."


Alfred Hitchcock's cameo is a signature occurrence in most of his films. In The Man Who Knew Too Much he can be seen 25:42 into the film, in the lower left corner, watching acrobats in the Moroccan market, with his back to the camera, wearing a light gray suit, and putting his hands into his pockets, just before the spy is killed.


Alfred Hitchcock first considered an American remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1941, but only brought back the idea in 1956 to make a film that would fulfill a contractual demand from Paramount Pictures. The studio agreed it was a picture that could be well-adapted to the new decade. The Royal Albert Hall sequence drew some inspiration from H.M. Bateman's comic "The One-Note Man", which followed the daily life of a musician who plays only one note in a symphony, similar to the cymbal player in the film.[8]


Screenwriter John Michael Hayes was hired on the condition that he would not watch the early version nor read its script, with all the plot details coming from a briefing with Hitchcock.[9]:167 Only the opening scenes of the script were ready when filming begun, and Hayes had to send by airmail the subsequent script pages as he finished them.[9]:187–191


Hitchcock again brought James Stewart to be his protagonist as he was considering the actor a creative partner, and Paramount wanted a sense of continuity between his works. The director requested blonde Doris Day for the main female role as he liked her performance in Storm Warning, though associate producer Herbert Coleman was reluctant on Day, whom he only knew as a singer. Coleman strongly suggested that the more serious blonde actresses like Lana Turner, Grace Kelly, or Kim Novak be cast in the role, or a suitable brunette, like Jane Russell, Gene Tierney, or Ava Gardner. However, Day was eventually cast in the female lead.


Hitchcock's frequent composer Bernard Herrmann wrote the "background" film score; however, the performance of Arthur Benjamin's Storm Clouds Cantata, conducted by Herrmann, is used as source music for the climax of the film. In addition, Doris Day's character is a well-known, now retired, professional singer. At two points in the film, she sings the Livingston and Evans song "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)", which won the 1956 Best Song Oscar under the alternate title "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)". The song reached number two on the US pop charts[10] and number one in the UK.[11]

Herrmann was given the option of composing a new cantata to be performed during the film's climax. However, he found Arthur Benjamin's cantata Storm Clouds from the original 1934 film to be so well suited to the film that he declined, although he did expand the orchestration, and insert several repeats to make the sequence longer. Herrmann can be seen conducting the London Symphony Orchestra with mezzo-soprano Barbara Howitt and chorus during the Royal Albert Hall scenes. The sequence in the Royal Albert Hall runs for 12 minutes without any dialogue from the beginning of Storm Clouds Cantata until the climax when Doris Day's character screams.[12]


Reviews for the film were generally positive, although some critics expressed a preference for the 1934 original. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "James Stewart tops his job in 'Rear Window' as the man who knows too much, and Doris Day is surprisingly effective as the mother who is frantic about her child ... Even in mammoth VistaVision, the old Hitchcock thriller-stuff has punch."[13] Variety wrote that while Hitchcock draws "the footage out a bit long at 119 minutes, he still keeps suspense working at all times and gets strong performances from the two stars and other cast members."[14] Harrison's Reports called the film a "highly exciting and entertaining suspense thriller" that "grips the audience from start to finish."[15] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post also liked the film, calling it "a dandy of its popular kind" if "a wee bit too leisurely."[16] John McCarten of The New Yorker wrote in a negative review that while the remake was "unquestionably bigger and shinier than the original, it doesn't move along with anything like the agility of its predecessor. There can be no doubt, of course, that Mr. Hitchcock at one time was a master of celluloid suspense, but increasingly of late he has been turning out movies that are too overweight to indulge in the tricks of his salad days."[17] The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote: "Although a quite entertaining thriller, with some characteristically shrewd and caustic Hitchcock touches, it is likely to disappoint devotees of the first film. It lacks the earlier pace and excitement; the peculiarly English charm of the original has been exchanged for a vague VistaVision and Technicolor cosmopolitanism; the dentist episode and the siege climax are unhappily missing."[18] C. A. Lejeune of The Observer wrote that the plot had "a tendency to meander" with "jokes that may have looked more humorous in typescript," concluding that the film was "strong" as long as it stuck to the main plot, "But the first 'Man Who Knew Too Much' was stronger in every way."[19]

The film was a commercial success. Filmed on a budget of $1.2 million, it grossed $11,333,333 at the domestic box office,[2] earning $4.1 million in US theatrical rentals.[20]

The film has a score of 91% at the review-aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes based on 33 reviews. The site's consensus is; "Remaking his own 1934 film, Hitchcock imbues The Man Who Knew Too Much with picturesque locales and international intrigue, and is helped by a brilliantly befuddled performance from James Stewart." [21]

In 2004, American Film Institute included the song "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" as #48 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs.[22]

Home video

The Man Who Knew Too Much was kept out of re-release until 1983 when it was purchased by Universal Pictures.[23] The film has been released on home video by Universal Pictures in VHS, Laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray[24] formats. The 2000 DVD has a documentary on the making of the film, including interviews with Hitchcock's daughter Patricia Hitchcock and members of the production crew.

See also


  1. "The Man Who Knew Too Much - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  2. Box Office Information for The Man Who Knew Too Much. The Numbers. Retrieved August 16, 2013.
  3. Coe, Jonathan. "The Man Who Knew Too Much". Sight and Sound. BFI. Retrieved April 13, 2012.
  4. Francois Truffaut (October 2, 1985). Hitchcock: A Definitive Study of Alfred Hitchcock. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780671604295.
  5. "Festival de Cannes: The Man Who Knew Too Much". Retrieved February 4, 2009.
  6. "The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) Full Cast & Crew".
  7. Acting Cast List for The Man Who Knew Too Much - The New York Times Archived March 6, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  8. Hitchcock/Truffaut, p. 92
  9. DeRosa, Steven. Writing with Hitchcock. The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes. Faber and Faber, 2001.
  10. Whitburn (1987), p. 87
  11. " – UK Top 40 Hit Database". June 1956. Retrieved August 25, 2008.
  12. "Benjamin, A: The Storm Clouds Cantata from The Man Who Knew Too Much".
  13. Crowther, Bosley (May 17, 1956). "Screen: At the Old Stand". The New York Times: 37.
  14. "The Man Who Knew Too Much". Variety: 6. May 2, 1956.
  15. "'The Man Who Knew Too Much' with James Stewart and Doris Day". Harrison's Reports: 70. May 5, 1956.
  16. Coe, Richard L. (May 24, 1956). "Hitchcock Has Another Hit". The Washington Post: 26.
  17. McCarten, John (May 26, 1956). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 119.
  18. "The Man Who Knew Too Much". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 23 (269): 73. June 1956.
  19. Lejeune, C. A. (June 24, 1956). "Practised Hands". The Observer: 9.
  20. 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety. January 2, 1957.
  21. "The Man Who Knew Too Much". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  22. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2004. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
  23. "The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) - Notes -". Turner Classic Movies.
  24. Kenneth Brown. "The Man Who Knew Too Much Blu-ray".
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