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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New audio commentary featuring film historian Philip Kemp
  • New interview with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro
  • The Illustrated Hitchcock, an extensive interview with director Alfred Hitchcock from 1972, conducted by journalist Pia Lindstrom and film historian William Everson
  • Audio excerpts from filmmaker François Truffaut's legendary 1962 interviews with Hitchcock
  • Restoration demonstration

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Frank Vosper, Hugh Wakefield, Nova Pilbeam, Pierre Fresnay, Cicely Oates
1934 | 75 Minutes | Licensor: ITV Global Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #643
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: January 15, 2013
Review Date: December 29, 2012

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SYNOPSIS

An ordinary British couple vacationing in Switzerland suddenly find themselves embroiled in a case of international intrigue when their daughter is kidnapped by spies plotting a political assassination. This fleet and gripping early thriller from the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, was the first film the director made after signing to the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation. Besides affirming Hitchcock's brilliance, it gave the brilliant Peter Lorre his first English-speaking role, as a slithery villain. With its tension and gallows humor, it's pure Hitchcock, and it set the tone for films like The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes.

Forum members rate this film 8/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

A victim to a number of poor releases on home video because of its public domain status, Alfred Hitchcock’s original 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much comes to Blu-ray from Criterion in its original aspect ratio of about 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc. It’s also presented in a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer.

I wasn’t holding out too much hope for this transfer seeing as how it’s always been presented in sub-sub-par home video editions since the VHS days, and also based on the fact the slightly newer film The 39 Steps still showed its age on Criterion’s recent Blu-ray edition. Ultimately I was expecting a strong digital transfer for a film in fairly brutal shape. How wrong I was.

The presentation we get here is without doubt a fairly big surprise. Working with the BFI National Archive using a 35mm nitrate fine grain master positive from their vault, Criterion has delivered an amazing image. Not surprisingly the digital transfer itself is excellent, delivering as sharp an image as the source materials allow, renders film grain perfectly, and delivers fine contrast with deep blacks, strong gray levels, and excellent shadow delineation. What was surprising is just how good the source materials look. There are a few sequences where the image appears out of focus, maybe a condition present during filming, but as a whole the image is very sharp, with strong details particularly in jacket patterns. Damage is also surprisingly minimal. I was expecting all sorts of scratches and dirt but these problems are rarely an issue and the picture is mostly clean. Sure, there are some tram lines in places, a hair here and there, but in general it’s in impressive condition, far better than I could possibly expected.

Judging by the “restoration demonstration” this has been a project Criterion has been working on for close to a decade, holding out for the right elements, and it appears the wait was worth it. The film looks rather incredible and this is the best I’ve seen it on home video by a long shot.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

It’s limited by the film’s age and has a certain tinny sound to it that is almost expected, but the lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono track still sounds remarkably good. Despite some moments where dialogue is a bit muffled, it’s fairly sharp and easy to hear. Music sounds a bit flat with some minor distortion present but it could be far worse and I was certainly expecting far worse. As an added bonus I also think this is the first time I’ve seen the film where the audio didn’t drop, present a hiss, or any sort of pop. Another pleasant surprise to this release.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion piles on some supplements starting with an audio commentary featuring film historian Philip Kemp. It’s a dry but serviceable track featuring the scholar talking about Hitchcock’s techniques, this film, and his early career in general. It’s heavy on the technical sides of things, which I actually appreciated, especially where he points out some use of models I’ve never actually noticed before, while also spending time on general production problems (like producer C.M. Woolf’s apparent desire to destroy Hitchcock’s career by blocking this film’s production) and the cast, Lorre in particular. He of course also talks about the remake Hitchcock would do, going over the critical community’s opinions of the two films and even mentioning Hitchcock’s back-and-forth on which one was better, while also offering his own (pan of a) review of the remake. Throughout the track he sometimes makes quick comments to the side, like “slightly clumsy blocking here” without adding much more, but overall he gets through his material and offers up quite a bit of information about this period of Hitchcock’s career.

Guillermo del Toro next provides an 18-minute interview where he talks about The Man Who Knew Too Much. He covers some of the same material found in the commentary, yet again covering the issues the director was facing before he made this film. Del Toro then gets a bit more technical, talking about Hitchcock’s effortless move from silent cinema to sound, and how silent filmmaking served him well in his sound years. He then gets into the common themes found in his films like the use of heights and of course the “everyman” plots found in a good chunk of his work. He finishes off with the remake and then how he first discovered the director. It’s a great interview, the director pointing out some little subtleties many may not have noticed.

The Illustrated Hitchcock appears to be 50-minutes worth of excerpts from a television program made in 1972, featuring Pia Lindstrom (daughter of Ingrid Bergman) and William K. Everson taking turns talking to the director. Lindstrom takes up the first half and seems more interested in covering the director’s career as a whole, asking him about the difficulties of working with certain actors (Hitchcock sharing some great anecdotes about Montgomery Clift and Charles Laughton) and his building of suspense. During the second half Everson seems more interested in the director’s British works, including the silent films. Here Hitchcock gets even more technical talking about cutting together chase scenes, how he created the illusion of sound in his silent films, and eventually talks about a rather complicated effect in Foreign Correspondent once the two move on to his early American films. He also talks about the two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much, giving the idea he may prefer the remake because he feels he wasn’t conscience of the audience all that much during his early days. Overall it’s a great inclusion, possibly the best supplement on the set.

Criterion then includes more excerpts from the audio interview between François Truffaut and Alfred Hitchcock that the French director recorded in 1962. Here we get 23-minutes worth of material (played over a still of the two sitting together) featuring the director talking about his career in the early 30’s and then how he came to do The Man Who Knew Too Much, even sharing a rather long winded but interesting story about how he came up with the idea of the clashing cymbals. Though it can be hard to hear at times because you occasionally have Truffaut, Hitchcock, and the interpreter stumbling over each other as they speak it’s yet again great to get another one of these segments from the interview.

Criterion then finally provides a 5-minute restoration demonstration going over the extensive process in finding a decent source element. Interestingly it begins with samples of an early print they found, a nitrate print that once belonged to David O. Selznick. It looked fine but was a bit softer and was littered with a heavy amount of scratches. Criterion decided to wait and almost a decade later they came across a print in the BFI archive that turned out to be a 35mm nitrate fine grain master positive. It was in stunning shape but was severely warped (the title of the feature is “The Film That Warped Too Much.”) From here it then goes over the process they went through to get a proper scan without severely damaging the print even more. Though the piece has the expected before-and-after comparisons this demonstration proves much more fascinating than most as it actually gets into the heavy details of the equipment used and the tests that were conducted, even including photos and video footage of the process. Fascinating stuff!

The release then closes with a fairly lengthy essay about the film and the path it led Hitchcock down written by Farran Smith Nehme. In all Criterion has put together an excellent set of features, all of which are worth going through, offering some fascinating material about this period of the director’s career.

8/10

CLOSING

2013 opens with the most pleasant of surprises with this release. With an unexpectedly strong transfer that exceeds all expectation and a strong set of supplements Criterion’s Blu-ray for The Man Who Knew Too Much comes with a very high recommendation.


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