Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)
Release Date: January 15, 2013
Region: Region A
Video: 1080P (AVC, M-PEG 4)
Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio (1,152kbps, 48kHz, 24bit)
Bitrate: 34.98 Mbps
Note: A DVD edition of this title is also available.
“To all appearances, I seemed to have gone into a creative decline in 1933 when I made Waltzes from Vienna, which was very bad – and yet the talent must have been there all along since I had already conceived the project for The Man Who Knew Too Much, the picture that re-established my creative prestige.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)
This quote sums up the film’s importance rather nicely. Hitchcock was considered a genius early in his career with such films as The Lodger, The Ring, and Blackmail. However, he had long been in decline. After a string of poorly received films, the director was still finding his voice (one notices that his more successful early efforts were thrillers). With The Man Who Knew Too Much, Hitchcock discovered this voice and began a series of British thrillers that cemented his reputation as “the master of suspense” while also attracting attention from Hollywood. It is also noteworthy to mention that this is Peter Lorre’s first English speaking role. It would probably not be an exaggeration to say that this film gave him a foothold on his prestigious Hollywood career.
There is the inevitable argument between Hitchcock enthusiasts as to whether this or his 1956 remake is the better film. Hitchcock himself told Francois Truffaut in his excellent book length interview that “the first version was the work of a talented amateur, and the second was made by a professional.” However, he was speaking to a man who obviously had a preference to the 1956 version (and his American work in general). Hitchcock was probably swayed to give Truffaut a comment that would mesh with his obvious opinions on the subject. One must remember that Hitchcock loathed conflict. In the end, these are different films. Each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Whatever one’s opinion might be, it is hard to argue against the importance of this first version to Hitchcock’s career.
4.5 of 5 MacGuffins
Criterion usually manages an extremely classy presentation for its releases, and The Man Who Knew Too Much is not an exception. The disc is contained in a clear shell case with amazing cover artwork by Bill Nelson (designed by F. Ron Miller).
When one opens the case, there is a photo from the film’s climatic gun battle. The disc’s 15 chapters are also listed clearly here. There is a wonderful booklet inside the case that includes an interesting essay on the film entitled, Wish You Were Here. It was written by Farran Smith Nehme. The book is also gorgeously illustrated with photography from the film. The final pages of the booklet include interesting information about the transfer, production credits, and thank various people who made the release possible.
The menu is nice and in the Criterion style. They employ footage from the film along with Arthur Benjamin’s The Storm Clouds Cantata.
It is a very nice presentation and I can find no complaints whatsoever.
4.5 of 5 MacGuffins
I cannot tell you how many public domain releases of this film I have bought on DVD throughout the years (with the hope that I would find a version that was actually watchable). These releases were so washed out and beaten up that it was difficult to actually appreciate the work that Hitchcock put into the film.
There were no negatives of the film to work from and in order to get a decent 2K transfer, Criterion had to work from a 35mm nitrate fine-grain master positive from the BFI National Archive vaults. It was a difficult process, but the results are truly amazing. Watching this Blu-ray was like seeing the film for the first time. Criterion managed a consistently sharp and clear picture with almost perfect contrast. Edge flicker does not seem to be an issue here either. I did see a few hairs and lines here and there, but this is a truly remarkable presentation. I cannot see anyone beating this release in terms of picture quality.
The Man Who Knew Too Much is 79 years old, but Criterion seems to have resurrected it from the grave. The quality could be considered a minor miracle.
3.5 of 5 MacGuffins
The English LPCM 1.0 soundtrack (with optional English SDH subtitles) is also an improvement over the public domain releases. These tracks had very loud pops and a constant hiss that continued to annoy through the many dropouts evident in these sub-standard discs.
This Criterion soundtrack is better in every way. There is little to no perceivable hiss and dropouts seem to be non existent. I do not recall hearing any pops or any other major issues with the track. The music is sometimes flat and the dialogue is sometimes muffled, but I feel that these issues are evident in the source and one cannot blame Criterion.
4 of 5 MacGuffins
Audio Commentary with film historian, Philip Kemp
I prefer documentaries to commentaries because of the tendency that many commentaries have of telling you what you are seeing on screen. It can be a lot like listening to commentators during a sports broadcast. On occasion, a good commentary will come along that actually provides you with information. This is one of those commentaries.
Kemp gives listeners a wealth of information that audiences should find interesting. The issue here may be that there is so much information that it is difficult for some of it to actually soak in. A few people might be irritated by Kemp’s dry delivery, but I found the track to be an enjoyable addition to the disc.
The Illustrated Hitchcock: 1972 Interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, Pia Lindstrom, and William K. Everson — (49:48)
This documentary is my personal favorite of the disc’s special features. We are given two interesting interviews with the master himself. These interviews are complete with footage from the mentioned films. I found it thoroughly enjoyable. The picture quality is not as crisp, but the content itself is fantastic.
Excerpts from François Truffaut’s 1962 Interview with Hitchcock — (22:56)
People who have read Truffaut’s book length interview will find this audio interview familiar. A photo of the two great filmmakers (taken at the time of the interview) fills the screen as we hear them discussing The Man Who Knew Too Much. Helen G. Scott’s interpretation of both the questions and the answers can become tiresome, but the conversation itself is extremely interesting.
Interview with Guillermo del Toro — (17:40)
This is an illustrated interview with the contemporary filmmaker, Guillermo del Toro. In this piece, he discusses both Alfred Hitchcock and The Man Who Knew Too Much. It is less essential than the interviews with Hitchcock, but it remains interesting to fans of either director.
Restoration Demonstration — (05:12)
This is more than a simple before and after comparison of the film’s restoration to the source print. It is an interesting discussion on how Criterion was able to manage such an excellent transfer. I enjoyed this short piece quite a bit.
Criterion has done some amazing work on this film and it certainly belongs in every Hitchcock fan’s collection. There is absolutely no reason not to purchase this amazing disc.
Reviewed by: Devon Powell
9 thoughts on “Blu-ray Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much – The Criterion Collection”
Reblogged this on HITCHCOCK'S VERTIGO and commented:
Great new Hitchcock blog focusing on Blu-ray Hitch. The debut is top notch and has made me order my own Criterion copy. Good work, Devon.
Thank you. Criterion did an excellent job on the transfer. It is worth owning.
Awesome. I have never seen this one. It makes me want to see it though.
Wow, this is pretty in depth. I love the Criterion Collection!
I love the Criterion Collection too! You should review more of those. I am not sure if I have seen this version. I saw the one with James Stewart.
I love The Criterion Collection. I agree that this seems to be the film where Hitchcock “came into his own” so to speak.
I showed the 1934 Criterion version to my college students, and the following week showed the 1956 version, both on a 20-foot screen in BluRay. We had a consensus that as polished and professional as the later version may be, the old one pops out through its flaws with remarkable originality and haunting atmospheres. Thanks for the review Devon – thoughtful and thorough.