The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

This film from the thirties was more progressive than a film from the fifties. I know I’m getting ahead of myself but the way Doris Day’s character is treated in the remake makes me shudder. So, back in 1934, the wife (Edna Best) actually saves her daughter using her Chekhov’s gun expertise, which is a great moment in a film of moments rather than a film of sustained storytelling.

It is also a film with a great cast: icy Cicely Oates, charismatic Frank Vosper (who died after falling from a liner), “silly ass” Hugh Wakefield, wonderful Leslie Banks with his two faces, and, of course, Peter Lorre who may have learned his lines phonetically but it’s his facial expressions that are memorable.

And then there’s sweet Nova Pilbeam (who is actually really annoying when she puts her mother off clay pigeon shooting) but takes part in the sensitive (incongruously so) ending when the traumatised girl is reunited with her parents.

Leslie Banks – right side

This scene at the dentist’s is just weird – notice it’s Leslie Banks’ left side

This scene works better in the remake

Yes, a mattress will definitely protect you against a bullet…

The mother saves the child

Appearance by a cat or dog: none!
Transport: glimpses of vehicles but no-one travels in any of them
Source: Alfred Hitchcock – The Early Years DVD (Concorde Video)

And finally, let’s not forget this shot of teeth

Mystery building

Mystery building
This building can be found in the middle of West Middlesex golf course in Dormers Wells, Southall. I think it looks like a old water company building but I can’t find a reference to it. Edited to add: I did find a reference on a map from the 30s to confirm that this was a valve house so it is related to waterworks. The golf course is in the Brent river valley.

Waltzes from Vienna (1934)

Phew, what a relief it is to get past these early sound films which have, in the main, been very poor. There have been plenty of enjoyable scenes, fancy special effects and camerawork, and some nice performances but none of the films have been good as a whole. Even the famous one (Blackmail) is better as a piece in its silent form than in its sound version (“knife!” not withstanding).

This was no The Smiling Lieutenant that’s for sure. I can’t be bothered saying much more than that. The director clearly had no interest in what he was doing and I’ll draw the line there.

While I was looking for a suitable image, I realised that this film did have a redeeming feature and that was Frank Vosper. This screengrab doesn’t capture the joyful way he owned his entrance combined with a beautiful bit of hat throwing.

Good catch, Esmond!


Thanks (as usual) to the 1000 Frames of Hitchcock project for reminding me of Vosper’s performance.

Alma fact: co-scenario by
Appearance by a cat or dog: none
Transport: a carriage
Source: Le Chant du Danube (Universal France DVD)