The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 film)

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Original film poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by John Michael Hayes
Angus MacPhail
Based on story by
Charles Bennett
D. B. Wyndham-Lewis
Starring James Stewart
Doris Day
Bernard Miles
Christopher Olsen
Daniel Gelin
Reggie Nalder
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Robert Burks
Edited by George Tomasini
Filwite Productions, Inc.
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Universal Pictures
Release dates
June 1, 1956
Running time
120 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.2 million
Box office $11.3 million[1]

The Man Who Knew Too Much is a 1956 suspense thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring James Stewart and Doris Day. The film is a somewhat altered remake in widescreen VistaVision and Technicolor of Hitchcock's 1934 film of the same name.

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."[2][3]

The film won an Academy Award for Best 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.[4]


An American family—Dr. Benjamin "Ben" McKenna (James Stewart), his wife, popular singer Josephine Conway "Jo" McKenna (Doris Day), and their son Henry "Hank" McKenna (Christopher Olsen)—are vacationing in Morocco. Traveling from Casablanca to Marrakesh, they meet Frenchman Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin). He seems friendly, but Jo is suspicious of his many questions and evasive answers.

Louis offers to take the McKennas out to dinner, but cancels when a sinister-looking man knocks at the McKennas' hotel-room door. Later, at a local restaurant, the McKennas meet friendly English couple Lucy (Brenda De Banzie) and Edward Drayton (Bernard Miles). The McKennas are surprised to see Bernard arrive and sit at another table, apparently ignoring them.

The next day, attending a busy outdoor market with the Draytons, the McKennas see a man being chased by police. After being stabbed in the back, the man approaches Ben, who discovers it is actually Louis in disguise. The dying Bernard whispers that a foreign statesman will be assassinated in London soon, and that Ben must tell the authorities there about "Ambrose Chappell". Lucy offers to return Hank to the hotel while the police question Ben and Jo. An officer explains that Louis was a French Intelligence agent on assignment in Morocco.

Ben is told via a phone call that Hank has been kidnapped but will not be harmed if the McKennas say nothing to the police about Bernard's warning.

In London, Scotland Yard's Inspector Buchanan (Ralph Truman) tells them Louis was trying 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 search for a man named "Ambrose Chappell" and find "Ambrose Chapel", where Drayton is leading a service. Ben confronts Drayton and is knocked out and locked in the chapel. The Draytons take Hank to a foreign embassy just before Jo arrives with police at the now-deserted chapel. Jo learns that Buchanan has gone to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. There, she sees the sinister man who came to her door in Morocco. When he threatens to harm Hank if she interferes, she realizes that he is the assassin sent to kill the foreign Prime Minister (Alexis Bobrinskoy) at the concert.

Ben escapes and 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. Jo screams and the assassin misses his mark, merely wounding his target. Ben struggles with the would-be killer, who falls to his death from the balcony.

The grateful Prime Minister invites the McKennas to the embassy, where they learn that the Draytons and Hank are also there. The ambassador (Mogens Wieth) himself organized the plot to kill the Prime Minister.

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 is guarding Hank, but tells him to whistle along with the song, and Ben finds him. Drayton tries to escape with them at gunpoint, but when Ben hits him, he falls and dies accidentally.

The McKennas return to their hotel room. 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 marketplace, 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. Screenwriter John Michael Hayes was hired on the condition that he would not watch the early version or read its script, with all the plot details coming from a briefing with Hitchcock.[6]: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.[6]: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.

The film started its principal photography on location in Marrakesh, where the schedule had to be changed so the Marrakesh shoot did not coincide with Ramadan. Day was shocked by the health of the local animals, prompting her to only accept filming once the studio set up an animal-feeding station in Marrakesh. Afterwards, production moved to London, with external shots, and the interiors of both the taxidermist shop and the Royal Albert Hall. Once the external shoots were finished, the other interiors – which included a replica of most of the Albert Hall – were shot in the Paramount soundstages in Los Angeles. The 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 only plays one note in a symphony, similar to the cymbal player in the film.[7]


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[8] and number one in the UK.[9] The song was commissioned specially to use Day's singing abilities.

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 and singers during the Royal Albert Hall scenes. The sequence in Albert Hall runs for twelve minutes without any dialogue, from the beginning of Storm Clouds Cantata until the climax, when Doris Day's character screams.[10]

This may be the only surviving film of the London Symphony Orchestra leader, violinist George Stratton and Principal Cello Dennis Nisbett.


The film was a commercial success. Filmed on a budget of $1.2 million, it grossed $11,333,333 at the domestic box office,[1] earning $4.1 million in US theatrical rentals.[11]

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.[12]

Home video

The Man Who Knew Too Much is one of five movies that Alfred Hitchcock directed that he ended up owning. This movie was kept out of re-release until 1983 when it was purchased by Universal Pictures.[13] The film has been released on home video by Universal Pictures in VHS, DVD and Blu-ray[14] formats. The 2000 DVD includes a special documentary on the making of the film, including interviews with Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia Hitchcock, and members of the production crew. The DVD and Blu-ray editions retain the original VistaVision aspect ratio, capturing the full widescreen impact of the film, with digitally restored images.

See also


  1. 1 2 Box Office Information for The Man Who Knew Too Much. The Numbers. Retrieved August 16, 2013.
  2. Coe, Jonathan. "The Man Who Knew Too Much". Sight and Sound. BFI. Retrieved April 13, 2012.
  3. "Hitchcock".
  4. "Festival de Cannes: The Man Who Knew Too Much". Retrieved February 4, 2009.
  5. Acting Cast List for The Man Who Knew Too Much - The New York Times
  6. 1 2 DeRosa, Steven. Writing with Hitchcock. The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcok and John Michael Hayes. Faber and Faber, 2001.
  7. Hitchcock/Truffaut, p. 92
  8. Whitburn (1987), p. 87
  9. " – UK Top 40 Hit Database". June 1956. Retrieved August 25, 2008.
  10. "Benjamin, A: The Storm Clouds Cantata from The Man Who Knew Too Much".
  11. 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety. January 2, 1957.
  12. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2004. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
  13. "The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) - Notes -". Turner Classic Movies.
  14. Kenneth Brown. "The Man Who Knew Too Much Blu-ray".
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