The Man Who Knew Too Little

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The Man Who Knew Too Little
The Man Who Knew Too Little.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJon Amiel
Screenplay by
Based onWatch That Man
by Robert Farrar
Produced by
CinematographyRobert M. Stevens
Edited byPamela Power
Music byChristopher Young
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • November 14, 1997 (1997-11-14) (United States)
  • June 4, 1998 (1998-06-04) (Germany)
Running time
94 minutes
Budget$20 million[2]
Box office$13.7 million[2]

The Man Who Knew Too Little is a 1997 spy comedy film starring Bill Murray, directed by Jon Amiel, and written by Robert Farrar and Howard Franklin. The film is based on Farrar's 1997 novel Watch That Man, and the title is a parody of Alfred Hitchcock's 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much and his 1956 remake of the same title.



Writer Robert Farrar got the idea for the film from a chance remark at a party. "The inspiration came from a dinner party, when somebody told me about these strange live theater performances which were all the rage in England in the '80s. The idea was to telephone for instructions if you wanted to take part. My immediate reaction was, 'Wouldn't it be fabulous if somebody got the wrong number, and it all went hopelessly wrong?'"[3]


Wallace Ritchie (Bill Murray) flies from Des Moines, Iowa, to London, United Kingdom, to spend his birthday with his brother, James (Peter Gallagher). James is not expecting the visit and is hosting a business dinner that night; to keep Wallace entertained, he sets him up with an interactive improv theatre business, the "Theatre of Life", which promises to treat the participant as a character in a crime drama. Before the night begins, James hands Wallace a pair of Ambassador cigars, promising to "fire them up" before midnight in celebration of Wally's birthday. Wallace answers a phone call intended for a hitman at the same payphone that the Theatre of Life uses for its act.

The contact, Sir Roger Daggenhurst (Richard Wilson), mistakes Wallace for Spencer, the hitman he has hired and Wallace assumes the identity. The real Spencer (Terry O'Neill) picks up the phone call meant for Wallace and murders one of the actors, prompting a police investigation. Daggenhurst, his assistant Hawkins (Simon Chandler), British Defense Minister Gilbert Embleton (John Standing), and Russian intelligence agent Sergei (Nicholas Woodeson) plan to detonate an explosive device (hidden in a Matryoshka doll) during a dinner between British and Russian dignitaries, in order to rekindle the Cold War and replace their aging technology.

Still believing he's acting with the Theatre of Life, Wally meets Lori (Joanne Whalley), Embleton's call-girl. Lori plans to blackmail Embleton for a substantial amount of money using letters that detail the plot. Spencer was hired to eliminate her and destroy the letters. Wallace scares off Embleton when he arrives to look for them and drives off Spencer. Fearing their plot will be revealed, Daggenhurst hires two more hitmen, while Sergei hires now-inactive spy Boris "The Butcher" Blavasky (Alfred Molina), to eliminate "Spencer". Boris succeeds in killing the real Spencer, but Wallace and Lori return, retrieving the letters.

Using Spencer's communicator, Wallace mentions lighting up some "big Ambassadors, at 11:59," referring to James' cigars. Thinking the words refer to the assassination plot, both sides believe he is an American spy who has caught on to their scheme. Daggenhurst offers Wallace and Lori 3 million British pounds in return for the letters, to be exchanged at the same hotel where the dinner is taking place. This is a ruse to capture and kill them both. All the while Wallace gets close to his "co-star" Lori, who confesses she'd love to study acting once they're paid.

Wallace contacts James and tells him to meet him at the hotel – soon after, James sees an evening news report that Wallace has murdered an actor and police are searching for him, prompting James to abandon the business dinner. Wallace and Lori are caught and held captive. Boris opts for torture by Dr Ludmilla Kropotkin (Geraldine James), but Wallace and Lori separate and escape before she arrives. James is captured and sent to be tortured by Dr Kropotkin. Wallace evades the hitmen and finds himself part of a group of Russian folk dancers performing for the ambassadors. During the routine, he sees the Matryoshka doll bomb, unwittingly disarms it seconds before it goes off, blocks a poison dart from Boris with it, and steals the show with his improvised dancing.

Realizing their plot has failed when the bomb fails to go off, Sergei and Daggenhurst bring out two bags containing the promised £3 million for Wallace and Lori and release James, who is exhausted but otherwise fine after his torture session. Boris congratulates Wallace for his impressive covert skills and gives him a souvenir pistol, telling Wallace he will continue his butcher shop business. Sergei and Daggenhurst attempt to escape with half the money and discover Wallace's doll, which they believe is only a normal one he picked out for himself. They are proven wrong when they realign the doll, reactivating the bomb and blowing them up, just as Wallace and Lori share a kiss.

Some time later, on an exotic beach, Wally unwittingly incapacitates a spy, passing a test by an unknown American espionage group. Believing he is capable of being a top agent, they offer him a position on "the team". Thinking that they wish to make him a movie star, Wallace accepts their offer.


The story and script was derived from the novel "Watch That Man" by the film's co-writer Robert Farrar.

Beginning filming at dark and leaving set at dark day in and day out was tough on the crew and cast. Lead Actor Bill Murray admitted in an interview, "It was hard doing this, but I had fun".[4]

Director Jon Amiel enjoyed working with Bill Murray and says he has "so many Bill stories". He describes a moment where Bill physically picked up his mother who visited the set, "threw her over his shoulder and spun her around".[citation needed]

Amiel likes to think of the director as the "host of the party" to keep the set simultaneously lively and fun while accomplishing all required tasks in a timely fashion.

Filming took place in London's East End (Three Mills Studios), at a variety of London locations, and just outside London at the Elstree Film Studios.


  • Bill Murray
  • Peter Gallagher
  • Joanne Whalley
  • Alfred Molina
  • Richard Wilson
  • Geraldine James
  • John Standing
  • Anne Chancellor
  • Nicolas Wooderson
  • Simon Chandler
  • John Dimitri
  • Cliff Parisi
  • Dexter Fletcher
  • Sheila Reid
  • Eddie Marsden


Released to theaters nationally and internationally on November 14, 1997, The Man Who Knew Too Little was financed by Regency and distributed by Warner Bros.

Box Office[edit]

Opening Weekend: $4,604,819 (33.4% of total gross)
Legs: 3.00 (domestic box office/biggest weekend)
Domestic Share: 100.0% (domestic box office/worldwide)
Production Budget: $20,000,000 (worldwide box office is 0.7 times production budget)
Theater counts: 2,036 opening theaters/2,039 max. theaters, 4.6 weeks average run per theater
Infl. Adj. Dom. BO $27,387,803



On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 39% based on reviews from 33 critics.[6]

The New York Times called The Man Who Knew Too Little "another movie high on concept and low on execution". The newspaper criticized its one-dimensionality. "Yearning to combine the lunatic spirit of the Pink Panther, the panache of James Bond and the suspense of Hitchcock, this comedy turns out to be a one-joke movie executed in routine fashion [...] the plotting relies heavily on misinterpreted words, like ambassador (actually the cigars, not the envoys), port (the wine, not the harbor), gone (not dead but departed), that probably convey more humor on the page than on the screen". The critic attributes what little box office success this movie conjured up to Bill Murray's stardom. "Neither an inspired physical comedian nor the beneficiary of clever lines, genuinely inventive situations or intensifying suspense, Murray rides through the silliness of "The Man Who Knew to Little" mainly on a funnyman reputation established 13 years ago in "Ghostbusters".[7]

The Chicago Tribune said, "'The Man Who Knew Too Little' is a movie where almost everything seems to go wrong, beginning with the title. An obvious takeoff on 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' -- the name of the twice-filmed Alfred Hitchcock thriller (1934 and 1956) about an ordinary family plunged accidentally into international intrigue -- the title is awkward, silly and unoriginal. Just like this movie. Despite a good cast and director (Jon Amiel of 'Sommersby' and TV's 'The Singing Detective'), "Man" is a film that entertains us too little [...] 'The Man Who Knew Too Little' isn't just a one-joke comedy. It's practically a no-joke comedy. The writers take a half-baked premise and clumsily retool it into a Murray vehicle. But they've cheated their star. Here, it isn't Murray who seems trapped where he doesn't belong, but the whole movie. Terminally unfunny, lazily unsuspenseful, uncertainly directed and full of good but stranded actors, "The Man Who Knew Too Little" isn't just a "wrong man" comedy thriller. It's the wrong movie. For Murray and for us".[8]

In 2010 Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club reviewed the film and said that it "doesn’t aspire to do anything more than wring some cheap laughs out of a preposterous premise" and as a result its low ambition and of managing to be "good enough" he considered it to be a secret success.[9]


  1. ^ a b "The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  2. ^ a b "The Man Who Knew Too Little". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  3. ^ The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997), retrieved 2020-04-27
  4. ^ Bill Murray interview with Jimmy Carter film: The Man Who Knew Too Little, retrieved 2020-04-27
  5. ^ "The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 2020-04-30.
  6. ^ "The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)". Retrieved 2020-09-09.
  7. ^ LAWRENCE VAN GELDER. "'The Man Who Knew Too Little': Eager to Take in a Little Theater". New York Times. Retrieved 2020-04-30.
  8. ^ Critic, Michael Wilmington, Tribune Movie. "VERY FEW LAUGHS IN BILL MURRAY'S 'MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE'". Retrieved 2020-04-30.
  9. ^ Nathan Rabin (2010). "Spectacularly Silly Case File #178: The Man Who Knew Too Little". The A.V. Club.

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