The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 film)

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The Man Who Knew Too Much
The man who knew too much 1934 poster.jpg
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Michael Balcon (uncredited)
Written by Charles Bennett
D. B. Wyndham-Lewis
Edwin Greenwood (scenario)
A.R. Rawlinson (scenario)
Starring Leslie Banks
Edna Best
Peter Lorre
Nova Pilbeam
Frank Vosper
Music by Arthur Benjamin
Cinematography Curt Courant
Distributed by Gaumont-British Picture Corporation
Release dates
  • December 1934 (1934-12) (United Kingdom)
Running time
75 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £40,000 (estimated)

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) is a British suspense film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, featuring Peter Lorre, and released by Gaumont British. It was one of the most successful and critically acclaimed films of Hitchcock's British period.

Hitchcock remade the film with James Stewart and Doris Day in 1956 for Paramount Pictures. The two films are, however, very different in tone, in setting, and in many plot details.

The film has nothing except the title in common with G. K. Chesterton's 1922 book of detective stories of the same name. Hitchcock decided to use the title as he had the rights for some of the stories in the novel.[1]


Bob and Jill Lawrence (Leslie Banks and Edna Best) are a British couple on vacation in Switzerland, with their daughter Betty (Nova Pilbeam). Jill is participating in a clay pigeon shooting contest. They befriend a foreigner, Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay), who is staying in their hotel. One evening, as Jill dances with Louis, she witnesses him being killed. Before dying, Louis passes onto them some vital information to be delivered to the British consul.

To ensure their silence, the assassins, led by Abbott (Peter Lorre), kidnap the Lawrences' daughter. Unable to seek help from the police, the couple return to England and, after following a series of leads, discover that the group intends to assassinate the head of state of an unidentified European country during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Jill attends the concert and distracts the gunman with a scream.

The assassins are then tracked to a working-class area of Wapping in London, near the docks, where they have their hide-out in the temple of a sun-worshipping cult. Bob enters and is held prisoner, but manages to escape. The police surround the building and a gunfight ensues. The assassins hold out until their ammunition runs low and most of them have been killed. Betty, who has been held there, and one of the criminals are seen on the roof, and it is Jill's sharpshooting skills that dispatch the man, who is revealed as the man who beat Jill in the shooting contest in Switzerland.

Abbott seems to commit suicide rather than be captured, and Betty is returned to her parents.



Before switching to the project, Hitchcock was reported to be working on Road House (1934), which was eventually directed by Maurice Elvey.[2] The film started as Hitchcock and writer Charles Bennett tried to adapt a Bulldog Drummond story revolving around international conspiracies and a baby kidnapping; its original title was Bulldog Drummond's Baby. As the deal for an adaptation fell through, the frame of the plot was reused in the script for The Man Who Knew Too Much, the title itself taken from an unrelated G.K. Chesterton compilation.[1]

The story is credited to Bennett and D.B. Wyndham Lewis; Bennett claims Lewis had been hired to write some dialogue which was never used and provided none of the story.[3]

Peter Lorre was unable to speak English at the time of filming (he had only recently fled from Nazi Germany) and learned his lines phonetically.[4]

The shoot-out at the end of the film was based on the Sidney Street Siege, a real-life incident which took place in London's East End (where Hitchcock grew up) on 3 January 1911.[5][6][7] The shoot-out was not included in Hitchcock's 1956 remake.[8]

Hitchcock hired Australian composer Arthur Benjamin to write a piece of music especially for the climactic scene at Royal Albert Hall. The music, known as the Storm Clouds Cantata, is used in both the 1934 version and the 1956 remake.

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo appears 33 minutes into the film. He can be seen crossing the street from right to left in a black trench coat before they enter the Chapel.

Production crew[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much", The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) DVD
  2. ^ Ryall p.103
  3. ^ Pat McGilligan, "Charles Bennett", Backstory 1, p25
  4. ^ Classic Film Guide: "his first English-speaking role (learned phonetically)"
  5. ^ TimeOut Review: "shootout re-enacting the Sidney Street siege"
  6. ^ "Review". modelled on the notorious Sidney Street siege of 1911 
  7. ^ "Review". based on the Sidney street siege 
  8. ^


  • Ryall, Tom. Alfred Hitchcock and the British Cinema. Athlone Press, 1996.
  • Youngkin, Stephen D. (2005). The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-2360-7.  – Contains interviews with Alfred Hitchcock and a discussion on the making of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934).

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