Cinema: The New Pictures, may 21, 1956

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The Man Who Knew Too Much (Paramount), a remake by Alfred Hitchcock of his 1935 thriller, is almost buried beneath the weight of Technicolor, Vista-Vision and an endless Storm Cloud Cantata performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and the Covent Garden Chorus. Indulging his taste for contrast, Hitchcock takes an American family—so glossily normal that it might have popped out of a refrigerator advertisement—and sets it down in the eternal grime of Marrakech, Morocco. The family: Jimmy Stewart, a surgeon from Indianapolis; Doris Day, his songbird wife; Christopher Olsen, their typically cute son who thinks North Africa looks just like Las Vegas.

Stewart, as a puppy-friendly tourist, is soon pals with a jolly Frenchman (Daniel Gelin) and a pair of tweedy Britons (Bernard Mills and Brenda de Banzie). Doris is more suspicious: she thinks the Frenchman asks too many questions and that the Britons are just a little shifty-eyed. And what about the mysterious stranger with the death's-head face? Did he really knock at their hotel-room door by mistake? Even Jimmy realizes that something is up when Gelin, disguised as an Arab, comes staggering into the marketplace with a knife stuck in his back, and gasps out a dying warning that a political assassination will soon be attempted in London.

Stewart cannot tell the police this news because the conspirators have kidnaped his son to ensure his silence. The film slips smoothly into a Hitchcock chase sequence as Jimmy and Doris charge off to London to track down the kidnapers: there is a melee in a taxidermist's shop, an encounter with the villains in a Non conformist chapel, a hand-to-hand struggle with the gun-wielding assassin in a velvet-curtained box at Albert Hall, a final showdown in the gilt-and-mirror splendor of a foreign embassy. Hitchcock alternates his chills with comedy, as when Jimmy is bitten by a stuffed tiger, and gets deft performances from both Stewart and Doris Day. But the pace grows laggard toward the end. Instead of using music as a background for action, Hitchcock moves it up front, and moviegoers must sit still not only for the dismayingly long cantata but also for special numbers sung by Doris Day. The chief drawback of these musical stage-waits is that they allow the audience to think back over the story and conclude that it doesn't make much sense.

Hilda Crane (20th Century-Fox) was originally a series of short stories about an aging and raddled Manhattan career girl who tries to settle down to the straight and narrow in her old home town. In 1950 Author Samson Raphaelson adapted his theme to a Broadway play, starring Jessica Tandy as the lady who finds an overdose of sleeping pills easier to take than smalltown living.

Hollywood rings a few changes on the plot. Hard-luck Hilda (Jean Simmons) is only 22 when, "surfeited with the wrong kind of love," she comes home to mother after running through two husbands and an unspecified number of lovers. But things are tough at home too. Mama (Judith Evelyn) gets a faraway look whenever Hilda begins blithering about life. And rascally Jean Pierre Aumont wants to bed her, not wed her. True enough, wealthy Guy Madison has honorable intentions, but Hilda thinks he is something of a cluck. She marries him, anyway, only to have Guy's meanly suspicious mother take her revenge by dying of a heart attack.

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