MovieChat Forums > The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) Discussion > Questions about the British couple (SPOI...

Questions about the British couple (SPOILERS)


--Why were they in Morocco? To find a hitman, maybe? Seems a long way to go if that's the only reason.

--Why were they tangled up with that ambassador (of an unnamed country)? And what was he up to, just some kind of coup d'etat?

--Why were they and their other associates (except the hitman) the staff of a church? That can't have been some temporary cover, or where would they get a congregation?

I thought these things would be explained by the end but they were just dropped threads.

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No. 1: Yes, apparently to find the hitman, but why they had to go themselves isn't made clear. Probably to check him out personally. We later hear he was "highly recommended by our people in Morocco."

No. 2: The Ambassador to Britain of this unnamed country was involved in an attempted coup, to be instigated by murdering the visiting Prime Minister. How or why the British couple got involved is never explained.

No. 3: Agreed, the church was not a temporary cover. It seems to be inferred they used it as a general cover for various nefarious plans (perhaps the "church" was a middleman to get in touch with assassins and the like -- like the Frenchman's family in Munich), and that would explain the second part of point #2. But this is never made clear.

Hitchcock always had lots of loopholes never explained or followed up on, or even logical or consistent.

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Hitchcock always had lots of loopholes never explained or followed up on, or even logical or consistent.


So I'm gathering, which makes me increasingly see him as perhaps cinema's most overrated auteur. I have seen a relatively small portion of his vast filmography (seven films), but that's more than I would have seen after my first couple attempts if he didn't keep showing up on "all time great" rankings. Of those seven, none of them were bad movies exactly (though this one comes the closest), but so far only one (Rear Window) was to my way of thinking really worthy of all the hype.

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Well, Hitchcock was a great technical director, for starters. Coming from silent days he was always interested in the camera, then sound, and in various ways to use the machinery of motion pictures, if you will, for his stories.

He was enormously creative and extremely innovative. He made Britain's first sound film, Blackmail (1929), and with a new technology and primitive equipment, he came up with some ingenious uses of sound and dialogue no one else matched.

In his English period (through 1939) his scripts were mostly written (or co-written) by his wife, Alma Reville, who was very good at coming up with the sort of stories that allowed him to indulge his predilection for innovative camera shots and the like. In America, he had the services of many top screenwriters. They provided him with great scripts as far as they went, but because of what he was trying to do oftentimes the plots had more holes than a Swiss cheese. To Hitchcock, plot was always secondary, basically a means of using the camera in different ways to entertain the audience. Of course, since most of his films were mysteries of one type or another, he was working in a popular genre to begin with.

This is the main reason why the plots of so many of his films don't stand up to a lot of scrutiny. (To be fair, that's true of a lot of directors and their films.) It isn't the logic of the plot that mattered as it was the ride. Plot was simply not Hitch's primary concern. It was something to hang the action on, and it was how he filmed that action that was the real treat of his movies. And the fact is, most people get so swept up in most of his films that they don't see, or at any rate mind, the various lapses in logic or consistency in many of them. That was just his style, probably no better or worse than most directors'.

Of course, he had clunkers and movies that fell short of his own standards, but despite this and any issues with his own work, he really is one of the giants of film. Not without flaws, but then who is?

I'm really surprised you've only seen seven of his films so far. I have to ask, which ones? Perhaps I could steer you toward some of his better films that you haven't yet seen, and that might have tighter plots.

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In descending order of how well I liked them:

Rear Window, North by Northwest, Dial M for Murder, Psycho, Strangers on a Train, Vertigo, TMWKTM

I don't necessarily care if a film's plot makes sense, if it is clearly in the realm of the surreal (I love Lynch's Lost Highway and Carax's Holy Motors, for instance). But the Hitch films don't strike me that way.

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Hitchcock wasn't a surrealist in the usual sense. His trick, I suppose, was to film reality yet present it in a slightly unreal, cinematic way. But that has more to do with his affinity for the technical side of the business, of making use of the camera and other mechanics of filmmaking, to present a stylized image of reality, rather than trying to create some alternate or deliberately bizarre version of reality. This was why he was less concerned with his scripts from a standpoint of logic. He simply wanted his stories to move so he (and, hopefully, the audience) could have fun and enjoy the ride.

Some of us here (myself included) like to deconstruct his films to point out plot issues. But this is part of the fun, and in a way a tribute to Hitchcock's art. That most people like most of his films even when they present some illogical plot developments is an example of how the director still could make an enjoyable movie while not adhering to strict rules of common sense. Besides, Hitchcock is hardly alone in filming scripts that don't hold up logically in many areas.

I have to say the seven Hitch films you've seen are among his best, but I'm glad to see you rank Vertigo next-to-last on your list. A lot of people go wild over that film, which Sight and Sound magazine last year named the best film ever made, in its once-a-decade poll of film critics and historians worldwide. (It upended the choice of the past 50 years, Citizen Kane.) I have never much liked that film, which I find pretentious and excruciatingly slow and dull. I don't require non-stop action as in North by Northwest, but Vertigo is to me a rather vacuous, overrated and ultimately pointless movie. It has its moments, and yes, I know all the great artistic significance it's supposed to convey, but I think that's all empty blather by self-appointed experts who feel the more obscure they sound the more others will be in awe of them.

If I may, I'd like to recommend some others to broaden your Hitchcock experience, including a couple of his pre-Hollywood British classics:

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934: mainly because you've seen this version)
The 39 Steps (1935)
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Foreign Correspondent (1940)
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) (his personal favorite of his films, and an excellent one)
Lifeboat (1944) (technically brilliant, and a solid plot)
Notorious (1946)
Rope (1948) (debatable quality but interesting for his technical approach, and his first color film)
I Confess (1953)
To Catch a Thief (1955) (Hitchcock light, nothing more)
The Birds (1963)

I've left out some good ones (Blackmail, Rebecca, Saboteur, Spellbound), but since he did 54 movies I think improving on 13% of his output will give you a better idea of his talents. Most of these films generally are considered classics. Best of all, they'll be there if and when you get to them.

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Yeah, I saw Vertigo precisely because it did take over that top spot. Super overrated--glad we agree on that one.

Just tonight, I added another Hitch film to the list: Frenzy. Interesting to see him working in the '70s, and there was one brilliant shot (I'm sure you can guess which one), but overall it was pretty "meh".

I've always wanted to check out Lifeboat and The Birds, so I will look for those next. At that point, I will have seen ten of his films, including as you say the ones generally reputed to be his best. So even if it's a small percentage, there are only so many hours in a day and days in a lifetime, and ten is a sizable number.

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Frenzy is an interesting one to have seen. It was his next-to-last film (his last, Family Plot from 1976, is a weak comedy-mystery that just kind of withers away, so it's one you can miss), and something of a return to his cinematic roots, as well as to England. I tend to agree with you: "meh". Though I also have to say I like that one a little better each time I see it. Originally, many years back, it didn't appeal to me so much.

Lifeboat is one of five films he had an Oscar nomination for. (The others: Rebecca, Spellbound, Rear Window, Psycho.) It's of necessity very tightly constructed, taking place entirely within the titular craft, and it was very controversial in 1944 for its depiction of -- well, so as not to even remotely give anything away, let's just say, of the male character who becomes the center of attention. Also it's one of the very few screen appearances of Tallulah Bankhead, the brilliant Broadway star who only occasionally made films; this was by far her best and most important. She won the Best Actress award from the New York Film Critics but was the first woman to win that and not even be nominated for an Academy Award. To an extent it's wartime propaganda but in a most unusual way. I think you may like that one.

The Birds is generally considered his last great film and is also quite neatly put together. A little slow on the build-up but the payoff is great and the performances quite good. If you see it now it's a fitting tribute to its late star, Rod Taylor.

I do hope over time you do see some more of his work. As I said, they'll be there if and when you want them. I like Hitchcock but am not one of his blind admirers; in fact the artificiality of many of his films, or their plot weaknesses, have over time eroded, though not eradicated, my pleasure in some of them. But then there are usually so many things to look for (even when they don't work) that he's certainly worth your occasional while. And some (like Lifeboat) have grown in my preferences as I watch and get more out of them. He made a few bad films and some "mehs", and he's far from an unflawed filmmaker even at his best, but he was certainly one of the most innovative and remarkable talents of twentieth-century motion pictures.

And you and I belong to that exclusive club of discerning individuals less than overwhelmed by the elusive charms of Vertigo!

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The title of this thread is "Questions about the British couple".

The first three threads discuss this topic; all the others go off at a tangent and discuss totally different subjects.

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And what a great tangent it is! Lots of great information presented with clarity and respect. I almost never see that these days! Even if it did stray from the title, what's the harm? I found this to be a refreshing change of pace from most threads here on IMDB.

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Why do you care when you think Hitchcock is overrated?

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When you're using an iPhone to post here on IMDB, the app doesn't allow you to start a new thread. That's probably why people go off topic sometimes. They want to share their thoughts and have to do so on somewhat inappropriate threads.

I wish this could be fixed. Also one can't edit a post, which is pretty annoying.

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