The Man Who Knew Too Much

G.K. Chesterton from Wikipedia

G.K. Chesterton from Wikipedia

Alfred Hitchcock directed The Man Who Knew Too Much, which was released in 1934 and featured the diabolical Peter Lorre. Hitchcock reprised the theme 22 years later, this time without Lorre, but with James Stewart and Doris Day.

Both films employ a character with a sharpshooting skill. In the first it’s an Olympic competitor, who shoots a French spy through the window of a ball room while said spy is dancing with Jill Lawrence (Edna Best), the wife of Bob Lawrence (Leslie Banks). The agent’s dying words, whispered into Bob’s ear, reveal a plot to murder an ambassador. Bob becomes the man who knew too much.

In 1956 James Stewart is Dr. Benjamin McKenna, and Doris Day is his wife. In a Moroccan market Dr. McKenna hears the dying words of a French spy. He is told of a plot to murder an ambassador. Dr. McKenna becomes the man who knew too much.

The original man who knew too much is Horne Fisher:

Horne Fisher continued to gaze steadily at the eddying stream. At last he said, “The police have proved it was a motor accident.”

“But you know it was not.”

“I told you that I know too much,” replied Fisher, with his eye on the river. “I know that, and I know a great many other things. I know the atmosphere and the way the whole thing works. I know this fellow has succeeded in making himself something incurably commonplace and comic. I know you can’t get up a persecution of old Toole or Little Tich. If I were to tell Hoggs or Halkett that old Jink was an assassin, they would almost die of laughter before my eyes. Oh, I don’t say their laughter’s quite innocent, though it’s genuine in its way. They want old Jink, and they couldn’t do without him. I don’t say I’m quite innocent. I like Hoggs; I don’t want him to be down and out; and he’d be done for if Jink can’t pay for his coronet. They were devilish near the line at the last election. But the only real objection to it is that it’s impossible. Nobody would believe it; it’s not in the picture. The crooked weathercock would always turn it into a joke.”

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). The Man Who Knew Too Much (p. 19). . Kindle Edition.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote a collection of mystery short stories and compiled them in a volume titled The Man Who Knew Too Much. The above excerpt is from the first story, “The Face in the Target.” Here again, it’s a story of a sharpshooter, but in this case no secret message is revealed by a dying man.

The dying man enters the story after has been killed by a sharp shooter and his car crashes into the stream where journalist Harold March and Horne Fisher are conversing after a chance meeting. As the reader follows through the eyes of Harold March, Fisher quickly unravels the details relating to the killing of  “poor old Puggy” with a well-placed rifle shot while the man was driving down the road.

Hitchcock owned the rights to the G.K. Chesterton stories, but he didn’t use any bit of the the plot. You have to be wondering what was going through Hitchcock’s mind. What a tantalizing title, but what a dismal plot for a movie. Not nearly enough mayhem.

IMDB gives writing credits for the first release to Charles Bennett and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis, with additional writing by Edwin GreenwoodA.R. Rawlinson and Emlyn WilliamsJohn Michael Hayes wrote the screen play for the 1956 production. They must have been running low on names in those days, because in both movies “Louis Bernard” is the French agent who gets killed.

There is no need to speculate on further works by G.K. Chesterton. Individual volumes and collected works are available in Kindle editions from Amazon, many of them free. These include Chesterton’s extensive collection of Father Brown mystery stories. Check it out.

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About John Blanton

I'm a retired engineer living in San Antonio, Texas. I have served in the Navy, raced motorcycles, taken scads of photos and am usually a nice guy. I have political and religious opinions, and these opinions tend to be driven by an excess of observed stupidity. Gross stupidity is the supposed target of many of my posts.
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