Even more than Olive Films’ extraordinary edition of John Ford’s The Quiet Man, this Criterion Collection restoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much is my favorite Blu-ray so far this year. Long seen by cinephiles in crappy public-domain versions—first on 16 MM, then VHS and dollar DVD—this edition uses the best available film elements and digital techniques to make it seem almost new.
The story, remade by the director himself a few decades later, is a fast-paced tale of spies, kidnapping, and assassination topped off by a brutal siege in the middle of London. It’s virtuoso filmmaking enhanced by Peter Lorre’s dazzling English-language debut as a giggling anarchist sociopath. This is top-shelf entertainment.
And, since it’s from Criterion, there are some choice extras. These include a great interview with Guillermo del Toro, who, before he became a world-class director of horror and fantasy films, got his start as a Hitchcock aficionado and scholar. Del Toro makes a compelling case for this film being the one in which Hitchcock became Hitchcock, “master of suspense” and cinematic brand. There’s also both parts of a two-part Brit TV special on Hitchcock from 1972, when the director returned to his homeland to make Frenzy. In the first part he’s interviewed by journalist Pia Lindstrom, which is fun because she’s Ingrid Bergman’s daughter and Hitch is on his best, most charming behavior; the second part is compelling because he’s interviewed by film scholar William K. Everson, who steers Hitchcock onto films and topics that he didn’t often talk about. And there’s an insightful essay by sometime New York Post critic and film blogger Farran Smith Nehme (aka the Self-Styled Siren).
The star of the package is the restored feature, however, and would be a must-see even without the usual Criterion goodies.