Don’t you just hate remakes? Yeah, everyone does.
Except me, actually. Many films held up to be untouchable classics are in fact already remakes or unfaithful adaptions of pre-existent source material. Nothing is sacred. And no one understood this better than Hitchcock. The majority of his films were adapted from novels or plays and he had no qualms about altering any details he felt stood in the way of a good story.
Now in his mid-fifties he decided to remake his own film. The one that pulled out of his career rut 22 years earlier: The Man Who Knew Too Much.
There are basic story similarities between the two. A man and wife (this time, James Stewart and Doris Day) hear the dying words of a spy while on holiday (this time, Morocco), but their child (this time, a small boy) is kidnapped by a gang of assassins to prevent them from revealing what they know to the police. With only the name “Ambrose Chapel” as a lead, they head to London to rescue their boy and stop the assassins’ nefarious scheme.
How does the remake compare to the original? Well, for my money I pick the 1934 version over the remake any day. That’s not to say that they don’t share common flaws (both plots hinge upon the bewildering belief that a clash of symbols would drown out the sound of a gunshot) or that the remake is in any way a bad film; actually it’s extremely good. But which you prefer over the other boils down to a matter of personal taste. Maybe it’s a British vs. American thing. Who knows?
But if I tally up either film and hold them side by side this is what I find: Peter Motherfuckin’ Lorre > Bernard Miles; evil dentist > suspicious taxidermist; a Sun-worshipping cult > pretty much any other evil gang; a tightly structured 75 minutes > a flabby 120 minutes; and, I’m gonna get stick for this one, Edna Best > Doris Day. Admittedly, James Stewart > Leslie Banks because James Stewart > Just About Everything. But still. My ultimate conclusion is The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) > The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). I’m so, so sorry Jimmy…