Pipping Paramount to the post, 20th/Fox beat Hitchcock’s MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH/’56 into theaters with this similar offering by a month.* Call it ‘The Man Who Knew Not Quite Enough’ with Van Johnson’s depressed, embittered blind American playwright accidentally overhearing some nefarious plot at a London pub (murder?; kidnapping?; robbery?) and turning amateur detective. Aided by mildly comic valet Cecil Parker and ex-assistant/ex-fiancée Vera Miles (glad to see any enthusiasm), if not by skeptical police, he pieces the plot together in spite of his handicap. (BTW: the word ‘blind’ never comes up.) With excellent use of London locations, nicely caught by lenser Milton Krasner (even in a disgraceful Pan-and-Scan DVD of this CinemaScope pic, the only current option), director Henry Hathaway builds a series of wry, suspenseful set pieces and gets an exceptional perf out of Van Johnson, nicely underplaying his handicap. The big climax (more Hitchcock, now from READ WINDOW/’54, and a look ahead toward WAIT UNTIL DARK/’67) ought to play better than it does. Perhaps the cropped frame hurts; more likely the plot’s grown too weedy for maximum effect. But don’t let that keep you from this snappy, well-observed mystery-thriller.
DOUBLE-BILL: *Naturally, the filmmakers couldn’t have seen Hitch’s yet to be released remake, but the original MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH/’34 made for easy pickings.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: You'll need to go back to MURDER!/’30 to find a Hitchcock where the lead takes the initiative seeking out a mystery to solve rather than having a threat come their way unbidden, forcing them into defensive detective action. Probably the most common misunderstanding in Hitchcockian pastiche.