Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

In Alfred Hitchcock's VistaVision and Technicolored suspense-thriller, a dramatic assassination mystery, and a colorful remake of his own political thriller film from 22 years earlier; it was the only movie in his entire filmography that he made twice -- the first was a decidedly B/W British version made in 1934, shorter by 45 minutes and less sophisticated technically, that starred Peter Lorre as the criminal villain named Abbott:

  • the 1956 production opened with title credits that appeared over a view of a performing orchestra, with its finale marked by clashing cymbals (a foreshadowing of the film's climactic cending), and the title screen prologue: "A single crash of Cymbals and how it rocked the lives of an American family"

One of Early Title Screens - A Foreshadowing of the Climax

Hank with His Singing Star Mother "Jo" (Doris Day)

The McKenna Family with Frenchman Louis Bernard on a Bus to Marrakesh
  • the early part of the film introduced the American McKenna family - tourists from Indianapolis, Indiana during their vacation on a bus traveling from Casablanca to the city of Marrakesh in French Morocco (in Northern Africa), after attendance at a Paris medical conference; the family consisted of surgeon-husband Dr. Benjamin "Ben" McKenna (James Stewart) and his wife, newly-retired singing star Josephine "Jo" (Doris Day), with their 11 year-old son Henry or "Hank" (Christopher Olsen)
  • during their trip, one of their first acquaintances was friendly, handsome Frenchman Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin) - a man who initially appeared to fit the title as a "man who knew too much"; he intervened when Hank accidentally pulled off the veil of one of the local Muslim women
  • in the McKennas' hotel-room in Marrakesh, the family was startled when a sinister-looking man knocked at their door. [Note: He would later be identified as Rien (Reggie Nalder), a hired assassin]; Louis Bernard was in the McKenna's hotel room and witnessed the incident, and then abruptly cancelled his dinner plans with them
  • that evening in a local Arab restaurant in Marrakesh, in a 'fish-out-of-water' dinner scene, the McKennas met a friendly English couple: Lucy (Brenda De Banzie) and Edward Drayton (Bernard Miles); it was unusual that Louis Bernard was also in attendance at the restaurant, but basically ignored the McKennas
  • [Note - Spoiler: the Draytons were later revealed to be the real criminals - leaders of an anarchist terrorist group involved in an assassination plot.]
  • while the McKennas were in a crowded Marrakesh bazaar marketplace the next day with the Draytons (and Hitchcock's customary cameo appearance watching acrobats), they saw a robed, dark-skinned man, obviously with face paint, being chased by police, and then stumbling into the square and falling to the ground, with a knife sticking out of his back; he reached out to speak to Dr. McKenna: ("Monsieur McKenna. I'm Louis Bernard"); as the disguised Arab died in Ben's arms, his face paint rubbed off, revealing he was Frenchman Bernard whom the McKennas had met earlier. With his dying words, he whispered a secret to Ben (with a close-up of his ear) - cryptic news of an impending assassination: "A man, a statesman, is to be killed, assassinated, in London. Soon, very soon. Tell them in London to try Ambrose Chappell."
In Marketplace, Disguised Arab (Louis Bernard) Knifed in the Back -
With Whispered Secret to Dr. McKenna
  • Ben was mystified and spoke to Jo: "Why should he pick me out to tell?"
  • it was later revealed by the police authorities that Louis was a French Intelligence agent working there in Morocco, part of the Deuxime Bureau, better known as the "American FBI"; they learned that he had been investigating a potential murder of a statesman, and shared the secret of what he had discovered with Dr. McKenna: ("The dead man found out what he had been sent here to discover. That's why he was killed. He told you what he had discovered... Because he placed complete confidence in you")
  • Dr. McKenna received an ominous phone call in the police headquarters, revealing that son "Hank" had been kidnapped for blackmailing purposes: ("If you tell even one word of what Louis Bernard whispered to you in the marketplace, your little boy will be in serious danger. Remember, say nothing")
  • Dr. McKenna described his sudden revelation to Jo that he had figured out why they had been approached by Bernard before his death - they had been mis-identified as a couple (the Draytons from London) that Bernard was suspiciously tracking: ("He started to talk to us, and the reason he started to talk to us was 'cause he was on the lookout for a suspicious married couple.. a different married couple....He found them, all right. It was in the restaurant where we had dinner last night. And that's one of the reasons he was killed")
  • the Draytons were thought to be involved, forcing Ben (now the "man who knew too much") and Jo to travel to England to avert a suspected assassination attempt and save Hank
  • Dr. McKenna went off track and was delayed the next day in his search back in London - when he met with two taxidermists, both named Ambrose Chappell, Sr. (George Howe) and Jr. (Richard Wordsworth) - he suddenly and shockingly realized that he had misinterpreted Bernard's whisper; he had assumed that Ambrose Chapell was a person instead of a place - and it was where Hank was being held hostage by the Draytons
  • finally at the Ambrose Chapel, Edward Drayton was discovered leading a service, and revealed to be part of an anarchist terrorist group that was holding Hank hostage
  • the film concluded at London's famous Royal Albert Hall in a very suspenseful, wordless, 12-minute climactic sequence during a concert performance (of the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bernard Herrmann); both Jo and Ben McKenna was keenly aware of a planned assassination plot of some sort (the murder of visiting foreign dignitary - Prime Minister (Alexis Bobrinskoy)), about to take place at the end of the performance of Arthur Benjamin's Storm Clouds Cantata during a dramatic clash of cymbals, by Drayton's hired gunman Rien (Reggie Nalder); the gunshot was timed to coincide and be drowned out by the clash of cymbals at the end of a symphonic concert

The Assassin's Target in London's Royal Albert Hall: A Foreign Prime Minister (Alexis Bobrinskoy)

Gun-Barrel Pointing Outward From Behind Curtain

Assassin Rien Aiming His Weapon at Prime Minister
  • the final climactic moment came when a gun barrel was visible pointing out from behind a red box curtain in the balcony. At the moment of the potential fatal shot, Jo let go a terrifying, shrieking scream, upsetting the gunman's timing and causing him to miss his mark - his targeted statesman was only wounded in the arm. Ben fought with the assassin, who fell to his death when he tumbled from the balcony
  • later, the Draytons were found hiding out in a foreign embassy with the Ambassador (Mogens Wieth) who had hired them for the assassination job. The McKennas were invited by the Prime Minister to the embassy, where Jo was asked to sing the film's Academy Award-winning Best Song: "Que Sera, Sera" ("Whatever Will Be, Will Be") - Hank's favorite bedtime tune
  • held captive in the embassy by his kidnappers the Draytons, Hank heard his mother's voice and responded by whistling back - leading to his rescue and the death of Edward Drayton who fell down a flight of stairs and accidentally shot himself

A Sinister Knock at the McKennas' Door - A Quick Glimpse of a Future Assassin!

Dinner with the Draytons at a Local Arab Restaurant

Director Hitchcock's Cameo Appearance (lower left)

A Disturbing Phone Call About Hank's Abduction

Bernard's Whispered Secret - Later MisInterpreted

Phone Book Listings of "Ambrose Chappell"

McKenna Questioning the Younger Ambrose Chappell - He Was On the Wrong Track in London

Jo McKenna's Scream That Disrupted Gunshot

Assassin's Death - Falling From Concert Hall Balcony

Jo Singing "Que Sera, Sera" In the Embassy

Hank Alerted to the Sound of His Favorite Tune

Drayton's Death at Bottom of Flight of Stairs


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z