In The Man Who Knew Too Much, an American couple loses their son to kidnappers involved in an assassination plot abroad. And all they wanted was a nice family vacation. Although The Man Who Knew Too Much has never been one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most lauded films, it features the director’s typically impressive tension, creative use of cymbals, and one of Doris Day’s most dramatic turns. Here are 11 facts about the international espionage thriller, which was released 60 years ago.
1. IT WAS A REMAKE OF ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S OWN MOVIE.
The first time Hitchcock made The Man Who Knew Too Much, it was a black-and-white 1934 thriller starring a pair of British stage actors and Peter Lorre. Hitchcock felt the movie could have been better, so when Paramount agreed to an American remake, the director hired frequent collaborator John Michael Hayes to write a new screenplay and cast all-American actors Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day as his central couple. When François Truffaut later asked the director about the two films, Hitchcock said, “Let’s say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional.”
2. THE FILM DEBUTED “QUE SERA, SERA.”
“Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” has been covered by dozens of artists and appeared in movies ranging from Please Don’t Eat the Daisies to Heathers. But the first time audiences heard it was in The Man Who Knew Too Much. Jay Livingston and Ray Evans wrote the song for Doris Day’s character, the retired, world-renowned singer Jo McKenna. The track would earn Livingston and Evans an Academy Award and Day a signature song for the rest of her career.
3. DORIS DAY DIDN’T LIKE THE SONG.
Ironically, Day wasn’t a big advocate of “Que Sera, Sera.” The actress told NPR that “the first time somebody told me it was going to be in the movie, I thought, ‘Why?’ ... I didn’t think it was a good song.” Day eventually accepted its importance to the film, but still maintains it’s not one of her favorites.
4. VAL PARNELL WAS A REAL PERSON.
When Ben and Jo McKenna arrive in London searching for their son, they’re greeted at the hotel by some of Jo’s old theater friends. The lone man in the group is Val Parnell, which is coincidentally the name of an actual theater patron and manager. Brits also knew him for the TV specials he did in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as his nephew Jack Parnell.
5. COMPOSER BERNARD HERRMANN APPEARS AS A CONDUCTOR.
Bernard Herrmann created iconic scores for Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and many other Hitchcock films. He also worked on The Man Who Knew Too Much, but insisted that Hitchcock keep the piece “Storm Clouds Cantata” from the first movie in the remake. That music scores the climatic sequence at the Royal Albert Hall, where the McKennas attempt to stop an assassination in the middle of a concert. Herrmann appears as the symphony conductor, happily leading one of the few songs he didn’t write for the film.
6. THE 12-MINUTE ROYAL ALBERT HALL SEQUENCE HAS NO DIALOGUE.
Hitchcock lets the tension build for 12 minutes as Herrmann’s orchestra plays, but the characters don’t speak a single word the entire time. The only sounds are the orchestra and Doris Day’s scream.
7. BUT JIMMY STEWART ORIGINALLY HAD A LONG SPEECH.
Initially, there was a great deal of talking at Royal Albert Hall. According to The New York Times, the original script called for Stewart to deliver a page-long speech about why they had to stop the concert. But this didn’t go over well with the director. “You're talking so much, I'm unable to enjoy the London Symphony,” Hitchcock complained to Stewart. “Just wave your arms a lot and run up the stairs.” This was apparently normal behavior for Hitchcock, who was “suspicious of the spoken word.”
8. HITCHCOCK CAMEOS IN THE MARKETPLACE.
Hitchcock was famous for appearing in every one of his films, but it would be easy to miss him in The Man Who Knew Too Much. The director is visible for only a few seconds in the crowd of spectators watching acrobats in the Marrakesh marketplace—and he keeps his back turned the entire time.
9. DORIS DAY LOOKED AFTER THE ANIMALS IN MARRAKESH.
Day’s passion for animals is well-documented; she even created the nonprofit Doris Day Animal Foundation in 1978. So when she encountered several emaciated goats, horses, and dogs on set in Marrakesh, she threw around her star power. She refused to shoot any scenes until the animals received some care from the production company. The crew subsequently set up a feeding station, and once Day was content with the results, she went back to work.
10. IT WAS ONE OF THE FIVE “LOST HITCHCOCKS.”
For years, it was nearly impossible to see The Man Who Knew Too Much—or Rear Window, Rope, Vertigo, or The Trouble with Harry. And it was actually the director’s fault. Hitchcock bought back the rights to these films, giving him exclusive control over their distribution. He apparently did this for his daughter, believing the rights to these movies would grow more valuable over time. While they were locked away, the films were referred to as the “five lost Hitchcocks.” They were eventually emancipated in 1983 after a nearly 30-year absence.
11. THE TITLE HAS BEEN SPOOFED SEVERAL TIMES.
There’s the 1980 TV movie The Kids Who Knew Too Much. There’s also a Simpsons episode, “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” and a Mika album of the same name. The original Avengers series also got in on the riffing, but perhaps most famous is the Bill Murray vehicle The Man Who Knew Too Little, in which inept Wallace Ritchie must foil an international assassination attempt of his own.