Home > Films > M > The Man Who Knew Too Much

Wednesday May 22nd 2024

The Man Who Knew Too Much | 1956

The Man Who Knew Too Much film location: Plender Street, Camden Town, London NW1;
The Man Who Knew Too Much film location: Ben follows the trail to ‘Ambrose Chapel’: Plender Street, Camden Town, London NW1

Unlike the 1934 original (which was mostly set-bound), Alfred Hitchcock’s big-budget, colour remake of his own modest spy thriller utilises lots of real locations.

The director famously declared the first film the work of a gifted amateur, the second, of a professional, and the smart thing is to disagree with him and rate the Thirties version. But I really enjoy the later film, even at a weighty two hours. The director has loads of fun treating the extended climax as a silent film.

The Man Who Knew Too Much film location: Stage 4, Paramount Pictures, Melrose Avenue, Hollywood
The Man Who Knew Too Much film location: the Paramount soundstage in Hollywood where interiors were filmed: Stage 4, Paramount Pictures, Melrose Avenue, Hollywood

The film was based at Paramount Studios on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, where many interiors were filmed on soundstages, principally Stage 4, as I discovered on a tour of the Paramount Pictures lot. If you get the chance, and you're as big a movie fan as I am, it's hugely enjoyable.

The production of course also used plenty of practical locations in Marrakech and Hitchcock’s native London.

The Man Who Knew Too Much film location: Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech, Morocco<
The Man Who Knew Too Much film location: the murder of the mysterious Frenchman: Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech, Morocco

Middle class Americans Jo (Doris Day) and Ben McKenna (James Stewart) find themselves embroiled in the plot to assassinate an ambassador after their son Hank is kidnapped while they’re on holiday in Morocco. The opening scenes were filmed in the souks and the Jemaâ el Fna, the amazing main square, of Marrakech, with its dizzying array of food stalls, storytellers and snake-charmers.

The Man Who Knew Too Much film location: Hotel La Mamounia, Marrakech, Morocco
The Man Who Knew Too Much film location: Ben and Jo stay at the Hotel La Mamounia, Marrakech, Morocco | Photograph: Wikimedia /martinvarsavsky

The couple stays in the famous, and extremely pricey, Hotel La Mamounia, avenue Bab Jdid. Intimidatingly luxurious, the Mamounia, one of the world's classic luxury hotels, within the old city walls. It's been substantially revamped since the Fifties. Its seven acres of exotic garden were used in Oliver Stone’s epic Alexander.

Back in London, Ben follows a lead to Camden Town, North London, arriving by cab on Royal College Street, NW1.

He feels he's being followed as he walks along Plender Street toward 'Ambrose Chapel', which turns out to be a taxidermist studio.

Hitchcock meant to film the taxidermist scene on a set in Hollywood, but eventually plumped for the real premises of Gerrard Family Taxidermists on College Place. The company supplied stuffed animals to the likes of the British Museum – and also to film studios.

Hitchcock's usual method was to find a suitable location and then recreate it in a studio where he'd have total control over the camera angles and lighting, but it's claimed he was so taken with the premises' atmosphere he actually filmed the interiors here too.

Gerrard's closed down in the mid-Sixties. College Place and the houses on the east side of Plender Street have been completely redeveloped but Royal College Street remains virtually unchanged in Camden Town (tube: Camden, Northern Line).

In the background, on Royal College Street, you can see the boarding house where French poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud (played by David Thewlis and Leonardo DiCaprio in Agnieska Holland's film of Total Eclipse) briefly lodged (a plaque on the wall of the house commemorates their stay).

The ‘real’ Ambrose Chapel, where Hank is imprisoned, was St Saviour’s Church Hall in Brixton, south London. St Saviour’s Church itself is still there, but the church hall has gone.

The Embassy, too, has gone. It was Park Lane House, which was demolished to make way for the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane.

The Man Who Knew Too Much film location: Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, South Kensington, London<
The Man Who Knew Too Much film location: the wordless climax at the concert: Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, South Kensington, London

The extended, wordless climax, with Hitchcock regular collaborator Bernard Hermann conducting the orchestra, was filmed in the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, South Kensington.

The hall was the brainchild of Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, following on the success of his Great Exhibition of 1851. Sadly, the prince died before the hall, opened in 1871, was completed.