Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Watched this classic Hitchcock film last night and was frustrated by the blatant passive nature of the main female character in the film. The story is of a husband and wife travelling in Morocco with their young son, and through a series of events, the son is kidnapped.

Jimmy Stewart is the husband and Doris Day the wife. He's a doctor, she's a semi-retired singer. At every turn, he gets to make all the decisions and take all the action.

The classic is when Stewart's character, Dr. McKenna, gives his wife Jo a couple of sedatives before telling her their son has been kidnapped. "You know how you get," he says. And sure enough, she goes hysterical in his arms.

Then she's comatose as he does the initial investigation, and he has to drag her out of her stupor to take her from Morocco to London. She gets hysterical again at Scotland Yard.

When Dr. McKenna runs off to look for the boy, Jo is pointed in the right direction by a male guest, but once she arrives at the alternate location, she doesn't actually do anything - she just calls her husband.

Once they're together again, it's the good doctor who again comes up with the plan for her to leave and call the cops. When the cops arrive however, she's locked out of the building, powerless to do anything.

At the turning point of the film, she screams to distract the assassin, but it's Jimmy who gets to fight him. Then, in the final climax where they rescue the boy, it's once again Jimmy with the plan: she gets to sing, while he goes to rescue their son. He knocks down the door, then knocks the bad guy downstairs.

Meanwhile, the female kidnapper is tough for most of the movie, but in the last moments, is given a maternal instinct to protect the boy.

It would be interesting to trace female characters through Hitchcock's work. In To Catch a Thief, for example, the female figures drive the action, and one is the thief in question. I haven't seen Marnie, but it too revolves around a female thief. It's on this week on TCM, so I'll have a chance to check it out and report!


Marjo said...

Aha! Polly speaks film; -)...Reading your comments on this well-known film has me thinking of Sir Walter Scott's influence on 'the South' and his seemingly ever-living influence. The death of the Confederacy did nothing to change the power of Romance as Purpose in the South. D.W. Griffith, known to some as the first cinematic genius, was the son of Colonel Jacob Griffith who fought in the Civil War, and the theme of Griffith's work in cinema was simple segue from life as he knew it (through Scott's influence), to portraying the defence of feminine purity in his films. The world soon learned to regard ladies as vulnerable and needing protection in the manner of Southern belles, through 'Stars'(not to be confused with actors) like Mary Pickford & Lillian Gish.
Isn't it interesting that the fight to tear down one man's narrative that movie-goers have accepted as Truth is taking us so very long? Will we ever succeed in breaking through to the medium of film? Art is not immitating life in this case...unless you live in the South.

Dave said...

I have to admit I've never seen this one - I've heard that it's inferior to the original, which I have seen and is quite good. You should check out his earliest stuff, much of which is now in the public domain - The Lady Vanishes, Blackmail, even Sabotage. The best of his mid-period works - Rebecca, Notorious and Suspicion - had female leads, not sure if they were strong or not.

Polly said...

M - Just finished The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - a very different take on women in the South!

D - Do want to see the original, though I've seen clips and much of it is a straight up re-make, to the point of shot-by-shot.