Hitchcock made The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1934 during his career in England. It starred Peter Lorre and was a hit at the box office and with critics. In 1956 while in America, he remade The Man Who Knew Too Much to fulfill a contract obligation with Paramount and cast Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day as the leads. He agreed with the studio heads that his original was a great film with room for wonderful improvement in the new era of filmmaking. This week I watched both versions of the film back to back, and came to the conclusion that the 1956 version may have been a better film at the time, but that ruling doesn’t stand today. Ultimately, I think the 1934 version is more engaging and a better example of storytelling.
Set in the early 1800s, Jamaica Inn takes place in seaside Cornwall, which apparently was a bit disorderly and mutinous back in the day. The area, comprised of poor and perhaps desperate people, was very prone to shipwrecks. There weren’t any proper lighthouses, just a few pathetic beacons from homes along the coast. What happens when you combine shipwrecks and desperate people? Some pretty devious crime, that’s what. Add a ballsy young lady with a sympathetic heart, and you’ve got a fascinating stage for Hitchcock’s first adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier work (the others being Rebecca and The Birds). Unfortunately, it’s not as good as it should have been.