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Tuesday December 18th 2018

The Man Who Knew Too Much | 1956

The Man Who Knew Too Much location: Plender Street, Camden Town, London NW1<
The Man Who Knew Too Much 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 location: Jemaa el Fna, Marrakech, Morocco<
The Man Who Knew Too Much 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 location: Hotel La Mamounia, Marrakech, Morocco
The Man Who Knew Too Much 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 red herring to ‘Ambrose Chapel’, which turns out to be a taxidermist’s. Hitchcock meant to film the scene on a set in Hollywood, but eventually plumped for the real premises of Gerrard Family Taxidermists, who specialised in supplying stuffed animals to Hollywood studios, were used for both the exterior and interior shots.

The company has gone, and the street has been redeveloped, but you can still see Plender Street and Royal College Street, NW1, where Ben arrives by taxi, 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 location: Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, South Kensington, London<
The Man Who Knew Too Much 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.