Alan Smithee Podcast 71: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956, Alfred Hitchcock) / The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997, Jon Amiel)



In the several most recent episodes of An Alan Smithee Podcast, Andrew and myself have agreed to pairings of films that actually made sense. No more pairings of Mannequin 1: Not Yet On The Move and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but rather the clean through-line of Poltergeist with Poltergeist II: The Other Side, or even Roger Rabbit with Cool World. This week’s episode is a dip back into the slough of disparate. You’ll have to forgive us simply because this pairing of titles was too convivial to resist. Most conveniently, The Man Who Knew Too Much is a very darn well made piece of entertainment while The Man Who Knew Too Little is an unmitigated piece of shit. The extended suffix to both of these lengthy titles could have been, “about filmmaking.”

In keeping with the spiring of Hitchcock, I confess the shift in An Alan Smithee podcast’s format was brought about just as much by frustration connecting the themes, ideas or incidental details of unrelated movies in these write-ups as the desire to increase listenership through coherence in discussion. Yet as seems to happen, there’s more in common with two marginally related movies – i.e, they were actual movies that were once made, like The Stranger and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back – than at first glance. The Man Who Knew Too Little is not a parody of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Bill Murray’s vehicle had several arbitrary possibilities for a title bandied about, the most charming of which was probably the official German title, Agent Null Null Nix.

The face of each respective film, Alfred Hitchcock and Bill Murray, were on the precipice of a dark turn. In Hitch’s case, this film and North By Northwest were his last “family entertainment” films, if you’ll pardon the hacky marketing term. The Man Who Knew Too Much even stars a young boy and makes the reunion with his mother (played by Doris Day, ’nuff said) the emotional core of the narrative, even after Jimmy “James” Stewart has finished uselessly chasing the kidnappers. Compare this benignly oedipal comfort food a moment to several of Hitchcock’s next films: the obsessive insanity of Vertigo, the original oedipal slasher Psycho, and The Birds wasn’t exactly family viewing either.

Then there’s the trouble with Billy. A goodly portion of our discussion is devoted to deconstructing Murray since there’s so little to consider within The Man Who Knew Too Little except that it was his last attempt to remain a star in the American comedy mainstream. It’s like when Steve Martin decided early to switch to safe family comedies instead of being funny. In 1998 he starred in Rushmore, which is a great movie but marked the continuing fluctuation between indie™ Oscar bait and godawful paydays like Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. Bill Murray is more popular than ever, even though he’s never been less funny.

Simultaneously and possibly unintentionally by Murray, hipster syndicates anointed him the funniest living man in America and a pop-art icon, like Marilyn Monroe in the hands of Andy Warhol. You’ll hear our conclusions regarding this phenomena, but as you read these words consider the angle that Bill Murray’s deification by hipsters as the greatest comic actor in history rests upon the same film as any normal person’s recollection of Murray – that air thin miracle Ghostbusters – and every hipster wishes they could be Dr. Peter Venkman, a dryly sarcastic and emotionally barren asshole who nonetheless has all the best lines and ultimately gets the girl after her first impression of him is that of a total creep.


Episode 39: Psycho II (1983, Richard Franklin) / Psycho (1998, Gus Van Sant)

Leatherface. Michael Myers. Hannibal Lecter. These great men stand in the shadow of one forebear, and he wears a dress. His name was Norman, and this is his special.

Our movies this week are a bold venture for and cold, cruel experiment forced upon this legendary horror icon, and their results tell as much about the nature of film as the longevity of the genre’s most unforgettable mama’s boy. The Psycho series has a lineage unlike any horror movie franchise, born in the wane of mythical vampires and werewolves and shortly after the booming atomic age of giant spiders, giant grasshoppers – who could believe such nonsense? Inspired by the 1957 arrest of real life mama’s boy grave robber transvestite Ed Gein, Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel Psycho was quickly acquired and filmed on the cheap by Alfred Hitchcock. For better or worse, movies made on the cheap about pretty naked girls being stabbed by the mentally disturbed and/or sexually frustrated were forever in style.

That Halloween, John Carpenter’s epochal renewal of this irrefutable truth starred the daughter of Psycho‘s most famous naked dead girl of all time is contrived providence but providence nonetheless.

What Psycho had that none of its spawn ever did was Anthony Perkins. With respect to all of horror’s masked and unmasked psycho killer performances, Perkins coined the eponymous moniker for one singular reason. Qu’est-ce que c’est? Unlike Anthony Hopkins or even Robert Englund, actors who have owned the faces of their villains, Perkins made Norman Bates probably the most sympathetic villain in horror movie history – every bit as disarmingly human as alarmingly off-kilter.

Thus after 22 years, one chainsaw massacre, two Halloweens and three Friday the 13ths did Norman Bates finally come home. He had to, Mrs. Voorhees and her son Jason were practically stealing his bit.

Quentin Tarantino has said that Psycho II is superior to the original, and in his defense this facetious provocation might have had a point assuming he didn’t actually mean it. Great sequels like Aliens or The Road Warrior tend to be praised so much that their predecessors are neglected, while Psycho II is neglected for merely being a worthy sequel to a film regarded as an immaculate all-time classic regardless of genre. To recapture even a little of that magic 22 years later with none of the same creative forces behind the camera is so extraordinary that the film’s true accomplishment is really being one of the greatest sequels of all time – as in a Part II, a roman numeraled continuation which cannot stand alone the way The Road Warrior or Aliens entertain without requiring prior viewing.

After ruining the twists to not only part II but parts III and IV as well, we turn to an official ruination of not only beloved Norman Bates but the original masterpiece as well. Gus Van Sant’s Psycho is probably the most reviled remake of all time, in a rare consensus where everyone is right. Despite being publicized as a “shot-for-shot” remake, Van Sant actually reworks 5 to 10 percent of them to arbitrarily insert pointless art house imagery and literal masturbation to accompany the metaphorical. Psycho II (great) III (great) and IV (not bad) proved that Norman Bates had a life beyond Alfred Hitchcock as long as Perkins was around to guard his character’s integrity. Psycho the remake only proves that not only is Gus Van Sant an egomaniac who believes he can replicate someone else’s classic movie in a science lab, but a trendy whore who will cast Vince freaking Vaughn as Norman Bates to be hip.

Go get lost in a desert and make a movie about it, Gus. The only good thing about this movie was the poster. You’re the man now, dog!




Episode 36: The Stranger (1946, Orson Welles) / Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001, Kevin Smith)

Kevin Smith and Orson Welles have a lot in common. Firstly, they’ve both written and directed many of their own films. Secondly, they star in their own films. Thirdly, they like to eat. Okay, so they have three things in common.

The Stranger is quizzically one of Welles’ lesser known works despite being one of his most accessible. In a plot seemingly inspired by Hitchcock’s Shadow Of A Doubt, Welles himself portrays a Nazi war criminal hiding undetected in the milieu of small town America while plotting his future schemes. He’s so evil he kicks dogs! Hot on his trail is Edward G. Robinson, who nyaah sees through his perfect American accent and begins to turn the screws on Welles’ newly married bride, the lovely Loretta Young. When confronted, Welles strings her along as long as he can. But for how long?

Many sophisticated crane and tracking shots distinguish this modestly budgeted thriller as a warmup for later Welles classics such as Touch Of Evil. Despite his own dismissal the project as mere work for hire – which it certainly is – work for hire from Orson Welles amounts to an entertaining thriller easily in league with any other. While Robinson’s character is not particularly developed, Young’s is a minor masterpiece of tragic love for a man she has begun to understand is bad without fathoming the true extent of his evil. Welles does not give so much as a single noble quality to his beast.

Unlike a work-for-hire job, Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is nothing less than one man’s completely unwarranted magnum ode to himself. Back in 2001, Miramax was far from bankruptcy and was actually willing to fund such folly. This is 22 million dollars they probably wish they had back right now. Smith has never been a serious moneymaker screenwriter on the level of, say, Joe Eszterhas or Shane Black, but what he lacked in misogyny he made up for with good casting, unpretentious comedy and the cutting edge gimmick of having his characters talk about Star Wars and Marvel comics for no reason.

His accumulated goodwill as the comic writer-director for geeks in the 90s finally put him over into the mainstream with Dogma. Then he had a choice to make. Either branch out beyond his New Jersey buddy comedy that began with Clerks five years earlier, or do more of the same. Promising to his lovingly patronized merchandise-consuming online fan following that Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back would be the final film in that mold – replete with cameos by the characters of each previous film – he wrote a stream of consciousness ripoff of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure starring himself. Then he broke his promise with Clerks 2 after Jersey Girl bombed.

We give a little extra time in this episode to his evisceration, but only because we were once fans ourselves.