My favourite Hitchcock film: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
There is a reliance, too, as so often in Hitchcock, on the stilted performance, notably in the case of the villains. Elsewhere, in Marnie and The Birds, Hitchcock's enjoyment of the poised and glassy presence reaps rich rewards as the surface cracks. Here, the kidnappers present a face of ludicrous and obvious wickedness.
But the film has great beauties, too, especially when it returns to London. The south London scenes of deserted streets and a dusty Brixton chapel – it's St Saviour's in real life – where the child is being held have a grey poetry. And at the centre of the film there is a blonde whom not even Hitchcock could reduce to iciness.
Unlike those other Hitchcock blondes, Tippi Hedren and Grace Kelly, Doris Day was only used once. In a nod to her huge fame, three years after Calamity Jane, Day is permitted a song – Que Sera, Sera. It occupies a crucial point in the plot, but in Day's hands it rises above a piece of mechanism. When Day's character sings the song at an embassy reception, hoping her son will hear her, the ripple of hope, despair and passionate attachment across Day's face is mesmerising, as is the simultaneous surface glitter and smile she puts on to entertain the audience.
Day, for me, is among the most wonderful performers of the 1950s and 60s and here she tears through Hitchcock's control. Often, in his greatest films, there is a beautiful, remote patterning – even in Rear Window and Marnie – which captivates. What is so striking about the second The Man Who Knew Too Much is that, for once, at the very centre, is a figure of passionate humanity. Hitchcock perhaps allowed the rules of his game to be shattered for once by Day's marvellous presence; perhaps he had no alternative and was thoroughly defeated. As I say, he never used her again.