'The Man Who Knew Too Much'

Leslie Banks and Peter Lorre in Alfred Hitchcock's original version of "The Man Who Knew Too Much," now available on a high-quality Blu-ray DVD from Criterion. (Courtesy of the Criterion Collection / January 4, 2013)

Thanks to the vagaries of distribution, Alfred Hitchcock's black-and-white 1934 “The Man Who Knew Too Much” has arrived on an affordable Blu-ray earlier than the director's better-known Technicolor 1956 remake, which is available only as part of Universal's expensive 15-film “Masterpiece Collection.”

Comparisons are inevitable. Let's simply say that the old version is a more perfect film, but the newer version is a greater film. That is, the 1934 take has a beautifully worked-out structure, with neat closure at the end. The 1956 version has several flaws in tone and casting, but also has deeper ambitions and insights.

The 1934 film lapsed into public domain decades ago; as a result, there are dozens of cheap, shoddy DVD editions around for five dollars or so. The heftier price of Criterion's Blu-ray is handily worth it. It features a restored print that is vastly better-looking on every level than the others, which were presumably duped from TV prints. The sound has been cleaned up — though, between the antiquated technology of the British industry and the accents, I found it worthwhile to flip on the subtitles.

The extras include a relaxed, amusing 50-minute sit-down with Hitchcock, made for the British TV show “Camera Three” back in the ’70s. There is also a 22-minute audio excerpt from Francois Truffaut's exhaustive interview with the director (including, for better or worse, the translator's back-and-forth renditions). Philip Kemp provides a well-researched commentary track, delivered in a better-than-usual voice. Finally, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (“Pan's Labyrinth”), who wrote a book about Hitchcock early in his career, delivers 17 minutes of insights, all of them totally on the mark.

"The Man Who Knew Too Much" (Criterion, Blu-ray, $39.95; DVD, $29.95)

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ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on “FilmWeek” on KPCC-FM (89.3).