Hitchcock takes on the family vacation gone wrong! This is the only time Hitchcock remade one of his own films – as he famously told Francois Truffaut, the 1934 original was “the work of a talented amateur,” but he was never quite satisfied and re-made the film to get things right.
Jimmy Stewart is “Dr. Ben McKenna,” who’s off on a whirlwind vacation with his wife Jo (Doris Day) and their young son Hank (Christopher Olsen); they’d been in Paris for a medical conference, but decided to hit up Morocco while they were there before heading home. While en route to their hotel, they strike up a conversation with Frenchman Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin), who seems nice but overly-inquisitive; they also befriend English couple Ed and Lucy Dreyton (Brenda de Banzie and Bernard Miles), who claim to be fans of former singer Jo. The Dreytons are more familiar with Marrakech than the McKennas, and offer to show the family around the market the following morning. But while they’re there, a scuffle in the crowd ends with a man getting stabbed – and the victim is a disguised Louis Bernard.
Bernard recognizes McKenna, and staggers over, urgently whispering to him that he’s been trying to stop an assassination and begging McKenna to head to London and finish his mission. The police obviously want to talk to McKenna, so the Dreytons offer to babysit Hank back at the hotel. But just as the McKennas arrive at the police station, Ben gets a mysterious call warning him not to say a word – or else Hank would pay for it. Ben calls the hotel to check in on things and is shocked to hear that the Dreytons just checked out. And as for Hank? No sight of him. All they can do, he tells Jo, is head to London and try to save Hank, and maybe stop the assassination themselves.
On paper, now that I look at it, that sounds a little ridiculous -but the McKennas don’t do half bad coming up with a plan of attack. Things don’t go perfectly smoothly, but their plan is at least somewhat plausible, and the plot hums along with plenty of moments of suspense. Most excruciating is a twelve-minute sequence at a concert; Jo has learned the victim is attending a concert, and heads to warn him – but meets the assassin, who warns her to back off. Jo then spends the entire length of a twelve-minute cantata standing helplessly in the back of the house looking at both the assassin’s box and the victim’s box, cowering and wondering what on earth she should do.
Another thing I liked about this, though, was that along with the suspense there was humor – and not over-the-top comedy either. Early on there’s a scene where the McKennas visit a traditional Moroccan restaurant, and the sight of the tall lanky Jimmy Stewart trying to fold himself up to fit at a tiny low table made me laugh out loud. There’s also a sight gag involving sheet music at the concert, a bizarre sequence at a taxidermist’s, and a delightfully playful conversation between the McKennas as they wander the Marrakech market, speculating on which of Ben’s recent surgeries might have earned enough to pay for the various market wares.
I was even more surprised to learn that this was the film where the song “Que Sera, Sera” made its debut. I’d always assumed it came from a more traditional rom-com musical, but it’s instead something of a touchstone for Jo and Hank. It also sets up a brilliant sequence where the McKennas are at a party where they suspect Hank may be hidden, and someone presses Jo to perform for them. She agrees, and “just so happens” to select that song, singing it just a tiny bit louder than necessary in the hopes that maybe Hank, if he’s there, might hear. It’s a brilliant bit of acting – Jo is visibly terrified, but is just as determined to Perform. So she’s got a smile, but it’s just the tiniest bit brittle.
In his talk with Truffaut, Hitchcock said that this remake looked more like it was made by a professional. I certainly felt that I was in good hands.