Watching it over and over: The Man Who Knew Too Little

My confession du jour: I watch my favorite movies over…and over…and over. I will watch a movie I know thirty times rather than take a risk a movie that I suspect may disappoint me or give me nightmares. Far too often, my darling husband has been waked in the night by the sound of his wife screaming. I tell myself I’m protecting him from this kind of surprise. I stick to comedy. Even that’s no guarantee. Let’s just say, the rule is, No zombies, and no blood from the mouth.

Bill Murray: We do have to clean up? Alfred Molina: Always.


Bill Murray: We do have to clean up?
Alfred Molina: Always.

One of my all-time favorites is Bill Murray’s The Man Who Knew Too Little. It’s pretty simple. Hero is a sweet but dorky Blockbuster Video clerk from Des Moines who flies to London to celebrate his birthday with his younger brother. The brother has married money and now works in international banking. When hero shows up on brother’s doorstep unannounced, brother looks at his wife and says, “You need a sense of humor with Wally.” Wife nods, “I see. And we’ve got Germans coming for dinner.”

 Peter Gallagher: At the end of the day…there’s a big guy with a mustache behind you.”

Peter Gallagher: At the end of the day…there’s a big guy with a mustache behind you.

Wife selects an extremely expensive ticket to an avante-garde London theatre—only one audience member per show. The audience member answers a phone in a public call box and is catapulted into an improvisational starring role in an adventure that ranges all over the city. Brother has doubts: “I dunno, that sounds kind of embarrassing.” “Pity. It’s five and a half hours,” says wife.

And Wally is sent off on his adventure.

Unbeknownst to dot poor boy, the same call box has been selected to pass along instructions to a hit man hired to do away with the Defense Minister’s mistress. Also on the agenda tonight is the planned pin-point bombing of the head table at a state dinner, where Russian and British diplomats will sign a treaty bringing the Cold War to an end. The bomb plot has been hatched between a British spy chief and a Russian spy chief whose espionage empires have shrunk to nothing with the advent of peace.

 Joanne Whalley: Does this outfit make me look silly?


Joanne Whalley: Do you think this outfit makes me look silly?

Wally ends up “acting” the role of hit man, foils the real hit man, teams up with the mistress to blackmail the Defense Minister, is pursued by bumbling sets of  Russian and British spy “clean-up” teams, and…well, hijinks ensue.

The script relies on misunderstandings on each side: the spies and the police think Wally is a loose-cannon superspy, and Wally thinks he’s acting in an experimental avante-garde play. The Defense Minister’s mistress is the wild card who figures it out before anyone else does.

Like most of the movies I adore, this movie was written. Like, they paid actual real money to Robert Farrar and Robert Franklin for the script.

 Richard Wilson: Boris the Butcher? The maniac who decapitated poor Ponsonby in Helsinki?


Richard Wilson: Boris the Butcher? The maniac who decapitated poor Ponsonby in Helsinki?

How much can I reveal about how wonderful this movie is?

  • When threats don’t work on Wally, Boris the Butcher calls in Dr. Ludmilla Kropotkin. “The evil lady torturer? Bring her on! I’m not ticklish!” Dr. Kropotkin is found reading a Harlequin medical romance, something you might miss if I didn’t point it out . My “freeze frame” thumb is not quick enough to determine the title or author…is yours?
  • Brother narrowly misses being scooped up by the cops’ anti-terrorist squad and warns Wally, “It’s real! It’s so real!” Wally agrees. “It’s experimental. It’s very raw.”
  • Wally and the cops who catch up to him after a high speed chase: “There’s a down side. Torture.” Cop: “Still, there’s the women.” Wally: “They’re nice after the torture.”
  • The scene where Wally escapes from the Russian spies using only a tiny squeeze bottle of nasal decongestant.

I could geek out about this movie forever, but go see it and tell me your own reaction.

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About Jennifer Stevenson

Jennifer is rereleasing The Brass Bed series in 2013 as Hinky Chicago. Try the first one, The Hinky Brass Bed. Jennifer is easy to find on Facebook.
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3 Responses to Watching it over and over: The Man Who Knew Too Little

  1. Sherwood Smith says:

    Howdid I miss this? Will fix it at once!

  2. Jennifer Stevenson says:

    There are many gems in this script, and it’s almost entirely without dumbass sight gags. Boris the Butcher is very awesome. The mutt-jeff team who play the British and Russian spy chiefs, Richard Wilson and Nicholas Woodeson, steal the show. Everybody. Everybody’s wonderful in this movie.

  3. Cat Kimbriel says:

    I missed this, and it doesn’t sound gross! Must see!