Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Alfred Hitchcock, 1955
Starring: Edmund Gwenn, John Forsythe, Mildred Natwick, Mildred Dunnock, Shirley MacLaine, Jerry Mathers

Hitchcock's only true comedy, The Trouble with Harry is predictably a black comedy. A number of people in a small Vermont town each find a corpse and are convinced that they've killed him and must now hide the body. Harry, the corpse, is not particularly well-liked and is regarded by most of the townspeople as little more than an inconvenience.

Captain Wiles thinks he accidentally shot Harry while rabbit hunting in the woods and is the first to discover the body. A spinster, Miss Gravely, thinks she killed him, because Harry ran out from the bushes and attacked her, so she hit him in the head with a hiking boot. Harry's wife, Jennifer, thinks she killed him because they fought and she hit him with a bottle. They each discover the corpse in turn. Captain Wiles is determined to bury the corpse when Miss Gravely comes upon the scene. She thinks the Captain has intuited that she killed Harry and is burying the body for her. Jennifer and her young son discover him and are content to leave him in the woods. Sam, an artist, has a crush on Jennifer and is determined to help his friends however he can.

The foursome decide to bury the body, which later involves unburying it, moving it and otherwise trying to hide Harry from the police, who will simply not understand the situation. It turns out that Harry actually died of natural causes and everyone will live happily ever after. The respective couples, Sam and Jennifer, the Captain and Miss Gravely, have romantically paired off and Sam has sold his avant garde paintings to a millionaire.

I think my favorite thing about The Trouble with Harry is the incredibly whimsical attitude the townspeople have about death, romance and, above all, themselves. They are all weird, flawed characters who manage to come together despite their personality drawbacks and the corpse on their hands. The four actors have great chemistry, but particularly take note of a very young, feisty Shirley MacLaine. The film is based on the novel by Jack Trevor Story and is notable for being the first Bernard Herrmann score in a long and famous partnership between Hitchcock and the composer.

Though it comes highly recommended, it's an acquired taste. If you like quirky, black comedy this is for you, as the film is genuinely very funny. It would make an entertaining double feature with Arsenic and Old Lace, though the script and performances are a lot less flamboyant. The pastoral, homey nature of the setting is perfectly echoed in the script, so don't expect the fireworks and masterful suspense that mark most of Hitchcock's work. Here's the Universal DVD, which is pretty basic, but comes with an entertaining featurette.

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