Thursday, February 5, 2015

#1,634. The Trouble with Harry (1955)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaine, Edmund Gwenn

Tag line: "A comedy about a corpse"

Trivia: Although this was a failure in the US, it played for a year in England and Italy, and for a year and a half in France

For a dead guy, Harry is causing a whole mess of trouble. The problems began shortly after his body was discovered in the woods by young Arnie Rogers (Jerry Mathers). Before long, former ship’s captain Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), who had been out hunting rabbits, also happens upon Harry’s fresh corpse. Believing a stray shot he had fired was the cause of his demise, Capt. Wiles decides to hide Harry's body, but before he can do so, a number of other locals make their way to the scene of the so-called crime, including Ivy Gravely (Mildred Natwick), a spinster who’s a bit sweet on the good Captain; Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine), Arnie’s mom, who, it turns out, was married to the dead man; and a vagrant (Barry MacCollum), who steals Harry’s shoes. Convinced that the best course of action is to bury the body, Capt. Wiles talks starving artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) into helping him dig a deep hole in the middle of the woods. Once he’s finally underground, the Captain realizes he couldn’t possibly have fired the shot that killed Harry, and is overcome with a sudden urge to dig the old boy up again and report what happened to deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs (Royal Dano). But with evidence that suggests either Ivy Gravely (who the Captain has a lunch date with) or Jennifer Rogers (with whom Sam is falling in love) are responsible for Harry’s untimely death, the two gentlemen gallantly re-bury him. Not to worry, though; it won’t be the last we’ll see of Harry!

The Trouble with Harry is an unusual Hitchcock film in that it’s primarily a comedy, and a romantic one to boot. Of course, it’s far from your typical rom-com because the force bringing the two couples (Sam and Jennifer, The Captain and Ivy Gravely) together is a dead body that no one seems to give a damn about (after being led to Harry’s corpse by her young son, Jennifer, far from being upset, smiles and says “Thank Providence… the last of Harry!”). Throughout the movie, characters discuss Harry’s mortal remains as callously as they would some trash they almost tripped over, and it’s this carefree attitude that gives the film its darkly comedic edge. When Ms. Gravely spots the Captain trying to drag Harry’s body away, she walks up and asks him, quite nonchalantly, “What seems to be the trouble, Captain?” Over the course of the next few minutes, Ms. Gravely will invite Capt. Wiles to her house for tea and blueberry muffins, all as Harry lies on the ground in front of them.

It may lack the suspense of most Hitchcock outings, but with a sly script (penned by John Michael Hayes and based on the novel by Jack Trevor Story), fine orchestral score by Bernard Herrmann, exemplary performances from its entire cast, and a setting that’s oh so beautiful (the bulk of the movie was shot in Vermont in the autumn), The Trouble with Harry flows along gracefully, and stands as a shining example of its director’s macabre sense of humor.

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