The Trouble with Harry (1955) / Mystery-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for adult themes and some mild innuendo
Running Time: 99 min.
Cast: John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaine, Edmund Gwenn, Mildred Natwick, Mildred Dunnock, Jerry Mathers, Royal Dano
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes (based on the novel by Jack Trevor Story)
Review published May 25, 2003
The Trouble with Harry shows a lighter side to Hitchcock, continuing a trend from the fluffy soufflé, To Catch a Thief, and the light-hearted spirit of the "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" television show he launched in the same year. This is the closest Hitch has come to a pure comedy since 1941's Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and the result is an amiable jaunt into not-too-dark black comedy fare. When looking over Hitchcock's estimable career, it's easy to look over The Trouble with Harry, as it isn't flashy, profound, or scary. However, it's good to see that a director known more for his style than his substance can make a film that is carried more by good characterizations than virtuoso techniques, letting the story unfold its own way without much interference.
The Harry of the title is actually a dead body at the time the story starts. The setting is rural Vermont, where a retired sea captain spends his days out in the wooded areas hunting for rabbits. Harry's dead body is discovered, and naturally, the captain thinks an errant bullet is responsible, and he proceeds to try to hide the body lest someone suspect him of manslaughter. A young boy and his mother also find the body, chagrined by the discovery that the woman's husband and the boy's stepfather is now resting eternally peaceful. Meanwhile, it is also discovered that Harry may have died from a lump to the head, which may have developed from the conks received by two of the characters in the ensemble cast, leading everyone to feel guilty, but no one really knowing if they are the murderer.
People familiar with David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" series will see the many similarities to Harry evident, but they are sufficiently different in tone to draw too much comparison. As a murder mystery, it's not really all that compelling, although it is somewhat amusing to see a switch in the conventions of the genre, where everyone in the cast is taking responsibility for the murder.
The story is taken out of Jack Trevor Story's novel of the same name, and with its darkly humorous overtones and themes of murder, it's easy to see what attracted Hitchcock to making it into a film. Ironically, Story would end up dying for the same reason Harry dies in the film, although I won't spoil your enjoyment by revealing the details here.
It's also the first of many collaborations between composer Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock, and while it isn't one of his most memorable scores, it echoes much of the style he would use in later films for the Master.
The Trouble with Harry is obviously for Hitchcock aficionados, but is also accessible for people who are probably too intimidated to indulge in some of his more intense films. It's also worth watching for the fine performances by Forsythe and Gwenn, while also notable for the debut of Shirley MacLaine in films -- and yes, that's a young Jerry "Leave It to Beaver" Mathers as the young boy. Whimsical fare, but notable for reasons of novelty rather than content.
©2003 Vince Leo