The Trouble with Harry (1955)

John Forsythe and Edmund Gwenn in The Trouble with Harry

There's Something About Hitchcock's Harry

"The Trouble with Harry" is not what you would call a normal Alfred Hitchcock movie, it is a quirky black comedy which when viewed next to Hitchcock's other movies seems a little out of place. It does have a lot of Hitchcock touches as it finds comedy from a dead body which won't go away but it has to be said hasn't dated well. Oh it's still very entertaining and amusing, or should that be bemusing, but the darkness of the comedy is not as dark as you would expect often actually being more quirky and quite surreal rather than shocking which I am sure was the case when originally released.

Whilst out playing in the woods, young Arnie Rogers (Jerry Mathers) stumbles upon a dead body of a man. Having disturbed Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn - Miracle on 34th Street), the Captain begins to worry that it is he who killed the man whilst trying to shoot rabbits and rather face the law decides to hide the body. But it seems like everyone in the town is taking a trip up to the woods that day as people keep on coming by. The Captain discovers that the dead man is called Harry and not only that but there are a few people in the town who would have a reason to have killed him. As the Captain, laid back artists Sam (John Forsythe), Arnie's mother Jennifer (Shirley MacLaine - Terms of Endearment) and Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick) find themselves drawn together in dealing with Harry it seems that Harry just won't stay buried.

Shirley MacLaine as Jennifer Rogers in The Trouble with Harry

"The Trouble with Harry" is very much a farce as the dead body of Harry causes problem after problem as how he came to be dead becomes more and more intriguing. And whilst totally implausible, as a good farce should be, the various antics featuring Harry, be it his shoes being stolen, repeated burials and so on are all highly amusing. But there is also a cleverness to this because as the farce goes on the question turns to how did Harry die. The Captain thought he accidentally shot him, Miss Gravely thought she had killed him with her shoe and so it goes on. It brings in the characters so they interweave and as relationships build they cause more issues over as to whether Harry should remain buried or dug up. That makes "The Trouble with Harry" sound quite stupid, and if you were foolish enough to try and take it all seriously then it would be stupid, but it works because it's all about the comedy.

But rather than just being a comedy this is Hitchcock doing black comedy, having morbid fun over an ever returning cadaver and those who believe they are involved in how Harry came to be dead. It is shall we say not as dark as modern black comedies and at times is quite bemusing at how tame it feels in comparison but there is so much great comedy going on. There is the whole visual side of it, the constant burial and digging up of Harry, the morbid cleaning up of the body in a bath so that a doctor can examine it and those unflattering red and blue socks which dominate scenes when Harry is in focus.

But there is also the dialogue which at times feels so surreal with the Captain wittering on about the whole town coming past as he wants to hide the body and Miss Gravely saying she was annoyed at being attacked. Who use a word like annoyed to describe being attacked, it's so surreal, so wrong that it makes you laugh and intentionally so. And this comical surreal ness flows throughout with someone tripping over the body as they walk through the woods but getting up without noticing it and laid back artist Sam Marlowe controlling things whilst at the same time romancing Jennifer, getting in with her son Arnie by bring him a frog which he gets given a dead rabbit in return for, it is all rather barmy.

The surreal ness extends to the quirky characters. Edmund Gwenn is brilliant as the Captain; a typical mischievous poacher sort of character and it has to be said from a distance has a passing resemblance to Hitchcock himself. But it is what Gwenn brings to the role a mischief ness which is pure fun. Then there is Mildred Natwick who is just wonderful as Miss Gravely, quirky in a Mary Wickes sort of way. Plus of course there is Shirley MacLaine in her first ever movie, although you wouldn't know because she gives a wonderful youthful performances as Jennifer Rogers, amusingly matter of fact over Harry's death.

But it is John Forsythe who is the glue that brings this all together as laid back artist Sam Marlowe. Between delivering a character which comes across like a quirky rich kid and some dead pan delivery of some wickedly amusing dialogue you cant help but be impressed. When he eccentrically says to Jennifer "I would like to paint you naked" having just met it's so unexpected it takes you back but Forsythe's delivery, as it this was normal, just makes you smile. And it is also the verbal interactions with Gwenn which are equally as good when describing Miss Gravely as a preserve, a dialogue full of innuendo that you can't stop yourself from laughing yet the two of them deliver it so seriously.

All of which makes "The Trouble with Harry" a highly amusing movie although as I have mentioned maybe not as darkly funny and shocking as it was when first released. But there is something which I dislike about it and that is it feels very staged, as if we are watching acts in a play. It makes it feel so false, so scripted and ends up causing it to stutter in places. Maybe some will enjoy this sort of stage play feel, but for me it spoilt things slightly.

What this all boils down to is that "The Trouble with Harry" is a hugely enjoyable movie and a pleasure to watch Hitchcock exploring dark comedy instead of a straight up thriller. It does feel dated with the dark comedy as not as shocking as it probably once was but it still takes you by surprise by some almost surreal scenes and dialogue.