It’s not often that I finish an Alfred Hitchcock picture unable to take something away from it but I feel like I wasted my time with The Trouble with Harry. A departure from the type of mystery that made his name, this is a black comedy with thriller elements. Set during a crisp autumn in Vermont, a retired sea captain discovers the recently deceased body of a man while out hunting on a hill. Believing to be responsible for his death, the captain attempts to hide the body but various passers by happen upon it and react in unusual ways. It turns out that several people believe themselves responsible and the small community at the bottom of the hill attempt to discover exactly what happened to the man and what to do next.
The use of the body, which turns out to be that of the titular character, is a clever Macguffin which is used to unite two couples in what turns out to be a romantic black comedy. Ordinarily when a Hitchcock movie opens on a corpse, you’d be expecting a whodunit but here that isn’t important to the director. For me, that’s one of the problems. I wanted more excitement and intrigue from the film. Although billed as a comedy, I didn’t laugh once and was barely amused. The film just washed over me with a plot that didn’t grab me in the slightest. More disappointing than the plot is the cast who are as wooden as the corpse they attempt to cover up.
The movie was the debut film performance of Shirley MacLaine who would go on to have a successful career with roles in The Apartment and Terms of Endearment, the latter of which would win her an Oscar. Here she’s the best of a bad bunch, a charming newbie caught in headlights. Alongside her is a selection of experienced actors who do their best to upset the movie. Edmund Gwenn is miscast as the retired captain, looking like a fish out of water, sporting his English accent in rural Vermont. John Forsythe, best known for his television work, lacks the charisma of a Hitchcock leading man but is hampered with a character that has little to offer. Mildred Natwick is solid as an older woman looking for love while Royal Dano is humorously humourless but has little screen time.
The movie is notable for being the first in which Hitchcock worked with renowned composer Bernard Herrmann. The two would collaborate on the likes of Vertigo, North by Northwest and most famously Psycho. Herrmann’s score is one of the highlights of the film and captures the idyllic setting of the Vermont countryside with light strings while creating tension with the use of deep, suspenseful horns. It’s a fantastic score which deserves a better movie. Hitchcock’s direction isn’t spectacular but he solidly tells the story though his camera. His cameo incidentally comes around twenty minutes into the film as he walks past an art stall in the village.
On the plus side, The Trouble with Harry is quite ballsy. It must have been brave to set a comedy around this idea in 1955 and the frequent burying and digging up of the corpse is slightly amusing. The trouble with The Trouble with Harry is that it just isn’t funny enough. The film is flat and dull and lacks the trademark spark and panache of a Hitchcock picture.
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