The Trouble With Harry – Alfred Hitchcock
For Alfred Hitchcock, The Trouble with Harry is an eccentric film. Although it relies little on the particular techniques of suspense usually associated with his work, it does have a subtle tension of its own. It is an uncharacteristically mellow film in which Hitchcock makes considerable use of his very droll English sense of humor, while at the same time demonstrating his gift for using real locations as counterpoint to his fanciful ideas. The exteriors of The Trouble with Harry were made in Vermont during the autumn, and the camera captures beautifully the reds, oranges, and yellows of the changing leaves and the tranquility of a peaceful countryside.
In the midst of this beauty, a corpse is discovered; three people believe themselves responsible. Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), a kindly retired seaman, believes he has accidentally shot the man while hunting. Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick), a prim spinster who believed the man meant to attack her, has struck him on the head with her hiking shoe. The man’s estranged wife, Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine), has hit him with a bottle, which has resulted in his staggering away into the woods in a stupor. A fourth person, Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe), conspires with the three guilty parties to hide the corpse. For the entire length of the story, these four people find themselves burdened with the dead man as a result of their indecisiveness about what to do with him. Finally, they hit upon the idea of having Jennifer’s son, Arnie (Jerry Mathers), whose’ understanding of time is totally confusing, rediscover the dead man at his original resting place.
This is admittedly a slim premise for a film, but for Hitchcock it is only a premise and not the substance of the realized work. The director troubles the audience by making death amusing and by showing no sentiment for Harry, who is unlamented even by his wife and son. More perversely, he uses Harry’s death to bring together two couples, Sam and Jennifer and the Captain and Miss Gravely. The film clearly shows that death may be beneficial to the living, since these characters do not know one another before Harry’s death, and develop deep mutual affection through their common cause. All four characters refute the mistaken view that Hitchcock is only able to take an interest in mentally unhealthy relationships and psychopathic murderers. Each member of this group may be a bit eccentric in some way, but each has an attitude toward life that is essentially healthy and positive.
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