The Movie Archive

The Trouble with Harry (1955)

Movie Poster of The Trouble with Harry

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenwriter(s): John Michael Hayes
Starring: John Forsythe, Shirley Maclaine, Edmund Gwenn, Mildred Natwick, Royal Dano
Genre: Hitchcock / Comedy
Country: USA
Running time: 1h 35m
Rating: 9 out of 10

The Harry in question is the husband of local single mother, Jennifer Rogers (Maclaine, in her debut movie role), and the trouble within him is that he is very, very dead. His corpse is discovered lying in some woodland outside a small New England town. Sadly, Harry has not picked the best final resting place, as he keeps getting discovered and moved, and re-discovered and moved again.

As the one who originally discovers the body, local painter Sam Marlowe (Forsythe) ends up in charge of all decisions relating to Harry, a task which he accepts with the wry amusement of one who spends his life observing human nature. Of course, the suspect pool comprises all of Sam’s friends, each of whom thinks that they may have accidentally killed poor old Harry. And the fact that he’s fallen head over heels for Harry’s attractive young widow doesn’t help matters.

Despite all the potential murder, this is not a thriller, but a black comedy. Although most of his films containing a strong element of humour, Hitch didn’t really dabble in straight comedy very often. Certainly the evidence of this film points to what a loss that decision was for anyone who has even a passing interest in movies. Of course, it’s been hard for anyone to really appreciate this fact, given that Hitch—not the studio—owned the rights to the film and it was not shown again anywhere in the world after its initial release until 1984. Repeat television viewings over three decades could have done a lot for the reputation of this film.

For all that it’s one of the little-known Hichcocks, this is definitely one of his best. He’s helped by a script by John Michael Hayes that delights in the use of language and a playful sense of tension built by Bernard Hermann’s distinctive score. This marked the first collaboration in what would become a long and illustrious partnership between director and composer. Hermann manages to convey the necessary gravity of the situation, while balancing it with a lighter touch that never lets us forget that it’s still a comedy we’re watching.

From the cast, most of the comedy is provided by the elder couple, Gwenn (everyone’s favourite Santa Claus) and Natwick (The Quiet Man), as well as the troublesome Harry himself, with his disturbing tendency to be buried and later exhumed. And the townsfolk are rounded out with rich characterisations and some real oddballs, which adds nicely to the quirky, other-wordly feel of the movie. But it’s John Forsythe’s measured, laid-back, yet somehow still edgy performance which lingers in the mind.