Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Trouble with Harry

Most often cited by fans as Hitchcock's first collaboration with Bernard Hermann, 'The Trouble with Harry' is a delightful, colourful, laid-back comedy, the very cheerfulness of the film set in perfect counterpoint to its subject matter.

Out shooting in the woods, Captain Wiles (Fred Gwynne) comes across a dead body. He reckons up the shots he's fired - three in total - and remembers that one whanged straight through a beer can and another took out a 'no trespassing' sign. He looks at the corpse at his feet and decides he'd better dispose of it pretty damn quick.

Half of his fellow townsfolk happen by while Wiles hides behind a fallen tree, waiting for them to bugger off so that he can inter the recently deceased Harry. ("He didn't live around him," someone observes, earning Wiles' wry rejoinder: "He died around here and that's what matters.") Among those stumbling upon the corpse - quite literally in the case of myopic Dr Greenbow (Dwight Marfield) - are appropriately-named spinster Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick), smart-talking youngster Arnie (Jerry Mathers), son of attractive young widow Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine), and penniless artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe), whose first thought is to whip out his sketch pad and capture the dead man's likeness.

Both Jennifer and Miss Gravely have cause to believe they were responsible for Harry's death. Wiles is convinced he's the guilty party. Sam is decent enough to lend a helping hand to all parties, and over the course of a long afternoon, Harry is buried, dug up, reburied, dug up again, etc, etc. Meanwhile, romance blossoms between Captain Wiles and Miss Gravely and Sam and Jennifer - when they're not busy with the shovels, that is.

With its snappy dialogue, comedic complications and the effortless pairing off of its romantic protagonists, 'The Trouble with Harry' is as frothy, insubstantial and entertaining as anything by P.G. Wodehouse ... well, Wodehouse by way of Edgar Allan Poe, anyway. And when I say 'insubstantial', I don't mean that in the bad way. 'The Trouble with Harry' is pure entertainment, its wry humour pointed up by Hermann's jaunty score. Shirley MacLaine instantly establishes herself as a quirky and likeable leading lady in her first role. Forsythe does sterling work and Gwynne and Natwick are pure joy in every scene they share.

In many ways, this is atypical Hitchcock. Apart from the continual interruptions to Wiles' attempted corpse-disposal, there's nothing here that bears even a nodding acquaintance with the maestro's signature suspenseful set-pieces. The glamorous heroine isn't even blonde.

It is, however, 95 minutes of good clean (slightly macabre) fun.

1 comment:

pppatty said...

This is one of four Hitchcock films that was unavailable for some years. It is such good fun and very atypical of the master -- but then again he did like to have fun with his viewers.