A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Trouble With Harry (Alfred Hitchcock, 1955)

Jerry Mathers in The Trouble With Harry
Sam Marlowe: John Forsythe
Jennifer Rogers: Shirley MacLaine
Capt. Albert Wiles: Edmund Gwenn
Miss Ivy Gravely: Mildred Natwick
Mrs. Wiggs: Mildred Dunnock
Arnie Rogers: Jerry Mathers
Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs: Royal Dano
The Millionaire: Parker Fennelly
Dr. Greenbow: Dwight Marfield
The Tramp: Barry Macollum
Harry Worp: Philip Truex

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes
Based on a novel by Jack Trevor Story
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Music: Bernard Herrmann

The Trouble With Harry, which many people remember as "the one in which Beaver Cleaver finds a corpse," needs to be thought of in connection with Alfred Hitchcock's other films about small towns, such as Santa Rosa in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Bodega Bay in The Birds (1963). Like the Vermont village of The Trouble With Harry, these are places where anomalous events, like the return of a native son turned serial killer or a disruption in the natural order or just a mysterious dead body, can be viewed through a privileged, if somewhat cracked, lens. Cities can take serial killers, birds behaving badly, and the occasional unidentified corpse in stride, but they're a big deal in small towns. For an urbanite like Hitchcock, the small town settings are themselves anomalous, which is why he treats them to varying degrees with condescending whimsy. Of those films, The Trouble With Harry is the most whimsical, which may have something to do with its source novel, which was set in one of those cozy English villages so beloved of mystery readers. There are some who think Hitchcock should have left it in that setting, but I don't think much harm was done by the change. For one thing, it gives us a chance to look at New England fall foliage unblocked by tour buses full of leaf-peepers. Even though it was hindered by an unexpected storm that caused many of the leaves to fall prematurely, Robert Burks's achingly lovely cinematography combines well with Bernard Herrmann's score -- his first for Hitchcock -- to meld whimsy with an autumnal wistfulness. It helps, too, that we have actors skilled at sprinkling a little salt and vinegar on the whimsy, particularly Edmund Gwenn and the two great Mildreds, Natwick and Dunnock. Shirley MacLaine's debut film went a long way toward establishing her as a specialist in quirky, but it would take a more charismatic actor than John Forsythe to bring off his role: With his disregard for convention and monetary reward, Sam Marlowe seems to have wandered in from a Frank Capra film like Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), which needed Gary Cooper -- though James Stewart could have handled it equally well -- to pull it off. I think in the end, your reaction to The Trouble With Harry mostly depends on your tolerance for twee, and if it's low you may not want to stay much past the opening credits designed by Saul Steinberg.

Watched on Turner Classic Movies

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