Hitchcock’s obsession with the macabre and murder seem to take over the majority of his work and often produced spellbinding and suspenseful results. In 1954 though, Hitchcock produced a film that put on a different viewing filter on his dark vision. Though a death lies at the very heart of The Trouble With Harry, never before has Hitchcock been so jovial and comedic about the subject matter of death. In all honesty, the most accurate description of the film would be a romantic comedy, perhaps showing a more tender side to Hitchcock than the often perceived actor ranching director.
The Trouble With Harry plays like a mirror image of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express; Harry is a dead man found by a small number of people in a picturesque town in New England. Instead of the usual whodunit, The Trouble With Harry plays the game of finding who didn’t do it; with almost every character we meet suspecting to have accidentally killed him.
The first thing to note about this charming film is the wonderful colour and landscape captured around the corpse. The New England countryside is a beautiful, autumnal vista, sound tracked to Bernard Herrmann’s evocative, Vaughan Williams like soundtrack. This instantly makes the film seems as fresh as a September morning just with an added corpse to the scenery.
Harry is first found by a small boy. A wonderful shot of the dead man’s feat almost book ending the boy is a quirky piece of composition so typical of Hitchcock and stands out a mile. Next to find him is Capt. Wiles played by the cuddly Edmund Gwenn. Believing to have shot Harry by accident while out hunting, he is the first to take the blame. Further adding to this is Mrs Wiggs and Jennifer Rogers (Shirley Maclaine’s screen debut), both of whom also believe to have killed Harry in various ways. Lastly is Sam the artist who, though not particularly involved, decides to draw the deceased’s face before helping the poor Captain to bury him.
What follows is a stop and start narrative that gradually ticks off the suspects with Harry having to be dug up from his secret grave in the woods several times. If this is all sounding too macabre, perhaps more detail on the romantic side of the fence will show the true warmth of the film. Romance blossoms thanks to Harry’s death and it appears that his character brings more happiness dead than alive. However there’s nothing particularly twisted about this. Even on the reveal that one the characters is actually Harry’s spouse, Hitchcock has created a beautiful hyper-reality where even death is something jovial. This isn’t a world where abusive childhoods can create schizophrenic murderers. This is a world of selling paintings to passers by, strolls in the countryside and inviting neighbours over for blueberry muffins and elderberry wine.
The characters seem more nuisanced by the death of Harry rather than genuinely unnerved making it seem more in line with a Disney film. This is however a massive positive and viewers should be envious of the characters lives, even with their situation currently causing a kafuffle on their doorsteps.
Though not as dark or menacing as some of Hitchcock’s other work, The Trouble With Harry is a quiet and cosy film that simply wants to evoke a gentle chortle. This is a perfect piece of escapism and, for once, it’s an escape to a world where even a death can be a triviality.