Murder Comedies: The Trouble with Harry

Liz on The Trouble with Harry:

Like Arsenic and Old Lace, The Trouble with Harry is morbid but leaves me laughing anyway. Part of the appeal is the actors. The Captain, played by Edmund Gwenn (or, as I generally refer to him: Mr. Bennett), is a particular favorite of mine.

Surprise is often associated with humor, and the Vermont villagers’ different reactions to the discovery of a body in the woods certainly excites that emotion. After all, finding a body in the woods and then making a sketch of the man’s face is a perfectly expected reaction, right?

Or how about assuming you shot the man while hunting? This, of course, leads to the frightened Captain to bury the body, identified by a very much not distraught widow as Harry. But poor Harry isn’t left in peace. He gets buried and dug up several times, and then cleaned up, so he can be found once again.

Humorous and well-acted, and though a little risqué in parts, it is an entertaining watch. It’s quite different from other Hitchcock movies, but it does include the traditional brief sighting of Hitchcock. Of course, I also love that the movie begins with a man walking through a lovely countryside singing a song about Tuscaloosa. The entire score is bouncy and amusing; it reminds me of Peter and the Wolf.

Jaz: “If you’re going to get shot, do it where you’re known.” Nobody cares who Harry is, or that he’s lying dead – feet sticking comically up in the air – in the middle of a clearing. Not even his wife.

Harry is met with varying levels of nonchalance as the day wears on. The Captain and his next door neighbor chat pleasantly over the corpse and form a romantic attachment. The town doctor stumbles over Harry twice without looking. The painter sits down to sketch his face. The tramp takes his shoes. The little boy is the only person to react normally to the sight of a corpse.

Several people think they are responsible for his death. Was it the Captain’s neighbor with her heavy shoe? Or the Captain with the stray bullet intended for a rabbit? Or Harry’s wife with the milk bottle? Or someone else? Who cares, just as long as they get the body out of sight. So they bury Harry. But wait … won’t that prove their guilt? So they dig him back up. Then they bury him again. Then they dig him back up. After a while I lost count.  

The Trouble with Harry is an unusual departure from Hitchcock’s signature style, a spoof of his own films. The only clue to this being a Hitchcock creation is the dramatic music, which contrasts humorously with the content. I have to admit I didn’t get it the first time I popped it into the VHS player (yes, it was a while back). The third time I laughed throughout. It’s the kind of film you appreciate more with each additional view.  

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