The Trouble With Harry is a like a picturesque photo essay of a New England autumn, with a dead body just happening to spoil most of the shots. It was also such a change of pace for Alfred Hitchcock that a lot of audiences seem to strip their gears at the time. Being known for his suspense thrillers, directing such a lightweight and cheerfully dark comedy was like a high curveball sailing past the moviegoer’s head.
As a result, Harry is not usually remembered with the classics among Hitchcock’s body of work, and that’s a shame. It’s a genuinely funny film populated with an appealing cast of eccentrics (or, as they are known in New England, “just normal folk”).
Harry starts the film as horizontally as he ends it, discovered by young Arnie Rogers (Jerry Mathers), who runs off to tell his mother. The next to stumble across him is the somewhat dotty Captain Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), who becomes convinced that he killed Harry while hunting rabbits. Before he can decide what to do, he is discovered by Miss Ivy Gravely (Mildred Natwick), the town spinster, who isn’t about to let a dead body ruffle her or make her forget her manners. The next on the scene is young Arnie with his mother, Jennifer (Shirley MacLaine), who recognizes the dead man as her estranged husband and doesn’t seem terribly upset that he’s dead. The last to stumble on the scene is Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe), a handsome and eccentric artist.
Before the day is out, virtually everyone will become convinced that they had something to do with Harry’s death and he will be buried, dug up and buried again several times, for reasons that probably make perfect sense to New Englanders. The only real threat is discovery by the local deputy sheriff, Calvin Wiggs (Royal Dano), who’s suspicious but fortunately not too swift.
The cast of characters is delightfully vivid lot. Captain Wiles and Miss Gravely begin a shy flirtation over the problem of what to do about Harry, saying everything except what’s on their minds. Sam and Jennifer don’t have that problem, saying exactly what’s on their mind. His opening line to her is, “I’d like to paint you nude.” Often what they say has nothing, outwardly, to do with what was just said to them, making conversations out of a string of non-sequitors that, again, probably make sense to New Englanders. Jennifer’s boy Arnie also has a most individual sense of time.
All told, The Trouble With Harry is a good comedy in its own right and a fun change of pace for Hitchcock fans.