Movie Critique - The Trouble with Harry
For review of other books or movies by Alfred Hitchcock, go here.
Stars: 5 / 5
Recommendation: It's clever, it's fun, it's outlandish, and yes it's a black humor film from the master of suspense, Hitchcock.
The Trouble with Harry is a 1955 American Technicolor black comedy film directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock; and released by Paramount Pictures. It stars Edmund Gwenn, John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaine and Mildred Natwick in the lead cast among others.
Harry Worp's dead body is found by the residents of small Vermont hamlet called Highwater. Now "The Trouble with Harry" is to find who Harry was, who was responsible for his death. And four residents - Captain Wiles (portrayed by Edmund Gwenn), Jennifer Rogers (portrayed by Shirley MacLaine), Miss Gravely (portrayed by Mildred Natwick) and Sam Marlowe (portrayed by John Forsythe) - take it upon themselves to investigate the murder, and in the meantime they find love and camaraderie
The film is based on the 1950 novel of the same name by Jack Trevor Story for which the screenplay was written by John Michael Hayes. The musical score for the film was given by Bernard Herrmann, his debut work with Hitchcock, which resulted in a long collaboration between them and making him Hitchcock's in-house music composer.
After Universal acquired the rights for the film, the opening credits added the Universal logo before the Paramount VistaVision fanfare started. The opening credits have a panoramic drawing which was done by American cartoonist and illustrator Saul Steinberg. The closing credits say "The trouble with Harry is over".
Shirley MacLaine is in her debut film portraying the role of Jennifer Rogers. Seeing her very impoverished, Hitchcock used to take her to breakfast everyday before the shooting began. Her performance in the film won her a Golden Globe award. Again costumes were designed by Edith Head, but they didn’t change their clothing much so not a whole lot of work for Ms. Head here. MacLaine might have won an Academy Award in her later years but her nasally voice grated on my hearing as the film progressed.
It is more of a romantic comedy film rather than a murder mystery; with tones of a thriller on the edges. This is one of the few true comedies made by Hitchcock. Although the film has numerous dialogues and scenes which are quite frank for the time the film was made for.
Hitchcock gambled with American audience in the making of this movie with no big name stars and subtle thread of humor twined through the plot. The plotting and the presentation was definitely decades ahead of it's time making it a failure at the time of the release. However I loved it from the start to the end. Except for MacLaine's voice that kind of bugged me, there was nothing in the film that I didn’t like.
The film in general reminded me of another film that was released 34 years later, the 1989 American black comedy film Weekend at Bernie's, main difference in the plotting being, The Trouble with Harry is set over a period of 24 hrs, while Weekend at Bernie's is set over a weekend.
It's clever, it's fun, it's outlandish, and yes it's a black humor film from the master of suspense, Hitchcock. With delightful twists in the story, beautiful settings, cute little actors, and one of the quirkiest and craziest movies that Hitchcock put forth. Definitely worth watching it.
1) Movie Trivia:
a. The paintings that John Forsythe's character Sam Marlowe supposedly done are actually painted by American abstract expressionist John Ferren. And the sketch of the corpse was done by Ferren's wife Rae, an artist herself.
b. Hitchcock's cameo appearance can be seen as him passing by a parked limousine while an old man is looking at paintings.
c. Philip Treux played the cameo role of dead body Harry Worp in the film. This was his last film appearance.
d. Edmund Gwenn and Hitchcock collaborated together in three earlier movies - 1931 British drama film The Skin Game; 1934 British biographical film Strauss' Great Waltz aka Waltzes from Vienna; and 1940 American spy thriller Foreign Correspondent.
e. This was Hitchcock's second comedy. First one was the 1941 American romantic comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
f. This is also theatrical debut of Dwight Marfield who portrays the role of Dr. Greenbow in the film.
g. Jerry Mathers portrays the role of Arnie Rogers, Shirley MacLaine's Jennifer Rogers' son. But he is most known for his role as Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver in the American television sitcom Leave it to Beaver, aired in 50s and 60s.
2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:
a. Throughout the film the audio and video do not match. Perhaps on account of most of the film being shot in a high school gym due to bad weather.
b. In a long-shot of the general store, the "Gas and Oil" sign is perpendicular to the road and quite away from the gas pump. In the following close-up shot near the roadside stand, the stand is now parallel to the road and much closer to the gas pump.
c. Sam leaves his new painting at the roadside stand before he goes into the grocery store. And we see the same painting leaning against the counter now. While he and Wiggy are in the store, a customer picks up Sam's painting at the stand which happens to be the same on as that is inside.
d. When Miss Gravely first comes to visit Captain, you can see a case of nautical flags with a model ship perched on top. At the end of that scene, the flags are there but the ship is gone.