Alfred Hitchcock is one of those names that even the most casual movie watcher recognises. Most of them probably even know he’s famous for a certain kind of cinema, redefining suspense in a way that is still copied today. So when I decided to watch a Hitchcock movie about an unsolved death, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. But I was wrong, The Trouble With Harry surprised me every step of the way.
Opening with the titular Harry laying dead from a head wound on the side of a picturesque Vermont hillside surrounded by fallen autumn leaves, the body is first discovered by a small boy named Arnie (Jerry Mathers). Unperturbed, he continues with his games and runs off. After being stumbled upon by a surprisingly large number of people one by one, the clear suspects and their motives are soon presented.
Is it the bumbling old hunter taking pot shots at what he thinks are rabbits (Edmund Gwenn as the Captain)? Is it the repressed old spinster who’s bang up for a bit (Mildred Natwick as Ivy)? Is it Harry’s seemingly dispassionate widow, Jennifer (Shirley McClaine in her screen debut)? And why is handsome local artist Sam (John Forsythe) so quick and eager to help everyone cover their tracks?
Sounds like typical Hitchcock fare, but this is no typical Hitchcock movie. The main reason being, it’s really funny and silly. The death of Harry is rarely more than a punch line, curiosity or inconvenience. And the townspeople of this idealic Vermont hamlet seem like they’re having a competition to see who can be the most charmingly and quaintly wacky. It made me think the creators of Northern Exposure were probably big fans of The Trouble With Harry.
At first it was a little jarring to see a dead body, and death in general, treated so flippantly, but since I was in the swing of this movie and all its quirks and tics, this flippancy lead to the best and driest jokes. And there are lot of jokes. Even after fully embracing the tone though, it was still a little weird when McClaine’s character devises a plan that involves her unwitting five year old son ‘finding’ Harry’s body to help with an alibi. Even in the loopy world of The Trouble With Harry, that just seems like the beginning of years of therapy and an eventual mas shooting.
It’s always great to get a surprise from a movie. I don’t mean a twist or shock ending, or reveal. I mean just having a movie take a different tone, or find new, little ways to tell a story. With the name Hitchcock attached, The Trouble With Harry came with a lot of preconceptions, and the movie proved pretty much all of the wrong. Long after the initial shock of the silliness and fun wore off, the movie still threw me plenty of curve balls. Every time I thought I had its measure, another little oddity would throw me off. And for me, keeping me on my toes is always a sign of a pretty good movie.