THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
The trouble with Alfred Hitchcock is that his most popular - and best - movies are so incredibly huge in scope and engaging in story and characters that his smaller films sometimes get lost in the shuffle. When faced with choosing between Vertigo, North By Northwest, or Strangers on a Train a viewer could easily overlook a film like The Trouble with Harry (1955).
The trouble with Harry, of course, is that Harry is dead, and while creating the sweet, simple comedic framework around his death Hitchcock toys with his favorite fascinations: The morbid sense of mortality and the constrictions and pitfalls of human relationships. For Hitchcock's characters being dead and being married are often similar experiences and for Harry they are one and the same.
Once Harry expires he becomes the source of much discussion in a small Vermont town and the focus of a day of bonding between John Forsythe, Edmund Gwenn, Mildred Natwick, and, in her film debut, Shirley MacLaine. Hitchcock uses the rustic environment to inform these characters and their silly banter is endlessly funny. The film starts a little slow, bogged down with a couple of forced monologues, but once the characters are all introduced it really becomes one of Hitchcock's most enjoyable films.
This tone of comedy mixed with intrigue is reminiscent of his earlier masterpiece The Lady Vanishes and, while veddy British in tone, The Trouble with Harry should be easily accessible to all audiences. Not that Hitchcock lets the film go to straight comedy; He still sprinkles it with suspenseful details, like a closet door that won't stay shut, but these moments serve both as tension-builders and as comic relief. Hitchcock was always able to meld his style to the material at hand.
The Trouble with Harry is also notable for featuring Hitchcock's first collaboration with composer Bernard Herrmann. The score is light and comic but also underscores the macabre sense of humor that the director brings to the picture. It is a fitting precursor to the fantastic work to come in great scores like Vertigo and Psycho.
The picture on The Trouble with Harry is really wonderful. The image is crisp and the colors are vibrant. Hitchcock did quite a bit of location shooting in Vermont and the Autumn leaves create a very distinct visual. There are a couple of minor blemishes on the print but overall the picture is wonderful. The transfer is anamorphic.
The audio is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track and is just right for this dialog-heavy film. Herrmann's score is rendered wonderfully and there is a nice subtle use of background sounds. The soundtrack is also available in Spanish and French. English and French subtitles are included as well.
The best extra feature is yet another fine half-hour Hitchcock documentary, featuring interviews with several of Hitchcock's collaborators on The Trouble with Harry, including star John Forsythe. They tell great stories about working on the film, like Hitchcock's decision to truck all the colored leaves from Vermont back to Hollywood for additional shooting and glue each one individually onto prop trees. Universal has made a habit of including these wonderful behind-the-scenes looks on each of their Hitchcock releases and they really add a lot.
A trailer is included (although it is not the theatrical trailer, as the menu indicates, but rather a cheesy ad for a video release of the film), as are still screens containing bios, production notes, and production photos.
Other Hitchcock reviews:
During his long film career, Alfred Hitchcock produced so many classics that it is nearly impossible to believe. The magic of his films is that there are always new surprises and, for those who have been hooked in by the legendary thrillers, The Trouble with Harry almost serves as dessert; A perfect little sweet to complement a hearty, satisfying meal.
Jamaica Inn / Rich and Strange
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Gil Jawetz is a graphic designer, video director, and t-shirt designer. He lives in Brooklyn.
E-mail Gil at firstname.lastname@example.org