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The Trouble with Harry

"I've always been interested... in going against the traditional. With The Trouble with Harry, I took melodrama out of the pitch-black night and brought it out in the sunshine." So Alfred Hitchcock told François Truffaut in Truffaut's book Hitchcock. Based on a story by British author Jack Trevor Story, The Trouble with Harry is a sophisticated gem of a film filled with black comedy and the driest of humor. The "Harry" of the film's title isn't a character — he's a corpse, discovered early in the movie by little Jerry Mathers (soon to be known everywhere as Beaver Cleaver or "The Beav"). The trouble is that no one really knows who killed Harry, and no one knows exactly what to do with the body either. It seems some of the main characters have reason to believe they were the cause of Harry's demise. There's Harry's widow Jennifer (Shirley MacLaine, in her first film role), who despised her ex-husband and fought with him shortly before his death. There's the Captain (Edmund Gwenn — the lovable Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street), who was out hunting that morning and isn't quite sure where all of his bullets hit. Resident spinster Miss Ivy (Mildred Natwick) has her own reasons for feeling responsible for bumping off Harry. And John Forsythe plays the kooky artist Sam, who helps unravel the mystery in his own offbeat style of philosophizing, all while falling in love with Jennifer. During the course of the film, Harry's lifeless body gets his shoes stolen, is buried and dug up repeatedly, and spends time in a bathtub waiting for a makeover. What's left of Harry is a problem to be pondered and discussed by this very peculiar cast of characters. As the Captain states after an exasperating day of burying and digging up Harry, "I don't want an accident to turn into a career." The Trouble with Harry is a masterwork of subtlety and underplayed parts, with clever, exactingly crafted dialogue that is delivered with dry, nonchalant perfection — as Hitchcock noted, "Nothing amuses me as much as understatement." But Paramount wasn't quite sure what to make of the picture or how to market it, and when it was released in 1955 in the U.S. it played to half-empty houses. American audiences had come to count on a different kind of thriller from Hitchcock, and Harry didn't fit their expectations. However, it was an instant hit in Europe, and it played in many British and French theaters for almost a year. Over time the film became popular in the U.S. as well, and Hitchcock always was particularly fond of the movie. The Trouble with Harry is also distinguished by the fact that it was Hitchcock's first collaboration with composer Bernard Herrmann (a relationship that was to last for the next 10 years), whose score adds great levity to the film. The lush fall colors of the New England countryside and even the studio sets created to look like the American northeast look good on this Universal DVD release, which presents the film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, while audio is in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The extras feature an original documentary that is relatively lightweight but does include interviews with Forsythe, producer Herbert Coleman, and screenwriter Hayes, who wrote Hitchcock's snappiest screenplays, all in the mid-fifties — Harry, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. Also included are production photographs, production notes, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

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