I just don’t “get” The Trouble With Harry. Some people love it. Some even call it the funniest film in Hitchcock’s whole canon. But I find it slow, dull and totally reliant on one central joke that barely works to begin with.
So what is the trouble with Harry? Well he’s dead, for starters. Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) comes across Harry’s body while hunting rabbits in the woods close to the small town of Highwater, Vermont. He believes that he must have killed Harry by mistake and sets about trying to dispose of the body.
But Harry’s ex-lover Jennifer (Shirley MacLaine), is under the impression that she killed Harry after bashing him over the head with a milk bottle and Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick) believes Harry died after she whacked him over the head with her hiking boot after she thought he was trying to assault her.
And that’s our big joke: Harry dead, no one really cares but everyone thinks they did it. The central premise undoes the rest of the film. As we watch Harry’s body getting dragged around the place, buried, dug up and plonked in a bathtub it’s not especially funny because we know that no one cares that he’s dead. With everyone in the town totally blasé about the whole affair, there are no stakes. And the best comedy comes from a sense of high stakes.
It’s all very pretty look at, with some vibrant colourful shots of Vermont countryside in high-autumn and composer Bernard Herrmann provides a lively score in the first of many collaborations with Hitch, but it’s not enough to save the film from monotony.
Despite positive reviews, The Trouble With Harry performed poorly at the box office, much to Hitchcock’s disappointment. He was very fond of the film and felt it was his best example of macabre humour.
While I suppose it’s commendable that Hitchcock tried something very off-kilter, he sadly misses the mark. If it’s humour in Hitchcock ye be seekin’, The Lady Vanishes is still your go-to movie. Or To Catch a Thief if you like your comedy in Technicolor.