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The Times (04/May/1984) - The Trouble with Harry

(c) The Times (04/May/1984)

The latest Hitchcock reissue is The Trouble With Harry, made in 1956 and for many years unavailable. This was the third screenplay written for Hitchcock by John Michael Hayes, immediately following Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. Though the setting was changed to Vermont, Hitchcock always regarded this as the most British of his American films.

Us Englishness lies in making light of the two themes that are perennially most disturbing, particularly in the kind of Puritan America where the story is now set. The trouble with Harry is that he is dead but will not stay buried. When his corpse is discovered in the forest, everyone around tries to assume responsibility: the wretched Harry is three times exhumed and seems always underfoot. The comic understatement too is very British: "What seems to be the trouble?" inquires the elderly spinster (Mildred Natwick) redundantly when she meets the police captain hauling Harry's remains through the forest.

Hitchcock shot the film rapidly, to catch the colours of the New England autumn, and, to judge from his own account, light-heartedly. Subsequently it has acquired the interpretative commentary that attaches to Hitchcock's films, with the French critics reading it as a parable on the Resurrection and the Americans finding in it a more generalized moral debate between a restrictive Gnostic Puritanism and a Judaeo-Christian optimism.

The casting is of interest: alongside Shirley MacLaine, making her first screen appearance as Harry's widow, is Edmund Gwenn, who worked with Hitchcock in England as early as 1931, as the elderly captain.