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The Trouble with Harry (1955)

The Unexpected From Hitchcock!
director Alfred Hitchcock
producer Alfred Hitchcock
writer John Michael Hayes
story by Jack Trevor Story
starring Edmund Gwenn
John Forsythe
Shirley MacLaine
Mildred Natwick
original music Bernard Herrmann
cinematographer Robert Burks
editor Alma Macrorie
running time 99 minutes
colour colour (Technicolor)
sound mix mono (Western Electric Recording)
aspect ratio 1.85:1 VistaVision
studio Paramount Pictures
distributor Paramount Pictures
availability DVD & Blu-ray


Trouble erupts in a small, quiet New England town when a man's body is found in the woods. The problem is that almost everyone in town thinks that they had something to do with his death.


Alfred Hitchcock had read Jack Trevor Story's short comic novel "The Trouble with Harry" when it was published in 1949 and considered it would make a good black comedy.

Whilst talking about the film to François Truffaut, Hitchcock said:[1]

I didn't change [the novel] very much. To my taste, the humor is quite rich. One of the best lines is when old Edmund Gwenn is dragging the body along for the first time and a woman comes up to him on the hill and says, "What seems to be the trouble, Captain?" To me that's terribly funny; that's the spirit of the whole story.

I've always been interested in establishing a contrast, in going against the traditional and in breaking away from clichés. With "Harry" I took melodrama out of the pitch-black night and brought it out in the sunshine. It's as if I had set up a murder alongside a rustling brook and spilled a drop of blood in the clear water. These contrasts establish a counterpoint; they elevate the commonplace in life to a higher level.

In his memoirs, producer Herbert Coleman asked Hitchcock why he had chosen the story:[2]

I've always wanted to do a black comedy. This story is perfect for that. We'll make Harry [...] a low budget film. Without high-price stars. We'll cast it with New York stage actors.


After the box-office success of Rear Window and the glossy To Catch a Thief, Paramount were seemingly doubtful of the commercial appeal of the story and the budget was set at a modest $1,000,000 — less than a third of the budget of To Catch a Thief.[3]


the Vermont countryside

Before departing for France to film To Catch a Thief in early 1954, Hitchcock handed the novel to John Michael Hayes to begin an adaptation. Although Hayes was keen to add a some extra action and suspense to the story, Hitchcock insisted on remaining faithful to the novel, and much of the film's dialogue is lifted verbatim. The only major change was relocating the location of the story from the English countryside to New England.[4]

The Hitchcocks had travelled through New England in 1951 and the director felt the autumnal colours of Vermont would act as a good counterpoint to the more macabre elements of the story.[5]

With Hayes' script nearing competition, Hitchcock attended to the small matter of actually acquiring the rights to the novel and instructed MCA agent Herman Citron to negotiate a purchase. Without mentioning the director's name, Citron purchased the rights for $11,000.[6][7]


Grace Kelly was initially approached for the role of Jennifer, but a contract dispute with MGM meant she would be unavailable. Hitchcock also considered the French actress Brigitte Auber — who had played the role of Danielle Foussard in To Catch a Thief — but her accent was a cause for concern.[8]

the cast of 'The Trouble with Harry'

Whilst in New York with his wife, Herbert Coleman's daughter had recommended that they see the Broadway musical The Pajama Game, starring Carol Haney. Coleman was so impressed with the leading lady's performance that he visited her backstage, only to discover that he'd actually been watching Haney's understudy on stage — Shirley MacLaine. Coleman quickly arranged a screen test for MacLaine and her lack of film acting experience appealed to Hitchcock: "All this simply means that I shall have fewer bad knots to untie".[9]

Although Cary Grant was briefly considered for the male lead, the film's budget wouldn't stretch to Grant's usually salary demands. Hitchcock also approached William Holden, but he wasn't available. Whilst in New York, Hitchcock met with and cast John Forsythe, who had previously appeared several times in the Suspense radio series, which was a favourite of the director.[10]

For the role of the retired captain, Hitchcock cast his old friend Edmund Gwenn, who appeared previously in The Skin Game, Waltzes from Vienna and Foreign Correspondent. Other roles were filled by accomplished Shakespearean actress Mildred Natwick, in the role of spinster Miss Gravelly, and the 7-year-old Leave It to Beaver star Jerry Mathers as the boy who discovers the body of Harry at the start of the film.


the Congregational Church in Shanon, Vermont, which appears in the opening sequence

Hitchcock had initially planned to shoot the majority of the film — 23 days out of the 30 day schedule — on location, so producer Herbert Coleman and production manager "Doc" Erickson scouted for suitable scenic locations in Vermont around St. Johnsbury and Stowe. Unfortunately, a storm blew through the area at the start of September 1954, leaving trees bare, followed by heavy rain that washed out local roads. The start of filming was delayed whilst Coleman and Erickson searched for new locations untouched by the storms.[11][12][13]

By late September, with the help of Clifford Miskelley, the head of the Vermont Development Commission, the area around East Craftsbury and Craftsbury Common had been deemed suitable by Coleman and Erickson, which allowed the production to commence.[14][15]

Most of the cast and crew stayed in The Lodge at Smugglers' Notch, near Jeffersonville.[16][17][18]

Principal Photography


on location in Vermont

With the weather unseasonably inclement for the time of year, a temporary indoor "cover set"[19] was built in an American Legion gymnasium in nearby Morrisville to allow filming to continue when it was too overcast outside. Unfortunately, it transpired that when heavy rain fell on the gymnasium's roof, the noise was picked up on the soundtrack, meaning that all dialogue had to be re-recorded later on.

On the morning of 12th October, whilst filming inside the gymnasium, a crane-mounted VistaVision camera broke free of it's fixings and crashed to the floor. The camera glanced Hitchcock's shoulder and pinned crew member Mike Seminerio to the floor, but neither was injured seriously by the accident.[20]

When weather permitted, scenes were shot outdoors, however it became increasingly apparent that many of the exterior scenes would need to be filmed back in the studio, using rear projection when necessary. Paramount art director John B. Goodman hastily constructed a set with artificial foam rubber trees and replicated the hillock on which Harry's body is found. According to John Forsythe and John Michael Hayes, crates of leaves were shipped back to Paramount so that the on-set trees could be dressed.[21][22]

The location shooting also placed a strain on actor Edmund Gwenn, then 79 years old and suffering from acute arthritis. According to producer Herbert Coleman, Gwenn had great difficulty standing up and scenes were edited to try and hide this.[23][24]

By mid-October, location filming was abandoned and the majority of cast and crew returned to Hollywood. A small second unit, headed by producer Herbert Coleman, remained behind to capture the remaining exterior landscape shots, using stand-in doubles for the actors.[25]

Paramount Studios

Back at Paramount, filming progressed quickly and principal photography was completed on Wednesday October 27th.[26]

Philip Truex, who played the body of Harry in Vermont, was unavailable for studio work, so a stand-in was used for the remaining shots of Harry's body, which were all framed to avoid showing the face.[27]

The Production Code

the Captain rests his arm

As with To Catch a Thief, the film's risqué dialogue and macabre humour pushed at the limits of what was deemed acceptable under the Production Code. To minimise the risk associated with costly reshoots to appease the censors, several scenes were shot with alternative action, including:[28]

  • the scene where Edmund Gwenn rests his arm on the bosom of the ship's figurehead
  • the scene where the short-sighted doctor trips over Harry's body


Post production of The Trouble with Harry — which lasted throughout November and December 1954 — overlapped with that of To Catch a Thief and required extensive redubbing of the scenes shot in the noisy gymnasium.[29]

Steinberg's title sequence

Initially, Hitchcock had wanted to use stop-motion photograpy of tree leaves budding for the opening credits, before deciding just to use footage of autumnal woodland. New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg was paid $3,000 to draw the title sequence in the faux-naïf style of Paul Klee.[30][31]

Post production of the film was completed in time for Christmas and the Hitchcocks celebrated by holidaying in Europe.[32]

The Score

With Lyn Murray tied up scoring To Catch a Thief, he recommended his friend, Bernard Herrmann, with whom Hitchcock was extremely keen to work. Although Herrmann and Hitchcock had vastly differing temperaments, Herrmann later recalled they shared "a great unanimity of ideas".[33]

According to Herrmann biographer, Steven C. Smith, Herrmann re-purposed — with permission — music originally composed for the CBS radio series "Crime Classics", as well as composing new material for the film.[34]

The popularity of the score led to Herrmann composing the short suite "A Portrait of Hitch", which he dedicated to Hitchcock:

Bernard Herrmann's ''A Portrait of Hitch''

Everyone must be aware that Alfred Hitchcock appears in all his films, if only momentarily, and his caricature of himself is well known. With this in mind, I was inspired to compose a musical portrait of Hitchcock. The music I wrote for "The Trouble with Harry" furnished the ideal motifs and tunes for this piece. The film is in many ways the most personal and the most humorous of Hitchcock's entire output. It is gay, funny, macabre, tender and with an abundance of his sardonic wit. I hope that my interpretation of these moods will in turn be transformed into a portrait of "Hitch".

— Bernard Herrmann[35]

Herrmann went on to score all of Hitchcock's films through to Marnie (1964).


the state dinner in Barre, Vermont

The première of The Trouble with Harry was held in Barre, Vermont on Friday 30th September, 1955 and began with a state dinner hosted by the Governor of Vermont, Joseph B. Johnson. Cliff Miskelley, who had originally suggested East Craftsbury as an ideal location to Herbert Coleman, was the Master of Ceremonies and Hitchcock was made an "Honorary Citizen and Mayor of Barre".[36]

Typically, the release of a Hitchcock film was preceded by an advertising campaign and then followed by a publicity tour in which Hitchcock toured, attended premières and gave press interviews. With Paramount concerned about the commercial appeal of the film, they requested a low-key launch with no accompanying tour, hoping for "word of mouth" publicity. As Hitchcock was already busy with the pre-production of The Man Who Knew Too Much remake, he agreed the studio's request.

When The Trouble with Harry was released to US theatres, it was preceded by a short 3 minute film directed by Hitchcock entitled "Vermont the Beautiful", intended to promote tourism to the state.[37]

Although the film performed disappointingly at the US box office — it was the only one of Hitchcock's Paramount films that failed to generate a domestic profit on initial release — it proved extremely popular in England and France, where the black humour was more appreciated.

Digging up a dead body and pulling it around, taking it different places, is not considered funny, except by the British and some of the Europeans. But in the United States, death is not considered funny.

— John Forsythe[38]

The Hitchcocks undertook an international publicity tour for the film during November and December 1955, telling press that he had considered making his customary cameo appearance by playing the role of Harry himself — "But it is almost impossible to direct on your back".[39]

The tour was notable for the fact that it was feared for two days that the plane carrying the Hitchcocks from India to the Far East might had crashed in the Bay of Bengal after it failed to arrive into Singapore on Saturday 3rd December. Eventually news emerged on the Monday that the take-off had been heavily delayed by technical problems and then had to return to Calcutta when the pilot reported more engine problems. Due to local immigration procedures in India, the passengers were forced to remain on the aircraft until further repairs were completed.[40]

1963 re-release poster

When the film was re-released in 1963, as a double-bill with the 1950s remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, US audiences were much more receptive to the black humour in the film — partly because Hitchcock's droll "gallows humour" had proved so popular in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television episodes.


The film's primary influence was on the style of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series, which premièred in October 1955. When writer James Allardice, who penned all of Hitchcock's introductions and conclusions for the series, asked the director for guidance on the tone of the monologues, Hitchcock requested that they be in the style of The Trouble with Harry.

See Also...

For further relevant information about this film, see also...

Blu-ray Releases

released in 2012

5107.gif The Trouble with Harry (1955) - Universal (Blu-ray, 2012)
as part of the box set: Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection - Universal (Blu-ray, 2012)

DVD Releases

released in 2006

5106.gif The Trouble with Harry (1955) - Universal (USA, 2006)
Amazon (USA)
NTSC 1.85:1 (anamorphic)

released in 2005

5105.gif The Trouble with Harry (1955) - Universal (USA, 2005) - part of a box set
Amazon (USA)
NTSC 1.85:1 (anamorphic) (01:39:21)

...view older DVD releases

Image Gallery

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Cast and Crew

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Notes & References

  1. "Hitchcock" - by François Truffaut, chapter 11
  2. The Man Who Knew Hitchcock: A Hollywood Memoir (2007) by Herbert Coleman, page 193
  3. Producer Herbert Coleman recalled in his memoirs that Hitchcock had told Paramount management he could make the film for $450,000. However, Coleman knew Hitchcock well enough to know that the director would not be able to make it for such a low cost and he set the initial budget at just over $1,000,000.
  4. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, pages 502-3
  5. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 503.
  6. The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock (1983) by Donald Spoto, page 353
  7. Steven DeRosa notes in Writing with Hitchcock that Hitchcock then sold the story rights to Paramount for $78,000 and that author Jack Trevor Story claimed he eventually only received $500 from his agent.
  8. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, pages 503-4
  9. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 504
  10. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, 504
  11. Hitchcock at Work (2000) by Bill Krohn, page 150
  12. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, pages 505-6
  13. The Alfred Hitchcock Story (1999) by Ken Mogg, page 134
  14. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 506
  15. The Man Who Knew Hitchcock: A Hollywood Memoir (2007) by Herbert Coleman, pages 196-7
  16. BFI: The trouble with Vermont
  17. The Man Who Knew Hitchcock: A Hollywood Memoir (2007) by Herbert Coleman, page 197
  18. Wikipedia: Smugglers' Notch
  19. "A location which is kept in reserve to serve as an alternate shooting site in case the chosen shooting site is unusable. It is most commonly used in the context of shooting planned for an out of doors location."
  20. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 143.
  21. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 506
  22. Documentary: The Trouble with Harry Isn't Over
  23. The Man Who Knew Hitchcock: A Hollywood Memoir (2007) by Herbert Coleman, page 203
  24. The Alfred Hitchcock Story (1999) by Ken Mogg, page 134
  25. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 506
  26. Writing with Hitchcock (2001) by Steven DeRosa, page 144
  27. The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock (2002) by Thomas M. Leitch, page 345
  28. Hitchcock at Work (2000) by Bill Krohn, page 150
  29. The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock (2002) by Thomas M. Leitch, page 345
  30. Hitchcock at Work (2000) by Bill Krohn, page 150
  31. The Alfred Hitchcock Story (1999) by Ken Mogg, page 135 — Paul Klee (1879-1940) was one of Hitchcock's favourite artists.
  32. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 506
  33. Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, pages 506-7
  34. Documentary: The Trouble with Harry Isn't Over
  35. Quotation from Chester Novello web site
  36. The Man Who Knew Hitchcock: A Hollywood Memoir (2007) by Herbert Coleman, page 208
  37. Times Argus (14/Feb/2011) - Alfred Hitchcock came to Barre?
  38. Documentary: The Trouble with Harry Isn't Over
  39. Stars and Stripes Newspaper (02/Nov/1955) - Even Hitchcock Has a Stand-In
  40. According to press reports, the flight landed in Thailand first before flying on to Singapore. Due to the delays, the Hitchcocks chose to disembark at Bangkok in order to catch a flight to Hong Kong, which was their next destination after Singapore.

Hitchcock's Major Films
1920s The Pleasure Garden · The Mountain Eagle · The Lodger · Downhill · Easy Virtue · The Ring · The Farmer's Wife · Champagne · The Manxman · Blackmail
1930s Juno and the Paycock · Murder! · The Skin Game · Rich and Strange · Number Seventeen · Waltzes from Vienna · The Man Who Knew Too Much · The 39 Steps · Secret Agent · Sabotage · Young and Innocent · The Lady Vanishes · Jamaica Inn
1940s Rebecca · Foreign Correspondent · Mr and Mrs Smith · Suspicion · Saboteur · Shadow of a Doubt · Lifeboat · Spellbound · Notorious · The Paradine Case · Rope · Under Capricorn
1950s Stage Fright · Strangers on a Train · I Confess · Dial M for Murder · Rear Window · To Catch a Thief · The Trouble with Harry · The Man Who Knew Too Much · The Wrong Man · Vertigo · North by Northwest
1960s Psycho · The Birds · Marnie · Torn Curtain · Topaz
1970s Frenzy · Family Plot
view full filmography