The Trouble with “The Trouble with Harry”

by Ellery LeSueur

The Trouble With Harry (1955) opens with a white church steeple, rolling hills, and the blazing autumn colors of a peaceful Vermont town.

So, naturally, I was on the edge of my seat. 

Whenever you see an idyllic little town in a Hitchcock film, you can be certain of one thing: whatever gentle exterior we’ve seen will, by the end of the picture, be stripped away to reveal something dark and evil lurking beneath. 

Strangely, though, Harry doesn’t really deliver in this respect. Yes, the film has a macabre humor to it – after all, the trouble with Harry is that he’s dead – but the film seems to spend its time dipping its toe in the waters of subtle comedy rather than diving in. Perhaps this is a result of the film’s divided loyalties between its desire to be a comedy (albeit an unusual one) as well as its hope to deliver some kind of murder mystery that we all expect form Hitch. Whatever the case, it can’t have helped a troubled film to have the word “trouble” right in the title.

I watched the film in two parts. On the first day, I got through about 45 minutes of it, then resumed viewing the following evening. 

The strange thing is (other than the inherent strangeness of the film itself) that I had two totally different reactions on Night #1 and Night #2. The first night, I was sleepy and didn’t laugh a single time during the first 45 minutes. But on the second night, I was glued to the screen.

This leaves a few possibilities:

1. I was tired the first night and alert the second, meaning that for me, this was a film that required a special level of alertness to enjoy.

Or

2. The film may pick up after 45 minutes; maybe that’s when it gets funny. It will be hard to say anything definitively with only one viewing.  

Or

Some combination of these two things?

Whatever my individual viewing experience was, it’s no secret that this is an incredibly unusual film, both as a Hitchcock film and as a film made in 1955. British humor – and Hitchcock’s own eccentric sense of humor – attempt to subvert Hollywood’s typically brash, obvious comedy, though not without a few difficulties. For me, the problem was that a modern audience brings their familiarity with Hitchcock’s work as the “master of suspense” to what he intended to be more of a comedy. Additionally, the film doesn’t ever really make its intentions clear – what are we supposed to care about here? – and has a major issue with pacing. 

If anything, this film is worth watching to witness Shirley MacLaine’s screen debut playing Jennifer Rogers, whose husband has just been killed and who couldn’t be more bored by the whole thing. It’s also worth watching as an interesting meditation on humor in Hitchcock  and to see him do a very different kind of film.

Ellery LeSueur is a writer and cinephile from Chicago, Illinois. Fascinated by American cinema history, her favorite Hitchcock films are Psycho, Spellbound, and The 39 Steps.

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