Saturday, November 26, 2005

Alfred Hitchcock

A.K.A. the “sweetest little murder movie you ever did see.” Although all Hitch’s thrillers have their moments of dark comedy, The Trouble with Harry is the first one (followed by the later Family Plot) that errs on the side of funny the whole way through. Suspense is replaced by whimsy. International intrigue by a bucolic Vermont setting. Dark shadows by the vibrant oranges, reds, and golden yellows of autumn in the Northeast.
Seriously, this movie will put your TV’s color bars to the test. The peak of autumn photography is gorgeous and a perfectly insidious locale given the dead body (“Harry”) plopped in the middle of it. In fact, I almost stopped my VHS tape a few minutes in thinking I’d rather not spoil the experience with a slightly cropped, analog picture. But I soldiered on as the honey of a plot kicked in and various characters started stumbling upon Harry’s body in the woods all with their own unique reactions. I realized this was going to be too fun to turn off.

And it is. Basically, Harry is a humorous how-dunnit instead of your standard whodunit. The question isn’t WHO killed Harry so much as HOW did he actually die and HOW are we now going to get rid of him? Various townsfolk stumble upon his body, several even assuming they were responsible for his death. There’s the Captain (Edmund Gwenn) who was out hunting rabbit and assumes he fired a bad shot hitting Harry. Then there’s Harry’s fiancée Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine) who thinks he wandered into the woods and died after she hit him on the head with a bottle (long, funny story there). Then there’s the town artist, John Forsythe, who sketches Harry’s body while up in the woods, therefore risking incrimination by this dubious portrait. There’s also an old spinster and a very young “Beaver” (Jerry Mathers as MacLaine’s son) thrown into the mix.

But, as per usual with Hitchcock, Harry or his murder isn’t so much the point. His dead body is just the McGuffin. He’s just the fertilizer out of which a series of romances and friendships grow, the characters alternating back and forth on whether to bury him or dig him up before the slow-on-the-draw town police find out. It’s murder as matchmaker. A corpse as cure for small town malaise.

The only “trouble” with Harry I could find is that it is likely the direct progenitor of movies like Weekend at Bernies. But, then again, it’s also could be said to be one of the sparks that ignited the wood chipper scene in Fargo years later (or much of the Coen Brothers canon for that matter).
That said, I guess the only Trouble with Harry is…I don’t yet own the DVD.

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