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July 2, 2013

The Trouble with Harry

by Franz Patrick


Trouble with Harry, The (1955)
★★ / ★★★★

Arnie (Jerry Mathers) is playing in the woods when he hears three shots. Instead of running back home to his mother, Jennifer (Shirley MacLaine), the curious kid walks closer to the source of the shots and finds a lifeless body in the clearing. Scared, he sprints to tell an adult about his discovery. Meanwhile, Capt. Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), who happens to be hunting for rabbits, stumbles upon the dead body. Convinced that he had accidentally killed the man, he hides the corpse instead of reporting it to the police.

Based on the screenplay by John Michael Hayes, “The Trouble with Harry” has an interesting premise stretched so thinly, its comedy eventually becomes a product of diminishing returns. For instance, Dr. Greenbow (Dwight Marfield), so absorbed in the contents of his books while walking, trips over the cadaver several times under different circumstances. Someone not noticing a dead body that is out in the open is funny. But a person who consistently fails to take notice, more than three times, is not.

Naturally, the doctor happens to make an appearance during the most inopportune times. We do not know who killed the man so this threatens an otherwise innocent person, who just so happens to be in the vicinity, to become a potential scapegoat. At times I held my breath each time he walks by. However, it is too bad that once Dr. Greenbow finally has a chance to be useful, he turns out to be a pretty banal, charmless character.

The film is largely episodic in that we follow an artist named Sam (John Forsythe) chatting to various people about the dead man and what should be done with him. His most interesting interaction is with Jennifer. Sam thinks Jennifer is breathtakingly beautiful and Jennifer reckons Sam has a kindness about him that her former husband lacks. While Forsythe and MacLaine share good chemistry, the type that is perfect for a romantic comedy, their flirtations often get in the way of the mystery. Every time they give each other a look of yearning, my mind goes back to the corpse and what should be done with it once and for all.

The picture could have been over halfway through because the body has been buried. Philosophical musings about conscience are brought up. Then the body has to be dug up. The act of putting the body in and out the hole becomes a cycle but the set-up is not equipped with enough punchlines to be riotously funny. The repetition forces scenes to become less effective over time.

I found more amusement in the subplot involving a millionaire (Parker Fennelly) who wishes to buy Sam’s artwork. I was tickled because I believed the paintings look plain on purpose but the rich gentleman sees something priceless about them.

“The Trouble with Harry,” based on the novel by Jack Trevor Story and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, offers dialogue that sounds natural which allows some of the more whimsical elements to go undetected. However, the mystery is so often brushed to the side and is only placed front and center whenever it is convenient. But that’s the thing with dead bodies: they never are.

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