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Film / The Trouble with Harry

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Over the years, Alfred Hitchcock gave the world such thrillers as Rebecca, Psycho, and The Birds. He also gave us this 1955 Black Comedy, adapted from Jack Trevor Story's novel of the same name.

The residents of a small Vermont town are faced with the appearance of one Harry Worp. The trouble with Harry is that he's dead. Four people in particular are concerned with what to do with him: Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine, in her film debut), the dead man's long-estranged wife; retired sea captain Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), who is convinced he shot Harry by accident while hunting; spinster Ivy Gravely (Mildred Natwick), who'd kicked Harry in self-defense after he "attacked" her; and local artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe), who never actually met Harry — not while he was alive, at least — but is interested in Jennifer. They all spend the rest of the film trying to figure out exactly how and why he died, and more importantly, what to do with the body.

This film was initially a box-office failure but has since become well regarded. It's also notable for its music score composed by Bernard Herrmann, his first of several for Hitchcock. And Jerry Mathers of Leave It to Beaver fame appears as Jennifer's young son Arnie, who's the first to discover Harry's body in the woods.

Not to be confused with The A-Team episode of the same name.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Dr. Greenbow. He stumbles on Harry's body twice, but he does not even realize that it is a corpse. Nevertheless, he seems to be a competent practician and, in the end, he determines the cause of Harry's death.
  • Accidental Murder: Subverted. Capt. Albert Wiles thinks that he killed Harry accidentally (when he was hunting rabbits). Later, Sam thinks that Jennifer killed Harry accidentally by hitting him over the head with a milk bottle. In the end, it is revealed that Harry died of natural causes.
  • And Starring: "And introducing Shirley MacLaine"
  • Artistic Title: The opening credits are shown while the camera scrolls along a stylized, childlike drawing (by The New Yorker cartoonist Saul Steinberg) of a house, trees, birds... and Harry's corpse.
  • Asshole Victim: Harry doesn't sound like a very pleasant man.
  • Attempted Rape: Harry tried to rape Miss Gravely. She stopped him with her shoe.
  • Beta Couple: Capt. Albert Wiles and Ivy Gravely are foils to Sam and Jennifer. They are a source of comedy in the film.
  • Black Comedy: A comedy about people trying to dispose of a body and trying to figure out who is the murderer.
  • Black Comedy Animal Cruelty: Arnie has a lot of fun playing with a dead rabbit, and wants more animals.
  • Black Comedy Rape: At some point, Miss Gravely says that it should be easy to demonstrate that Harry was insane because he tried to rape her.
  • Book Ends: In the movie's first scene, Arnie discovers Harry's dead body. In the last sequence, he discovers it again.
  • Brick Joke: After Sam sells some paintings to a millionaire, Sam details some items he'd like the other leads to receive in exchange. When Sam gets to what he'd like, he has to whisper it in the millionaire's ear. He also tells Jennifer, who responds, "Sounds practical." At the end of the movie, Sam finally tells Captain Wiles what he will get for the paintings, and the captain proceeds to tell Ms. Gravely: a double bed for Sam and Jennifer.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Harry's shoes. A tramp steals them in the beginning. Later, he gives them to Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs and Capt. Albert Wiles has to steal them to erase the evidence.
    • Sam's drawing of Harry. Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs notices it in the store and he notices the similarity with the description of the corpse made by the tramp.
    • Subverted with the opening closet. The Scare Chord that plays whenever it opens makes you think that it's going to have an important part to play in the plot. When it finally does open unexpectedly in front of the police, Harry's body isn't in it. He's in the tub instead.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • The tramp. He is later picked up by the police for taking Harry's shoes and is the one who informs them of the body.
    • Dr. Greenbow. He stumbles on the corpse in the beginning. In the end, he examines the corpse and he ascertains that Harry died from a heart attack.
  • Creator Cameo: Hitchcock can be seen walking in the background as the millionaire is examining Sam's paintings outside his parked limousine.
  • Dead Man's Chest: When Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs visits Jennifer's house, the protagonists hide the corpse in the bathtub.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sam
  • Disposing of a Body: The protagonists decide repeatedly to bury Harry's body to get rid of it, but they always change their mind soon thereafter.
  • Double Entendre: Sam and Captain Wiles discuss the the fact that Miss Gravely invited Captain Wiles:
    Sam: Do you realise that you'll be the first man to... cross her threshold?
    Captain Wiles: Oh. Oh... It's not too late, you know. She's a well preserved woman.
    Sam: I envy you.
    Captain Wiles: Yes, very well preserved. And preserves have to be opened someday. Hm?
  • Eccentric Townsfolk: Pretty much each and every resident of Highwater, Vermont.
  • The End: "The trouble with Harry is over."
  • Everybody Did It: Subverted; everyone assumes they caused Harry's death. In the end, it's revealed he died naturally.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The timespan of the whole film is approximately 24 hours (it starts in the morning and it ends in the morning of the next day).
  • Fake-Out Opening: In the movie's original trailer, which initially makes us think we're watching a lighthearted travelogue film called "Autumn in Vermont".
  • Father Neptune: Subverted. Capt. Albert Wiles poses as an experienced sailor, but he finally confesses that he sailed only on the East River.
  • The Film of the Book: The film is adapted from Jack Trevor Story's novel of the same name.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Jennifer accepts to marry Sam on the very day she met him.
  • Give the Baby a Father: The reason why Harry married Jennifer: Jennifer was pregnant when her first husband died. Harry, the brother of her late husband offered to marry her to support the baby.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: When Captain Wiles finds Harry's body, he exclaims, "For rice cake!"
  • Happily Ever After: In the end, Sam Marlowe and Jennifer Rogers are going to get married. He proposed to her earlier and she had accepted. The only problem was to prove that Harry was dead. This problem is now solved.
  • Hollywood New England: But the gorgeous autumn location footage makes it okay.
  • Insistent Terminology: Sam insists that the portrait he made of Harry is a drawing, not a painting.
  • Killing in Self-Defense: Miss Ivy Gravely thinks that she killed Harry in self-defense (when Harry was trying to rape her). In the end, it is revealed that Harry died of natural causes.
  • Lotsa People Try to Dun It: Multiple characters think they might have killed Harry, which results in his body behind moved multiple times as they try to hide their possible crime. In this case, none of them actually set out to murder him, but each one believes they may be guilty of at least manslaughter. It turns out none of them actually killed Harry. He died of natural causes!
  • Maiden Aunt: Ivy Gravely is an old lady who has never been in a relationship with a man.
  • Meaningful Name: Ivy Gravely
  • Plot Device: Harry's cadaver is constantly moved to and from and overall being a nuisance — especially as the story goes on and more and more people think they are responsible for his death.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The events of the film are triggered by Harry's death.
  • Posthumous Character: The titular Harry dies in the first seconds of the film. The plot is about who he was and how he died.
  • Romancing the Widow: Sam tries and picks up Jennifer, whose husband has just died. The problem is that she cannot prove that her husband is dead.
  • Running Gag: The protagonists suddenly realize that they have to dig up Harry's corpse that they have just buried.
  • Scenery Porn: The film starts with a series of shots showing the staggering beauty of the Vermont countryside in fall.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: During the whole film, the protagonists try to devise the best plan not to be involved in the investigation of Harry's murder. In the end, it is revealed that Harry died of a heart attack.
  • Starving Artist: Sam cannot sell his paintings, at least until a millionaire decides to buy them.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Most of the people who come across Harry's body (or someone trying to move Harry's body) either simply don't notice or don't particularly seem to care. In fact, the only one who could be said to have anything resembling an appropriate reaction is the four-year-old Arnie.
  • Zany Scheme: The attempts to figure out what to do with Harry's body evolve into one.