Sunday, January 16, 2011

CMBA Hitchcock Blogathon: The Trouble with Harry

I had written about the Bit Actors in this movie a few months ago and I was going to expand on that post for the Blogathon.  It turned out to be much more fun to write a new post instead.  This one may wind up being a bit longer than my usual offering.

Let’s start with the trivia.  Quick…what was Shirley MacLaine’s (b. 1934) film debut?  This is an Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon so that should give you a hint.  (Oh yeah, the answer may be found somewhere in my title.)  The Trouble with Harry from 1955 was MacLaine’s first film, made when she was just 21 years old, and it was the fifth film for young Jerry Mathers (b. 1948, and not as the Beav) who was only seven.

This was also the first pairing of Alfred Hitchcock (1899 – 1980) and composer Bernard Herrmann (1911 – 1975), who went on to a long relationship, making seven films together.  I think that Psycho (1960) would not be the same without Herrmann’s wonderful score.  

The Trouble with Harry is Hitchcock’s favorite Hitchcock film and Herrmann’s score for it was his favorite as well, according to the all-knowing trivia page on IMDb.

This was Edmund Gwenn’s (1877 – 1959) last of four Hitchcock films.  And finally, Philip Truex (1911 – 2008) played Harry, who was dead through the entire film.  This was Truex’s second and final big screen film.  The other was This is the Army (1943) with Ronald Reagan.  And poor Harry gets exhumed four times in the movie.

Alfred Hitchcock didn’t make many comedies, and this one was actually an experiment on his part, to see how a more British style of comedy, made with relatively unknown actors, would fare in America.  Apparently it didn’t fare very well, and was a box office disappointment.  Hitch bought the rights back and held the film out of circulation for about 30 years.  It was re-released in 1984, thank goodness!

I would imagine that die-hard Hitchcock fans may not appreciate Harry.  It does not contain the gripping suspense of most of his other work.  In fact it is more comedy than mystery.  But it contains a lot of Hitchcock.  The way the shots are framed in the camera is unmistakable.  The excellent direction of many newcomers to film, which may have been instrumental to their future success, came only from Hitch.  And the Bernard Herrmann score adds to the feel of the movie.

In short, the story is about a dead man found by a small boy.  Several of the town residents are convinced they caused Harry's demise.  And then there is the problem of the what the law would say, and how to dispose of the body.  After Harry is identified and it is thought he would not be missed, a simple burial in the field seems the best solution.  But Hitchcock adds twists and turns to complicate things.

The cast in Harry is short, only 14 strong, including Hitchcock's trademark walk-on.  The major Bit Actors are:

  • Royal Dano (1922 - 1994), the deputy sheriff, was a character actor who did a lot of westerns, including a bit part in Cahill US Marshal(1973) with The Duke, and a bigger part in The Outlaw Josey Wales in 1976 with Clint Eastwood.

  • Mildred Natwick ( 1905 - 1994) had over 80 roles in film and on TV.  She plays Mrs. Gravely (!) who befriends Edmund Gwenn.  Perhaps her most famous film was her last, Dangerous Liaisons in 1988 with Glenn Close.

  • Mildred Dunnock (1901 - 1991) is the shop owner, Mrs. Wiggs.  She has played in over 70 parts, including BUtterfield 8 in 1960 with Elizabeth Taylor.

  • I don’t want to give away the entire plot by going into the rest of the story.  Since this is an unusual film for Hitchcock, you may not have seen it, so I don’t want to ruin the ending for you.  Let me say that it is definitely worth seeking out.  The beautiful, scenic, outdoor shots of New England in glorious Technicolor are quite a dichotomy to the story of a dead body found on a beautiful fall day.  And Hitchcock uses it to weave a fun, almost believable story, with a cast that works well together.

    I hope you enjoy the entire Classic Movie Blog Association Hitchcock Blogathon.  As of this writing there are twenty of us participating.  Its good today is a holiday!  Here is the entire list of Blogathon entries.  If any of the links don't work, just click on the link to the CMBA site, just above here.  Have fun!

    1. The Birds – Classic Film & TV Café
    2. Dial M for Murder – True Classics: The ABCs of Film
    3. The Lady Vanishes – MacGuffin Movies
    4. Lifeboat – Classicfilmboy’s Movie Paradise
    5. The Man Who Knew Too Much – Reel Revival
    6. Marnie – My Love of Old Hollywood
    7. Mr. and Mrs. Smith – Carole & Co.
    8. North By Northwest – Bette’s Classic Movie Blog
    9. Notorious – Twenty Four Frames
    10. The Pleasure Garden – Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
    11. Rear Window – Java’s Journey
    12. Rebecca – ClassicBecky’s Film and Literary Review
    13. Rope – Kevin’s Movie Corner
    14. Shadow of a Doubt - Great Entertainers Media Archive
    15. The 39 Steps – Garbo Laughs
    16. Three Classic Hitchcock Killers – The Lady Eve’s Reel Life
    17. Torn Curtain - Via Margutta 51
    18. The Trouble with Harry – Bit Part Actors (That's me!)
    19. Vertigo – Noir and Chick Flicks
    20. The Wrong Man – The Movie Projector


    1. I haven't seen this one but now I want to! While I was compiling the movie poster list for this Blogathon "The Trouble With Harry" had me the most intrigued and interested. I love everything about Hitchcock's movies so it might be a fun ride to see his take on comedy. We can all use a good laugh now and again. Thanks for exposing me to one of Hitch's more obscure films.

    2. This is an easy movie to watch. No worries about great flocks of birds attacking or knives flying about in the shower. Watch it with the kiddies!

    3. Allen - A masterful job of looking at "The Trouble with Harry" through the "Bit Part Actors" lens! I learned much and will now have to re-view "Harry," one of Hitchcock's post-1940 films I've seen least. It really was a departure for him, as was "Mr. & Mrs. Smith."
      You mentioned Bernard Herrmann's score for "Psycho"...I was just thinking last night as I was finishing up my own post about how I don't watch "Psycho" as often as Hitchcock's other still gives me the creeps - Perkins's performance, the stark TV-unit look of the film - AND - Bernard Herrmann's score.
      Great post, Allen...(poor Philip Truex - what a screen career)

    4. I don't dislike The Trouble with Harry but I haven't quite embraced it in the manner as some other Hitchcock films; it's also a movie that I keep telling myself I'm going to sit down for a good re-watch (the best laid of plans of mice and men, unfortunately) one of these days.

      But like you, I get a distinct pleasure out of seeing the marvelous character actors in these great films; I've always been a big fan of Dano's and I've told fellow film buffs for years that Mildred Dunnock did other things besides being pushed down a flight of stairs in a wheelchair by Richard Widmark. But when I think of Mildred's The Court Jester by a country mile.

    5. Thanks, Eve. I am not sure "masterful" is accurate, but thanks anyway!

      As far as music in the movies, I think it is a very important factor. As much as a great supporting cast of Bit Actors. Chaplin was well aware of that and wrote the score for many of his silent films. Herrmann was the "master."

    6. Thanks for your comment, Ivan. I hope you get a better feeling for Harry after watching it again. British humour doesn't always appeal to the American audience, and I think Hitch was experimenting.

      As I've said before, Bit Actors contribute more than most people imagine.

    7. Wow, there's a lot of great actors in this. I need to see this one again.

      Whenever I think of autumn in movies, this is the first one that comes to mind. It's really a gorgeous film to look - and listen - to.

    8. I initially watched The Trouble with Harry for the sheer curiosity of seeing Shirley Maclaine's debut (I just adore her). But I remember being somewhat let down by the story--I love Hitch's macabre humor here, but felt that the mystery wasn't as well-developed as I would have liked. Still, it has its entertaining moments, and as you mentioned, it's a gorgeously-shot film. I enjoyed reading more about the supporting players in your entry!

    9. Glad you tackled this film! I've only seen it once but really enjoyed it when I did. Of the films Hitchcock made during the 1950s starting with "Rear Window," this one is so different, yet it's one reason I like it. He had a curiosity about bringing his touch to unusual stories, and it works here. Thanks for your post!

    10. You've done a very good article with interesting facts about the one Hitchcock movie I absolutely HATE. LOL. I've tried to like it, but it just never happens. As you said, the camera angles are vintage Hitchcock, and the cast wonderful. I think it is a great tribute to your writing that I really enjoyed reading about The Trouble With Harry!

    11. THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, with its low-wattage--but excellent--cast was the perfect Blogathon choice for the Bit Part Actors Blog. I waited a long time to see it, in fact until the mid-1980s re-release that you mentioned. It's definitely a departure for Hitchcock, although it's a very British black comedic tone can be found here and there in many Hitchcock films. As Ivan pointed out in another blog today, Hitch worked for Michael Balcon, who produced many of the comedies for the British studio Ealing. I could see TROUBLE WITH HARRY as an Ealing film! I had forgotten that HARRY was the first collaboration between Hermann and Hitchcock. Thanks for a most informative post on a lesser-shown Hitch flick!

    12. Thank you for a spot on critique! I love this film it is highly enjoyable and great fun! I hope many will seek it out.

    13. Neat review. I don't know much about this one but I love the premise. I'll definitely look out for it!


    14. I didn't remember this one was Shirley's film debut! You're right. I like this movie, I always remember the poor guy lying there, the little kid that has a rabbit at some point (was it dead?), something about paintings, a really romantic ending and a nice main tune :)

    15. Allen,

      This film is kind of an odd duck in Hitchcock's filmography, not one of my favorites to be honest but interesting enough that I can recommend it though with reservations. I watched it for the firt time during that 1984 reissue that you mentioned. It was at a small theater in NYC called the "D.W. Griffith." Thanks for bringing this film to light.

    16. I am amazed at the number of comments on this post! Thank you all for writing and for your kind words. I even received compliments from people who didn't like the movie!

      I think that for the next Hitchcock Blogathon (which I hope will be annual), I may tackle some of his silent films. He started directing in 1922. All I have to do is find them!

    17. If we are going back to Hitchcock in the early days I call dibs on "The Lodger" I love that film. Too soon? Okay I'll wait. : ) But annual Hitchcock tributes sounds like great fun.

    18. I like "The Trouble with Harry" but find it pretty lightweight, rather like an extended episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." In a way the beautiful landscapes are the biggest star. As usual, Hitchcock had a great supporting cast to work with, and character actors like Gwenn, Natwick, and Dunnock can't be beat. I can't help thinking that Cary Grant in the lead might have given the film more interest (apparently William Holden was his first choice, although I can't really picture Holden in a Hitchcock picture), but the chief weakness still is the lack of a really compelling plot. Still, it's an amusing diversion and another example of Hitchcock's rarely acknowledged versatility.

    19. Thanks, R.D. I like your simile of Harry to an extended TV episode. That's acutally pretty accurate. The plot is light but comendies usually have lighter plots than mysteries, and this was Hitch's attempt at humour.

      Cary Grant would have been excellent in the Forsythe part, but once again, Hitch was out to prove he could make a good film with a lesser known cast.

      Even in what many consider a bad Hitchcock film, he still came in with a winner in my book. As you say, just "another example" of his versatility.


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