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Hitchcock's Ealing Comedy
by Asa Butcher
2006-12-04 09:41:03
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The Trouble with Harry
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Universal, 1955

During Britain’s post-war period, Ealing Studios became famous for a series of celebrated comedies that were satirical and reflected the quirkiness of British character and society. Some of the most famous titles included Whisky Galore!, Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Man in the White Suit and The Ladykillers, and it was these classics of British cinema that came to mind after watching The Trouble with Harry.

It would not surprise me if Alfred Hitchcock had been inspired by his homeland’s comedic efforts and decided to treat his American audiences to some homespun black humour. The Trouble with Harry followed two Hitchcock thrillers, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief, and was followed by The Man Who Knew Too Much, so it seems as though he also wanted to have a break with a different style of film.

Different is certainly the right term for this film. For once, we don’t see the murder take place, but just hear it during the opening scene. The remainder of the film sees the corpse, known as Harry, become a comedy prop of macabre proportions. The dead man is buried, dug up, buried, dug up, buried and dug up in the course of 24-hours before being bathed and returned to his original murder site. It is a series of events and misunderstandings that cannot fail to raise a smile to your lips.

Following the sound of an argument and a gunshot, young Arnie Rogers finds Harry laying in the woods (this scene features one of the best camera shots Hitchcock has ever created) and rushes home to tell his mother. While he is gone, Capt. Albert Wiles finds Harry and thinks that he has shot him by mistake thinking he was a rabbit, so decided to bury him. While attempting to undertake this task, countless people walk through the woods. As the film progresses more and more people believe they are responsible for Harry’s untimely death and others are just happy that this man is dead.

We learn early on in the film that Harry was the father of young Ernie Rogers and the long-lost husband of Jennifer Rogers, played by Shirley MacLaine in her first-ever feature film. From her first movie role, it is easy to see how she achieved a successful career in Hollywood, since she is fantastic and has some of the best lines in the movie: “You can stuff him, for all I care. Stuff him and put him in a glass case, only I'd suggest frosted glass.”

Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) is a struggling artist and he is one of the few people in the film that doesn’t think he killed Harry. However, he helps the Captain, superbly played by Edmund Gwenn, bury and exhume the corpse a number of times, which is motivated by his romantic feelings towards Jennifer and the fact that he seems to have the best motive for the murder. The fourth member of this quartet is Miss Ivy Gravely (Mildred Natwick), a sweet spinster, who brings some unexpected comedy to her scenes with the Captain.

The Trouble with Harry is classic Hitchcock with a twist. The great man always injected dark humour into his films, but this one is a comedy throughout and that is the twist. It is a simple film, with very few locations and characters, and there isn’t the feeling of the Everyday Man in peril, unlike many of Hitch’s films, however it makes a refreshing change. In fact, I was so engrossed with the film that I missed Hitchcock’s cameo and that was annoying.

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