The Trouble With Harry was one of Hitchcock’s few genuine comedies and it was, sadly, a financial failure. It then disappeared for a while, but is now available and has quite a strong following.
At its heart, this film is a romantic comedy that takes place against a sort of murder mystery where several characters believe they may have killed a man named Harry. The story takes place in Highwater, Vermont, and it begins with the discovery of a corpse on a hill top. The corpse is Harry, and it’s not clear who has killed him.
Bringing them all together is Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe), a proto-hipster artist. He is looking for something to paint when he stumbles upon these people trying to figure out what to do about the body. The problem is that none of them knows who actually killed Harry, and none of them knows what to do next – particularly as no one is going to miss Harry. As they sort this out through a series of missteps, love blooms between a few of the characters. Meanwhile, they need to avoid Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs (Royal Dano), who seems intent on finding some wrongdoing.
Indeed, the humor is quite subtle. The humor in The Trouble With Harry comes from the setup itself, which is quite funny, and the group’s missteps in handling the body. It also comes from the indifference with which they are treating the death. Mostly though, it comes from the quirkiness of the characters.
What I like best though is the sensibility of this comedy. This film is good-naturedly pleasant. You just don’t see that anymore. Indeed, modern comedies are all about flying bodily fluids, absurd characters, and trying to shock the audience with the level of nastiness in which the characters engage. This is so different.
What’s more, Hitchcock avoids cynicism. Sure, on the surface it seems cynical, but the story quickly proves itself sentimental and hopeful. That is hard to write without the story becoming saccharine and phony. Hitchcock walks that line. Apatow and Sandler don’t even bother: they traffic in cynicism, which is the ultimate writer’s crutch.
Ben Kenobi once described a lightsaber as “not as clumsy or random as a blaster; an elegant weapon for a more civilize age.” That is this film. It is not clumsy or random as the comedies of today, it is an elegant film for a more civilized age. I highly recommend this film.