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The Trouble With Harry Review

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A man's corpse is repeatedly buried and exhumed, after Captain Albert Wiles, artist Sam Marlowe and prim matron Miss Graveley learn that he is the estranged husband of their new neighbour, Jennifer Rogers.

★★★★

Adapted with remarkable fidelity by John Michael Hayes from a short fable by Jack Trevor Story, this was one of Alfred Hitchcock's favourite pictures. Yet, for all its macabre whimsy, it would be wrong to see this simply as a droll entertainment, despite the geniality of the leading quartet, Robert Burks's gleaming autumnal vistas and Bernard Herrmann's jaunty score. Nor should it be dismissed as a one-gag wonder, as Harry's various burials and exhumations are merely the Macguffin that allows Hitchcock to discuss the weightier themes of faith, justice, passion and mortality.

   Some critics have identified this as a resurrection story and used its vague references to Christian iconography to claim it was Hitchcock's treatise on religion. But, in fact, it's more a comment on those who use belief as a means of social control. Hypocrites never fare very well in Hitchcock's canon and, although they're admittedly thin on the New England ground, they are, nevertheless, denounced by implication throughout the film by the unabashed (if occasionally sniggering) discussion of those taboos of puritanical society, sex and death.  



   Few Hitchcock pictures are so laced with innuendo. But even more striking is the casual attitude towards death - not just on behalf of the four principals, but also on that of the director whose childhood terror of falling foul of the law is replaced by a barely suppressed glee at turning the disposal of a cadaver into a mischievous prank.

 Perhaps the city boy in Hitchcock embraced the countryside's more relaxed attitude to death as part of the cycle of nature and that Harry was his pastoral variation on the trademark theme of suspense (albeit in a mild form) within the everyday. Certainly the picture's only surprise was in revealing what the debuting Shirley Maclaine whispered to John Forsythe as her cherished wish after he offers to buy her a gift - and even that reinforces the link between carnality and fatality, as her request for a double bed is made just as her ex-husband's body is left in the clearing awaiting its last and legitimate discovery.

A lighter film for Hitchcock but with a wonderfully sewn narrative and some good performances.