Distributor: Universal Studios
Release Date: May 10, 2022
Region: Region Free
4K UHD: 2160P (HEVC, H.265 – HDR10)
Blu-ray: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)
Main Audio: 2.0 English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio
Alternate Audio —
2.0 French Mono DTS Audio
2.0 Italian Mono DTS Audio
2.0 German Mono DTS Audio
2.0 Japanese Mono DTS Audio
Blu-ray: 2.0 French Mono DTS Audio
4K UHD: English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Blu-ray: English SDH, Spanish
Notes: These are the same discs included in the “Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection: Volume Two” boxed set. The package also includes a digital copy of the film.
“Although the action unfolds in the course of a single day, the film begins green and ends red. It was essentially a counterpoint. Nothing ugly should enter the picture. The autumn colors are magnificent, and you may have noticed that I never show the corpse in a way that could be disagreeable. Rather than show the face, I show the drawing that represents it. To my way of thinking, the characters in The Trouble with Harry have reactions which are absolutely normal and logical. It’s their peculiar behavior, free from affectation, from dissimulation, from worldly concerns, from conformity, that makes us believe they cannot be real. In other words, instead of the logic of the absurd, I preferred the absurdity of logic.” —Alfred Hitchcock (Encounter with Alfred Hitchcock: Interview with Charles Bitsch and François Truffaut, Cahiers du Cinéma, August-September 1956)
THE ABSURDITY OF LOGIC: THE MAKING OF THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY
The Trouble with Harry is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most neglected American movies. Most biographies tend to skim over the production with vague recitations of the more popular pieces of production trivia dutifully but grudgingly. We learn that The Trouble with Harry was “an approach to a strictly British genre, the humor of the macabre” and that Hitchcock “made that picture to prove that the American public could appreciate British humor,” but we learn very little else. However, when one gathers together numerous sources together, a more comprehensive look at the film’s creation comes into focus.
It seems to us particularly worthwhile to examine this film’s production history because it was clearly a labor of love for the director. He would often claim in later years that the film was “self-indulgent” due to its failure at the box office, but he rarely criticized the final product or dismissed it in the same way he tended to dismiss his other box office disappointments. The closest he came to a total dismissal was when he lamented that his “typically English” approach to the material “didn’t travel well” and admitted that he “should have paid more attention to Alma, who didn’t find it amusing.” However, even during this interview, he was fast to add that the film may have done better business if Paramount had given it a wider release and the minimum of publicity instead of simply burying it. One gets the feeling that this is one failure that he had trouble shrugging off.
THE SOURCE NOVEL
Hitchcock’s interest was initially sparked while reading the galleys (an uncorrected proof) of Jack Trevor Story’s book shortly after its publication in 1949. It was Story’s first novel, and it reads like an extremely detailed film treatment.
“The [story] concerns a small boy, Abie Rogers, and several adults who happen upon a dead man named Harry Worp in the woods near a tiny English village called Sparrowswick Heath. A retired seaman, Captain Wiles, believes himself responsible for Harry’s death and wishes to dispose of the corpse. In the process, Captain Wiles befriends a local spinster, Miss Graveley, and a modern artist, Sam Marlow.
Miss Graveley has surprisingly little reaction when she sees Captain Wiles dragging a dead man by the ankles and invites him for afternoon tea. Other villagers pass through the woods and take even less notice of Harry. These include Mark Douglas, the landlord and local womanizer; Mrs. D’Arcy, with whom he is having an affair; Dr. Greenbow, the local surgeon and entomologist; and the spouses of the first pair, Cassy Douglas and Walter D’Arcy. The only others to come across Harry and take any notice are a wandering tramp, who steals Harry’s shoes and socks, and later a cigarette from the corpse, and Abie’s mother, Jennifer, who is delighted by Harry’s earthly departure.
In the center of the village is Wiggs’s Emporium, where the proprietress, Mrs. Wiggs, stocks groceries and, among other items, the paintings of Sam Marlow. Sam and Mrs. Wiggs spruce up Miss Graveley for her date with Captain Wiles, and later, Sam calls on Jennifer to find out what she thinks should be done about Harry. Sam learns that Jennifer is the dead man’s widow — and that Harry is a nuisance best forgotten.
Captain Wiles and Miss Graveley get to know each other over tea at the latter’s cottage, while Sam and Jennifer, too, become quickly smitten. Together, the four try to decide what should be done with Harry. Each, with the exception of Sam, has reason to believe he or she killed Harry, and the body is buried and disinterred over and over again, as the responsibility shifts from one to another. When it is established by Dr. Greenbow that Harry died of heart failure, he is returned to the spot where he died in order to be found again, but not before his death helps to bring about several romances.
A reader in Paramount’s story department passed on the novel when it was submitted to the studio in 1950, stating, ‘This is an engagingly uninhibited little story, in a highly amusing style. The humor is too fragile and whimsical and the story too fanciful for transportation to the screen. Although the characters are presented – as real people, they belong to a slightly fey world, and the plot itself is much too tenuous for a screen comedy. Not recommended.’” —Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes, 2001)
Much of DeRosa’s synopsis of the original novel (which is a fast read and a nice diversion if you can find a copy) sounds almost like a synopsis of the final film, but there are a few notable differences that astute readers will notice. For one thing, the name “Abie Rogers” was changed to “Arnie Rogers,” while four characters (Mark Douglass, Cassy Douglass, Walter D’Arcy, and Mrs. D’arcy) aren’t found in the film as their storyline was dropped during the scripting phase. In their place is a new character, Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs (son of Mrs. Wiggs). This new character added a slight but tangible obstacle for the group of body buriers to overcome and helps to give the tale a more structured (if slight) plot.
The Trouble with Harry was made during one of the director’s most prolific periods, and work on multiple projects often overlapped. In light of this fact, it is perhaps not surprising that certain details as to the chronology of events are often hazy. Donald Spoto offers one version of how the film project began in his famous biography of Hitchcock.
“Even before he arrived in France to shoot To Catch a Thief, he had given [the book] to John Michael Hayes to adapt. By the time of the birthday party [on the set], the script was very near completion, and there was only the matter of putting the horse back in front of the cart by buying the production rights. Hitchcock instructed Herman Citron, one of his agents at MCA, to negotiate a purchase — and to do so, as usual, without using the Hitchcock name. Story and his publisher were somewhat disenchanted to learn the identity of the buyer after they had agreed to a price of $11,000. They went through with the deal, however, since they had long before given up any thought of Hollywood interest.” —Donald Spoto (The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock, 1983)
Much of this seems to be accurate. Of course, Donald Spoto is a biographer known for his revisionist histories, and parts of this account has been disputed along with quite a lot of other things in his books (and not just those about Alfred Hitchcock). In his memoir, Herbert Coleman tries to set the record straight about one particular detail. Hitchcock, he claims, did not send Hayes off to work on the script before filming began on To Catch a Thief.
“Spoto discarded the true story I’d told him and wrote one of his own. How Hitch had given the book, The Trouble with Harry, to Hayes before Hitch left for France to begin filming To Catch a Thief. That could not have happened without my knowledge because I would have had to approve the commitment of Paramount’s money for the deal. The book The Trouble with Harry was given to me just before we completed filming Thief on the Paramount stages.” —Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
Of course, it is likely that Donald Spoto was working with several contradictory sources (as is often the case) because he isn’t the only biographer to contradict Coleman’s testimony. Steven DeRosa’s “Writing with Hitchcock” claims that John Michael Hayes was engaged not before leaving for Cannes (as Spoto suggests) or after returning to the Paramount stages (as Coleman suggests) but while the writer was in Cannes during the production of To Catch a Thief.
“John Michael Hayes had officially gone on the payroll of Story Fund #89042, The Trouble with Harry, on June 14, 1954, while staying at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes for the location filming of To Catch a Thief. The screenplay he began to write remained very close to the original material [as Hitchcock firmly instructed]. ‘It was rather faithful to the novel… Hitch was always taken with that story and its simplicity and feared that if we started tampering with it, we’d lose what was there.’” —Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes, 2001)
Coleman was actually on vacation when Hitchcock eventually set his mind to pursuing the project in earnest.
“Hitch called and urged me to come back. I couldn’t figure out why. Doc and Danny were still with him and could handle any problems that came up [with To Catch a Thief]. The next morning, I was on the stage before Hitch arrived. Doc and Danny were surprised I’d been asked to come back so soon. ‘We’re ahead of schedule,’ Doc assured me… I watched Hitch cross the stage. He was walking with a brisk and jaunty air; I guessed that the fact he’d been dieting, and had lost so much weight, gave him all that energy. He wasn’t even breathing heavily when he joined me in his dressing room. Steam was no longer rising from the coffee that waited on the table beside his chair. He would leave it untouched until it was stone cold. I knew he had something on his mind when he didn’t bother to ask about my vacation. Still, he went through the cigar selection, inspection, and lighting up routine before picking up a small book that lay on his desk. ‘Here’s your first assignment on your new job,’ he said, as he handed it to me. I glanced at the title, ‘The Trouble with Harry.’ The author was J. Trevor Story… He indicated the book; ‘Read it and let me know what you think.’
By the time we met for our usual lunch in his office, I’d read the book twice. I wondered why Hitch had chosen The Trouble with Harry, a strange little story with absolutely no suspense and little mystery, to follow Thief. When I posed that question to Hitch, he said, ‘I’ve always wanted to do a black comedy. This story is perfect for that. … We’ll make Harry our second Alfred Hitchcock production and make it for a price. A low-budget film. … You’ll have to use the book to prepare a budget. Leave the director’s space blank.’
Five days later, in my office, when I handed him his usual single, goodnight cocktail, I gave him the rough, hurry-up budget figure. He almost dropped his drink when I said, ‘$1,013,000.’ … The total production actually cost $1,030,000, just $17,000 over my original guess budget.
The last thing he said to me before he left the office was, ‘Call Hayes in and give him the book, and tell him to get started on the screenplay. Let him understand he’s not to change one word that’s in the book.’” —Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
Meanwhile, the suits at Paramount were arguing over what to do about Hitchcock’s desire to make such an esoteric film that had almost no commercial potential as far as any of them were concerned. Jerry Pickman (a publicist at Paramount) later admitted that he was annoyed that they had agreed to make the film when everyone agreed that it wouldn’t do well.
“Hitchcock wanted to make a picture called The Trouble with Harry. He had a little girl named Shirley MacLaine — ‘I never heard of her,’ said the studio head — and an old man, Edmund Gwenn, and it was going to cost $800,000. We all shook our heads, the answer was ‘No.’ Well, every morning I would have the studio send me a capsule of all the announcements they made to the press. They would give me a summary, and the next morning I see they announced The Trouble with Harry. I was a little annoyed, but I wasn’t going to go down and challenge the president of the company…
… Balaban walked in, had his lunch, and as he walked around, he said, ‘Is something bothering you? You didn’t say hello to me.’ I said, ‘I’m annoyed, Barney. Why did we have the meeting yesterday? We decided not to make the picture and the studio wired this morning saying we’re going ahead with it. If you changed it, why didn’t you tell us?’ He said, ‘I was too embarrassed. After we all said no, the studio head called back and said, ‘Barney, I can’t tell Hitchcock no, because he gave us To Catch a Thief and Rear Window. I haven’t got the courage to say no to him, so I told him we were going to make the picture.’ And that’s how the picture was made. That was how the company was run.” —Jerry Pickman (The Picture Worked: Reminiscences of a Hollywood Publicist, InMedia, 2013)
John Michael Hayes also remembered that the studio was unenthusiastic about the project.
“It was a relief from the pressures of trying to make a big box-office success… We were just trying to make a good picture and enjoy it. I don’t think Paramount really wanted to make it because they didn’t see much future in it commercially. But Hitch had done so well with them, they couldn’t quarrel with him.” —John Michael Hayes (as quoted in “Writing with Hitchcock,” 2001)
WRITING THE SCREENPLAY
Hitchcock usually worked hard in collaboration with his writers on a treatment before working with them on the screenplay, but The Trouble with Harry was to be followed so faithfully that the plot details — and even much of the dialogue — had already been worked out. The original novel was his treatment, and this meant that he could allow Hayes to work on the first draft without him with the understanding that he wasn’t to make any changes or embellishments except for one significant but slight alteration; the setting was to be moved from the English countryside (Sparrowswick Heath) to the New England countryside.
Of course, further changes would eventually be made to the story in collaboration with Hitchcock in future drafts of the script before the director was completely satisfied with the final script. Steven DeRosa’s account of the script’s evolution is probably the most elaborate:
“Hayes’s first draft, or yellow script, is dated July 12, 1954… Almost religiously faithful to Story’s novel, even in its dialogue, Hayes’s first draft of The Trouble with Harry nonetheless includes several significant changes. While much of the first draft survives in the finished film, at least one major aspect of the story would be changed and one [aforementioned] subplot involving four characters would be completely excised.
Hayes set his script against ‘the autumn foliage in State Line, New Hampshire,’ once the writer’s hometown. An episode from the middle of the novel begins the action, as Walter D’Arcy bicycles across a meadow toward the home of Cassy Douglas, who is sitting on her porch shucking peas. Walter delivers a letter, which reads:
At the top of the wooded path at Farrington’s Pond stands a large oak tree, sometimes known as ‘the shot gun oak,’ for reasons best left undiscussed. If you will be in the aforesaid place at dusk tonight, you may hear something to your advantage.
Both in the novel and in Hayes’s first draft, the spouses of Walter D’Arcy and Cassy Douglas are having an affair. Walter, who at times is seen spying on his wife with binoculars, convinces Cassy to meet him at the Shot Gun Oak in order to catch their cheating spouses — Mark Douglas, the local womanizer, and Mrs. Walter D’Arcy, a trashy blonde. Story concludes this subplot by having the couples discover each other in the woods. On seeing his wife with another man, Mark Douglas runs home weeping, with Cassy following triumphantly. Reunited, the D’Arcys embrace and face the promise of a renewed marriage… Hayes is a little less kind to the first cheating pair. ‘They deserve each other,’ says Walter D’Arcy. ‘They certainly do,’ replies Cassy Douglas. When Mrs. D’Arcy asks her husband what he intends to do, the script notes: ‘For an answer, Walter D’Arcy suddenly describes a brief arc in the air with his hand, ending with a resounding smack on Mrs. Douglas’s pleasant but neglected derriere.’ And the two walk away, arm in arm, to teach their spouses a lesson.
Walter D’Arcy’s letter makes for an intriguing opening, which Hayes follows by picking up where the novel begins, as four-year-old Arnie Rogers, changed from Abie, is seen ‘crawling on his stomach, Commando style,’ with a disintegrator ray gun held in his hands…” —Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes, 2001)
Hitchcock preferred the more simplistic opening with Arnie and his toy gun to Hayes’s unsanctioned new opening, and this scene was soon restored as the first scene in the script. The first draft contained other elements that didn’t make it to the final draft as well, although most of these were merely minor touches that could be easily removed without much ceremony. One of these changes concerns the first moments with Captain Wiles after he has found Harry’s lifeless corpse.
“Captain Wiles is then introduced, polishing his shotgun following a morning of hunting. Feeling if he hasn’t shot at least two rabbits he will return home emptyhanded, Captain Wiles notes, ‘Blessed are they who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed.’ Hayes borrows the invented beatitude from his early play ‘Delaney and Sons.’ After striding through the woods in the hopes of finding his kill, Captain Wiles also finds the body of Harry Worp and believes he must have shot him. Sticking closely to Story’s novel, Hayes includes an insert (Scene 43) showing that ‘from every tree there seems to be suspended a hangman’s noose waiting for the neck of Captain Albert Wiles.’ Hitchcock, however, wanted to remain understated in his treatment of the material and so expressive details like this would be dropped later.
Scene after scene in the first draft unfolds as they did in the novel… Upon meeting Jennifer, Sam says, ‘You’re wonderful. You’re beautiful. You’re the most wonderful, beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.’ Here Hayes adds a moment between Sam and Arnie. Sam trades some baby possums he found for a dead rabbit that Arnie found. [The possum would be changed to a frog in later drafts of the script.] Arnie then asks to borrow the rabbit and leaves to make some more trades, wisely adding, ‘You never know when a dead rabbit might come in handy.’
In Story’s chapter ‘The Truth about Harry,’ Jennifer tells Sam all about the death of her lover, Robert, and how his brother, Harry, proposed to her when he discovered she was pregnant with Robert’s child. On their wedding night, Harry placed a picture of his brother over their bed and told Jennifer to pretend she was making love to Robert. In Hayes’s first draft, Jennifer explains that Harry put on his brother’s clothes and told her to pretend he was Robert, at which point she left him. Harry’s recent appearance was born out of loneliness. ‘He even offered to dress and act like himself, but it was too late,’ Jennifer explains, and so she hit him on the head with a milk bottle before he left.” —Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes, 2001)
Certain scenes from the novel needed embellished dialogue, and Hayes excelled at writing memorably witty repartee.
“In a scene between Captain Wiles and Miss Gravely, Hayes added the now familiar Hitchcockian black humor during a meal. When Captain Wiles compliments Miss Gravely’s blueberry muffins, she tells him the berries were picked ‘where you shot that unfortunate man.’ Eager to change the subject, Captain Wiles admires the coffee cup Miss Gravely just purchased for him at Wiggs’s Emporium. Miss Gravely says the cup had been in her family for years and was her father’s before he died, adding, ‘He was caught in a threshing machine.’
These comic adventures all lead up to Hayes’s most significant departure from the novel, which occurs when Sam sells his paintings to a millionaire. In the novel Sam receives £200 for his paintings, and the scene occurs offscreen. Hayes’s Sam barters with the millionaire, obtaining gifts for his new friends. For himself he asks for only a bugle with the same tone as the horn on the millionaire’s car [a detail Hitchcock would have him change in later drafts].
As in the novel, Sam proposes to Jennifer, leading back to the complications the situation with Harry has created. Jennifer will have to prove she is not married, and so the quartet proceeds once more to the burial spot to dig up Harry. Once again Dr. Greenbow stumbles upon the body, angered this time because his butterflies get away from him. The doctor examines Harry, determining he had a heart seizure. The following morning Harry is laid out in the woods — to be found again by Arnie as the newly paired couples move down the woodland path.” —Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes, 2001)
Hitchcock was still busy with To Catch a Thief, so he and Hayes would discuss changes to this first draft between set-ups and during extended lunch breaks.
“He never went into the commissary… After the script was done, he wanted me in the office every day for conferences and to have lunch with him.” —John Michael Hayes (as quoted in “Writing with Hitchcock,” 2001)
One of the first changes to the script was also one of the most substantial alterations that would be made to Hayes’s first draft. Hitchcock felt that the subplot with the philandering D’Arcys and Douglases only served to complicate what was at its core a simple comedic story while also clouding its thematic intentions, and he instructed Hayes to omit these scenes. It’s worth noting that this storyline had been substantially embellished by Hayes, and it seems likely that this may have been another reason behind Hitchcock’s decision to omit it from future drafts of the script.
He also instructed his writer to make other incidental omissions and for other scenes to be tightened (all of which is normal for the re-writing phase of any script). Things moved fairly quickly. When all was said and done, the 157-page rough draft had been whittled down to a 134-page second draft by July 27th. This draft was submitted to the Production Code Administration for analysis on August 3rd, and their notes “aided” Hitchcock and Hayes in their approach to future drafts.
“Joe Breen responded to Luigi Luraschi’s query on August 5, giving the PCA’s general approval but noting that the illegitimacy of Arnie would need to be eliminated. Breen also called attention to specific lines of dialogue he found objectionable:
‘Page 51: The line ‘Do you realize you’ll be the first man to cross her threshold?’ together with the Captain’s reproof and his subsequent line ‘You have to open preserves someday’ all seem to contain an offensive sex suggestive implication. It should be either omitted or changed.
Pages 63 and 64: All this discussion about Jennifer’s wedding night is totally unacceptable.’” —Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes, 2001)
As was often the case with Hitchcock, some of these things were changed (or slightly tweaked), but a good amount of it still remains in the final film. Certain scenes were actually shot multiple ways just to be on the safe side… but this is a digression from the subject at hand.
Further rewrites continued as Hitchcock worked closely with Hayes on new changes to the second draft completed on July 27. The most substantial of these revolve around the addition of a character that isn’t featured in the actual novel.
“The personality of Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs can be traced to two characters who are mentioned in the novel but never actually appear. The first is Mr. Grayson, an angry parent whose son was nearly shot by Captain Wiles, and the second is Henry Wiggs, Wiggy’s late husband, who was the town’s game warden.
Calvin Wiggs also had other possible origins. In ‘The Hitchcock Romance,’ Lesley Brill wrote of Calvin: ‘His first name, indeed, might playfully allude to the gloomy theology of his famous Protestant forebear.’ However, Hayes’s text states: ‘Beyond [Mrs. Wiggs], next to the Emporium, we see a gas pump, and a small lean-to garage, with the usual garage items stacked around for sale. ‘The garage is run by her son, Calvin Wiggs — Calvin Coolidge Wiggs.’ Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth president of the United States, was governor of Massachusetts when Hayes was a boy. Coolidge was a popular president in spite of a reputation for being rather glum and unsmiling. He had a laconic wit, common sense, and frugality, all of which were admired as examples of sturdy New England virtues. During his term, Coolidge was criticized for being ineffective in his handling of an oil lease scam that became known as the Teapot Dome scandal. The glum, unsmiling New Englander and ineffective legal authority sounds rather like Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs…
…Calvin Wiggs is the only character Hitchcock and Hayes added to the story. Calvin is unlike the other characters, possessing a suspicious and unfriendly nature, and like so many police figures in Hitchcock’s films, he is completely inept. In addition to establishing a contrast, Calvin Wiggs gave voice to the puritanism that is only hinted at in the novel. Story describes an episode that ultimately cost Henry Wiggs his life, when the local womanizer, Mark Douglas, came into the shop and asked whether they carried ‘a certain commodity’ (condoms). When Wiggs emphatically replied in the negative, Douglas suggested that he could guarantee a steady sale of the commodity if he would keep a small supply in a discreet corner of the shop. Incensed by the remark, Wiggs proceeded to chase Douglas through the countryside with his double-barreled shotgun. The experience strained the shop owner’s heart, but Story concludes that ‘right to the end his shop retained a Catholic purity of stock.’
To appease the PCA, it had to be stated that Jennifer and Robert had been married before he was killed so that the question of Arnie’s illegitimacy was no longer an issue. The first draft also remained close to the novel in Jennifer’s retelling of her wedding night with Harry. In both instances Harry wanted Jennifer to pretend that he was Robert while he made love to her. But in the final draft Harry never shows up to consummate his marriage, having read a dis- agreeable horoscope in the hotel lobby.
In the novel, after stealing Harry’s shoes, the tramp comes upon Harry on a second occasion and swipes a cigarette that Sam had put in his mouth. The tramp never returns in the first and revised drafts, but in the final script he is arrested by Calvin Wiggs when he is found with Harry’s shoes. The tramp’s description of the corpse matches the portrait of Harry drawn by Sam and causes Calvin to become suspicious. This adds for some hilarious moments as the quartet try to conceal the corpse from the baffled deputy sheriff.
In changing the character of Dr. Greenbow from the butterfly- chasing entomologist to a nearsighted poetry enthusiast, Hayes drew upon his love of reading from his boyhood in State Line, New Hampshire. In the final draft, Dr. Greenbow walks about the woods so engrossed in a book of poetry that he takes no notice of the corpse when he stumbles over it twice in broad daylight. The third and final time Dr. Greenbow comes upon Harry, it is nighttime, and the doctor is reciting Shakespeare’s 116th sonnet… ‘It’s my favorite sonnet from Shakespeare,’ recalled Hayes. ‘I had to put something in. I don’t think the audience understood what it was all about, but it went with the theme. We had Shirley MacLaine and John Forsythe, and there were all sorts of things that prevented them from getting together. It was apropos that these two unlikely people end up getting together. They met and got to know each other under the strangest of circumstances, but they were destined to be a couple. Nobody got it in the audience, but I got it and I amused myself.’
Hayes also added one of the film’s most memorable lines. After Jennifer accepts his proposal of marriage, Sam kisses her. She warns him, ‘Lightly, Sam. I have a very short fuse.’ Hayes thought the line appropriate to the scene and character but never anticipated that it would bring about a huge reaction from the audience. ‘It rocked the theater,’ remembered Hayes, ‘and I looked up in total surprise. I had no idea. It was a fairly common expression. I didn’t mean it the way it came out. I meant that she was very emotional. I didn’t mean that she was climactic, but that’s the way the audience roared with it, and I was genuinely surprised.’
In the first draft, when bartering with the millionaire for his paintings, Sam asks for a bugle. At another point in the revisions, Sam asks for a $10,000 life-insurance policy, with Arnie as the beneficiary, adding, while looking at Captain Wiles, that he should ‘make the policy pay double if I’m accidentally shot.’ By the final script, they had seized upon the idea of having Sam whisper what he wants for himself and then reserving the punch line for the film’s tag, when it is revealed that he wants a double bed for Jennifer and himself. Also added to the final script was Sam Marlow’s introductory song, ‘Flaggin’ the Train to Tuscaloosa,’ composed by Raymond Scott, with lyrics by Mack David. Scott, a conductor for NBC-TV’s Lucky Strike Hit Parade, originally composed his tune as a jingle for the tobacco company.” —Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes, 2001)
The script was finally completed on September 14th, and Hitchcock was in Craftsbury Common shooting the Wigg’s Emporium scenes by September 20th! Of course, pre-production was underway even as Hitchcock and Hayes were working on the screenplay.
One particularly important pre-production challenge was finding appropriate locations that suited Hitchcock’s vision for the film.
“I told [Clifford Miskelley, the director of the Vermont Development Commission] the most important location was the giant maple tree where the body of the dead stranger would be discovered. I wanted the tree to be on a hilltop with the landscape falling away in every direction. Second in importance was the place where we would build the country store and roadside stand where the artist’s paintings would be sold. There is a scene in the picture in which the artist arrives at the little stand and sees that none of his pictures have been sold. He looks across the dirt road at the village compound, an acre of lush grass enclosed by a white fence, with a few cows quietly grazing. He turns back and asks the owner of the stand, ‘Do you think we’d do better on Fifth Avenue?’
I wanted to find a place where we could have the stand and the compound all together. Cliff took me directly to East Craftsbury. It was exactly right. Beyond the stand there were two giant elm trees more than 300 years old. The compound was in the right place, with a few old homes in the distance. We covered the area with pictures, received permission from the owners to use it in the picture, and moved on. Near East Craftsbury we found all the less important locations we needed. The home of the widow of the dead body. And the home of the spinster, where she entertains the old sea captain. At Morrisville I arranged to rent an old gymnasium in which to build the interior of the widow’s home for a cover set where we could shoot during bad weather.
That left only the problem of quarters for Hitch, Alma, Mary Belle, myself, the stars, and the staff. A few miles higher up in the mountains from Stowe, the owners of an inn called the Lodge at Smugglers Notch agreed to move out and give Hitch and Alma their suite. They also had enough rooms for the rest of us. Everybody else would be housed in Stowe, a popular ski resort.” —Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
This is obviously an oversimplification as numerous locations were photographed in order to provide Hitchcock with a choice, but the director did eventually agree that these particular locations were ideal. Coleman remembered that it was raining when he finally got to see these locations in person.
“Hitch wouldn’t agree with the suggestion to postpone a look at the locations until the rain stopped. We paused at the country store and little stand and climbed over an old split-rail fence into a pasture to choose a camera setup for the opening shot. While we listened to Hitch describe how he would stage the scene, a small herd of curious brown and white milk cows came from the trees and paused in a circle behind us. They were attentive and seemed to understand everything Hitch said. When he pointed off in the direction, he wanted Royal Dano’s old car to drive in, they turned as one to follow his outstretched arm. They reacted the same as I’d seen humans who were watching us do when we were filming in public places.
We continued the survey, with Hitch asking for very few changes in the sets. When we entered the gymnasium, the rain was pelting down on the tin roof; it sounded like we were inside a snare drum. Hitch looked at me with raised eyebrows. I told him we were covering the roof with canvas to kill some of the noise, but we’d have to replace all the dialogue. He accepted my explanation without comment.” —Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
Of course, casting would be a particularly important element, and this was particularly challenging in light of the fact that Hitchcock only had a modest budget at his disposal.
“Paramount was gulled along by Hitchcock’s shell game of casting. Although The Trouble with Harry was decidedly more of an ensemble piece than his recent pictures, the director talked up Grace Kelly for the part of Jennifer, the young mother — who turns out to be Harry’s estranged wife — until Kelly became embroiled in a contract dispute with MGM. When Kelly proved unavailable, Hitchcock considered carrying over a different actress from To Catch a Thief — Brigitte Auber, who was a relative unknown in America. But all the headaches with French accents during To Catch a Thief helped put Hitchcock off the idea of Auber, and even enroute to New England Hitchcock still didn’t have his leading lady.” —Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)
Herbert Coleman claims to have suggested Vera Miles as a possible candidate for the role of Jennifer after meeting the actress during the production of the “Revenge” episode for “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” However, Hitchcock didn’t see her in the role. “All wrong,” the director responded. “Young. Too young. Beautiful. Too beautiful. Sexy. Too sexy. I thought we’d settled on an ordinary small-town girl.” However, one wonders how Hitchcock could seriously consider Grace Kelly for the role if Miles was too glamorous. Was Coleman misremembering? Did Hitchcock have some other reason for not wanting to use Miles? Was Kelly ever really a serious contender for the part? It’s impossible to know for certain, but this doesn’t really make a lot of sense (especially when one considers the not very glamorous roles she played in The Wrong Man and Psycho). In any case, the team would eventually find the perfect actress for the film.
“Producer Hal Wallis had rhapsodized about a twenty-year-old dancer who stepped in for the lead one night in the Broadway musical ‘The Pajama Game.’ The dancer had made a screen test for Wallis, which Hitchcock watched appreciatively. Coleman then visited the understudy backstage in New York on the director’s behalf, noting her lithe tomboy looks (quite like those of Auber). Coleman told the understudy Hitchcock was looking for a ‘suitably fey creature’ to play the lead of his next picture.” —Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)
Actually, here is a point that has been contradicted. Herbert Coleman remembered that Hitchcock only viewed the screen test after he had found their star in ‘The Pajama Game.’
“With the start date of The Trouble with Harry just around the corner… I fortunately remembered Judy’s constant plea. ‘Try to see Pajama Game this time, Daddy.’ When I discovered that Frank Loesser had written the music for ‘Pajama Game,’ I called his office. He gave me his house seats for the matinee the next day. I can’t tell you the story of ‘Pajama Game,’ but I can tell you I sat fascinated by the performance of the star, Carol Haney. The moment the curtain came down, I told Doc I’d found our girl. ‘Carol Haney’s exactly the one I’ve been searching for.’ ‘Carol Haney?’ Doc said, opening his program to show me a notice announcing in the absence of Miss Haney, her understudy, Shirley MacLaine would assume her role. I hurried to the manager’s office and asked him to introduce me to MacLaine. He called backstage but she had already left the theater.
I went directly to Balaban at the Paramount office and asked what he knew about Shirley MacLaine. ‘Not much,’ he answered. ‘I know she’s in the chorus of ‘Pajama Game’ and an understudy for Carol Haney.’ When I asked if she’d ever been in a movie, he said, ‘Hal Wallis had an interview test made of MacLaine, but nothing ever came of it.’ He told me Wallis had the test in his office.
I called Hitch and told him I’d found our girl. He wanted to know all about her. I said I’d only seen her once, from the fifteenth row of the theater… I told him about the interview test Hal Wallis had made of Shirley and asked him to have Danny borrow it from Wallis and show it to him.’” —Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
It is quite difficult to determine the chronology of events such as these. Both versions of this particular aspect of the actress’s casting may or may not be true. It is conceivable that Coleman could have emphasized his importance to the production and in bringing MacLaine into public awareness in an effort to add to his own legacy. Doc Ericson’s account of this fateful evening introduces further contradictions into the mythology of MacLaine’s discovery.
“Herbie and I both were at that matinee performance of ‘The Pajama Game,’ and we were so taken with this girl; she was sensational. We thought we were watching Carol Haney — we didn’t know any better. So, at intermission when I opened the program, out fell this little notice saying, ‘Today’s performance is by Shirley MacLaine, due to Carol Haney’s inability to be here.’ Actually, she was just ill that day. She had broken her ankle earlier on, that’s how Shirley had been in the play before and how Hal Wallis found her. So, we ran out of the theater and went immediately to the phone to call Hitch, to tell him this is the girl we thought would be absolutely perfect for The Trouble with Harry. Well, of course, then he got into the act with Herman Citron and discovered they had test footage there at Paramount. The next morning when we called to inquire more about it, Hitch in his droll way put us down like ‘Where’ve you been? I’ve seen the footage. You fellows are late.’ But he was good-natured about that.” —Doc Ericson (as quoted in “Writing with Hitchcock,” 2001)
Shirley MacLaine’s own account of that fateful night doesn’t even mention Coleman. She only mentions Hal Wallis and Doc Ericson.
“Carol [Haney] had a reputation for going on no matter what, but she had weak ankles and sprained one very badly. I was thrust into her role in the play. I never understood, or for that matter, thought much about the ankle karma. But that was how I became a star. Unknown to me, there were two men in the audience of that ‘Pajama Game’ performance that would change my life forever. Hal Wallis, the Hollywood producer who discovered Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Doc Ericson, a representative for the legendary director, Alfred Hitchcock.” —Shirley MacLaine (The Trouble with Harry: Paramount 1955 “My First Film,” shirleymaclaine.com)
Perhaps the little elusive details don’t matter. The eventual result was the same, and a star was about to be born. Hitchcock and Coleman set up a meeting with MacLaine at the St. Regis for an informal interview.
“I hurried to open the door when the doorbell rang. Standing there was the most pitiful figure I’d ever seen. She couldn’t be the same bright, bubbly, bouncy actress I’d enjoyed for two hours in ‘Pajama Game.’ Rain was dripping from her drenched, short red hair to her rain-soaked trench coat. I glanced down at her feet. The worn loafers she was wearing were run down at the heels and looked like she’d been tramping around in the rain for hours. When I looked up, she was holding out her hand and a wonderful, bright smile covered her pixie face. ‘I’m Shirley MacLaine,’ she said. I took her hand, told her my name, and invited her inside. As I helped her off with her trench coat, I noticed that the collar was stained with makeup. Underneath, she was wearing a worn, light brown sweater and skirt.
It didn’t take long for Shirley to impress Hitch. He recognized immediately that he was talking to an educated, sophisticated articulate young lady, and it was obvious to me, he was enjoying the conversation and in no hurry to end it.” —Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
The conversation finally worked its way towards the reason for their meeting.
“The director had a few questions: What movies had she done? Could he see any television film on her? What Broadway roles had she acted? None, nothing; she was only a chorus girl, an understudy. ‘Suddenly,’ MacLaine recalled, ‘his leg shot up, his foot came down heavily on the seat of a chair, and his elbow came to rest on his knee, all in one lightning motion.’
‘That makes you about the color of a shamrock, doesn’t it?’ said Hitchcock. ‘Yes, sir, I suppose so,’ she replied, standing up. ‘Should I go now?’
‘Of course not. Sit down. All this simply means that I shall have fewer bad knots to untie. You’re hired.’ She fell back into her chair. ‘I shall need you on location — in Vermont — in three days. Can you make it?’” —Peter Ackroyd (Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life, 2015)
MacLaine would later talk about the terror she felt during her first script reading.
“Here I was, a nineteen-year-old chorus girl, with no acting experience. Hitchcock put me in a room with Mildred Natwick, Edmund Gwenn and John Forsythe. These were the premiere actors on Broadway and now were my co-stars. We were together during the first reading and having no previous experience, I just read it instinctively. When we were finished, Hitch, in his quirky sense of humor, said, ‘You have the guts of a bank robber.’” —Shirley MacLaine (The Trouble with Harry: Paramount 1955 “My First Film,” shirleymaclaine.com)
Hitchcock would also have trouble casting a “suitable” male lead.
“It was okay to have a ‘nobody’ as the perky, young mother — if Hitchcock could boast a marquee attraction as the tortured artist. Early on, he had teased the front office with the idea of Cary Grant, but Grant’s salary and percentage demands were escalating out of sight, and Hitchcock was determined to keep The Trouble with Harry a ‘little’ picture. Moreover, Grant could be a nuisance: rewriting the part to please him would be a headache and might change the flavor of the story beyond recognition. William Holden was Hitchcock’s real preference, and once again the director hotly pursued the actor. But whether for budget or loan out reasons, or because of the accelerated schedule, Holden vanished from the horizon even as Hitchcock was passing through New York. The director had a reasonable average with Cary Grant, but his repeated attempts to coax Holden into a Hitchcock film were unsuccessful.” —Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)
Hitchcock would eventually meet with John Forsythe to discuss the possibility of his accepting the role of Sam Marlowe. In fact, Herbert Coleman remembers that this meeting took place on the same day they had met with Shirley MacLaine at the St. Regis. If this is true, it was certainly a full day!
“Hitch and I met John at ‘21.’ Beforehand, John had explained to me that he would have to leave early because he had an appointment at two o’clock. Hitch took his usual care ordering the wine, then he got around to telling us how he wanted the dead body in Harry dressed. As always, he was pretty specific about how his characters should dress… ‘I want a dark blue blazer with silver buttons,’ he said, ‘a striped shirt with French cuffs and large silver cuff links, a wide hand-painted silk tie from Sulka, light blue trousers, blue and white plaid wool socks, and black shoes with tassels.’ … As the meal went on, I noticed that John seemed upset. He didn’t leave early. He was still sitting there when Hitch and I left. Later, I asked him why, and he said, ‘I couldn’t get up from the table. I was dressed exactly like the dead body Mr. Hitchcock was telling you how to dress.’ John didn’t know that this was a joke, typical of Hitch’s sense of humor.” —Herbert Coleman (as quoted in “It’s Only a Movie: A Personal Biography of Alfred Hitchcock,” 2005)
Forsythe eventually agreed to take a ten-week sabbatical from his role as Captain Fisby in ‘Teahouse of the August Moon’ so that he could appear in his first Hitchcock movie. It was quite an opportunity for the actor because he hadn’t really made a name for himself on the screen and was more known for his work on Broadway. He had appeared in a few forgettable roles in mediocre films, and his television résumé was quite impressive — but he wasn’t (and never would become) the sort of name that could add “marquee value” to Hitchcock’s odd little “indulgence.”
“That’s how reflexive his instincts were, how fast Hitchcock was moving. As late as September 14, when his arrival in Vermont was splashed across the ‘Barre Daily Times’ — shaking hands with Governor Lee Emerson at the airport — official publicity was still insisting that Hitchcock’s star for The Trouble with Harry was William Holden.
Not only did Hitchcock cast a former understudy and a no-name as his two leads, but the true star of The Trouble with Harry was an octogenarian friend of the director’s. The central character of Jack Trevor Story’s novel is the aged, retired captain of a Thames barge, who believes he may have shot the stranger accidentally while hunting. (In the film he is the retired commander of an East River tugboat.) All along, Hitchcock had envisioned this role for the English actor Edmund Gwenn, whom he had previously directed in The Skin Game, Waltzes from Vienna, and Foreign Correspondent.” —Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)
His first choice for one of the smaller roles wasn’t any more enthusiastic about the project than Holden.
“Someone else who had misgivings about The Trouble with Harry was Thelma Ritter, who had recently performed so brilliantly in the role of Stella in Rear Window. Admiring her comedic talents, Hitchcock asked Ritter to take the part of Miss Gravely (ultimately given to Mildred Natwick), but in a letter to her husband, she sounded appalled at the prospect: ‘I must not have much vision but this one scares me. It’s lewd, immoral, and for anyone without a real nasty off beat sense of humor, in very bad taste.’” —Edward White (The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock, April 13, 2021)
One wonders if Hitchcock didn’t actually offer the part of Mrs. Wiggs (the owner of the country store) to Ritter since she was more appropriate for this role. The claim that she was offered Miss Gravely may be based on an incorrect assumption because Mildred Natwick (who ended up portraying Miss Gravely) was perfect casting. Mildred Dunnock (a very fine stage and character actress) also did quite well in the role of Mrs. Wiggs. Royal Dano was cast as Deputy Sherriff Calvin Wiggs, and Jerry Mathers makes the perfect Arnie Rogers. Finally, Hitchcock insisted on having an actual actor to portray the titular corpse, and that role went to Philip Truex. It turned out to be a very fine cast even if Paramount suits weren’t happy.
“Frank Freeman [then head of Paramount] said, ‘If you’d only done this with names, we’d have grossed 6 million dollars with it,’ which was a lot in those days — particularly for an inexpensive film. But you couldn’t make it with names — it wouldn’t have been the same picture.” —Alfred Hitchcock (The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock / Who the Devil Made It, 1963 / 1997)
At some uncertain point during all of this pre-production hullabaloo, Hitchcock commissioned John Ferren to create several abstract paintings and a few sketches which were to be used for scenes that concerned Sam Marlow’s artwork in the film. The director must have been happy with his work because he would engage him once again for Vertigo a few years later.
THE PRODUCTION: THE TROUBLE WITH LOCATION WORK
As we previously mentioned, there wasn’t much of a break between the completion of the final script on September 14th and the beginning of production on the film on September 20th. In fact, there wasn’t even any downtime between the productions of To Catch a Thief and The Trouble with Harry.
“I started [production] immediately after To Catch a Thief. I finished To Catch a Thief one afternoon at 5:30, and at 7:30 Harry was underway. There’s a reason for that. The Trouble with Harry was to be filmed in the East of the United States, at the time when the trees were in full autumnal color. It’s the first time, to my knowledge, that a film has been made in color specifically for the season in which the action occurs. So, I brought together actors, cameramen, a whole crew and we left for Vermont. There we waited for the leaves to deign to transition from green to yellow and from yellow to red. But, you see, we were forced to start production very quickly, because the leaves might very well have not waited for us. It’s very interesting because during the entire film the color scheme will be that of the trees: yellow and red.” —Alfred Hitchcock (Interview with Alfred Hitchcock: François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol, Cahiers du Cinéma, February 1955)
No mention is made by the director of the many challenges that the director and his team faced to achieve this effect, but this probably didn’t suit the image that Hitchcock tried so desperately to promote. It didn’t serve his image to admit that most of his well-laid plans went awry because he was known for having things so carefully thought out that such disturbances couldn’t possibly happen.
His original plan was to shoot the vast majority of the film (23 days of the original 30-day schedule) at various locations in and around Vermont. Unfortunately, Hurricane Carol attacked on September 01st and cursed the New England terrain with rain and electrical storms for the duration of their stay. It seemed that the cast and crew spent the lion’s share of their time shooting in the cover sets that had been built in the high school gymnasium than in the New England countryside that drew them to the location in the first place. Meanwhile, the all-important autumn foliage that Hitchcock needed to fill his VistaVision frame was falling off of the trees during the storms.
“Then, as if the weather problems were not enough, on the morning of October 12, while the company was filming in the Legion Barracks, a support arm mounting an 850-pound VistaVision camera to a crane broke and sent the camera crashing to the floor. The camera grazed the director’s shoulder and pinned crew member Mike Seminerio to the floor. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries, and shooting resumed after the broken equipment was replaced with duplicates from the second unit.” —Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes, 2001)
Herbert Coleman remembered the production hurdles well.
“The rain that welcomed us to Vermont the day we met the audience of friendly milk cows in the pasture near Mrs. Wiggs’s country store continued to plague us. We would plan a day among the maple trees only to find a steady drizzle outside our rooms at Smuggler’s Notch that would send us to our tin-roofed gymnasium in Morrisville. Hitch never complained.
As soon as I saw that there were no problems, I would join my second unit to sit around and wait for the sun to break through the clouds and watch the rain strip the golden leaves from the trees. Then we’d go in search of another grove the rain had left untouched…
… When we got a break in the weather, we’d get a couple of days outside, the rain would come again, and back to the gym we’d go… One night Hitch and I were driving back to the lodge from Morrisville when snow began hitting the windshield. Pretty soon the wipers had trouble brushing it aside. By the time we reached the lodge, the ground was covered with an inch of snow… I guessed he was about to ask me how he was going to complete his picture, which he did as soon as we reached his suite.” —Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
At this point, they only had a few more scenes to shoot in their cover sets (they all took place in the interior of Jennifer’s home), and it was obvious to everyone that they would have to make some difficult decisions. A meeting was quickly set up with Doc Erickson (the production manager) and John Goodman (the art director).
“John said he could reproduce the set around the big maple tree on a stage at the studio. ‘No big problem,’ he said. ‘I’ll do the trunk of the tree and lower branches with foam rubber. Paper leaves are available in Hollywood. A painted backing and some color bushes.’” —Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
There wasn’t really any choice in the matter. Hitchcock and his crew would have to go back to Los Angeles to shoot on huge sets that were built to match the Vermont locations on Stages 12 and 14 at Paramount — complete with trees and foliage. Many of the autumn leaves had been transported from the New England to the Paramount set for added verisimilitude. Doc Erickson remembered that the situation was quite unusual. “We went to Vermont to get the fall foliage and so forth” he lamented, but “we did the outdoor scenes on the stage and the indoor scenes on location.” Of course, this is something of an exaggeration. Hitchcock and his crew were able to shoot some lovely exteriors in Vermont, and they add enormously to the finished film. What’s more, they would take some time to forage the New England countryside for establishing shots that would add to the atmosphere of the film while waiting for the necessary sets to be built back at Paramount.
“Weeks before, I’d seen a small, covered bridge over a small stream about seventy miles southwest of Montpelier, so we headed for that spot. We were lucky the snow hadn’t reached that area. The rain had… Late in the afternoon, the sun broke through the clouds, and we got the shot… The rain came again before we had the equipment loaded back on the bus… Another scene was a stream tumbling down through a stand of white birch trees. The hill beyond covered with maple trees… For another six days we continued our travels.” —Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
Unfortunately, Philip Truex was unavailable for the studio sequences and had to be replaced with a stunt double. As a matter of fact, those paying attention will notice that Harry’s head is often hidden behind various pieces of scenery for this very reason!
Even with all of the chaos that surrounded the location work, Hitchcock claimed that he wasn’t disappointed by the final results. In fact, he was touched by the “friendliness of the Vermont people,” and was grateful for the help that they offered the production.
“They did so many things that made our work easier while we were filming The Trouble with Harry. Such things as baking blueberry muffins needed for a scene and then voluntarily bringing along several dozen more muffins for the cast and crew to eat. There were the people who passed on the information where we could obtain an old car — a 1913 Buick roadster — as a prop for the picture. And the owner’s only request that we drive it no faster than 40 miles an hour. There was the farmwife who loaned us a needed ancient purse for a scene after we had scoured antique shops without success. These are a few stray incidents that stay in my mind… There was [Sic] more than these tangible expressions of cooperation, much more. These were the many things that might be summed up in the word neighborliness. I will always remember the people of Vermont.” —Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock Talks About Vermonters, Vermont Life, Autumn 1955)
Vermont locals were also recruited to assist the film’s production in other ways as well.
“Many Vermonters found themselves performing such tasks as driving trucks, buses, and cabs to haul both equipment and members of the company to and from the sets. Others were hired as painters and carpenters or assigned clerical duties. A young Morrisville boy was even commandeered to catch a frog to be used in the scene where Sam exchanges a frog with Amie for the dead rabbit. Before long, the company was overcome by other eager boys with frogs of their own. Several townspeople also got the chance to pose before the camera and lights as stand-ins for the actors while scenes were being set up for filming.” —Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes, 2001)
The Trouble with Shirley MacLaine
Luckily, Shirley MacLaine’s inexperience didn’t exacerbate or add to the numerous issues the production faced. Alfred Hitchcock got along well with the actress for the most part, and the experienced cast soon traded their doubts about her abilities for an honest respect for her raw talent.
“I was scared, but curious, and yearned for the learning experience as I joined the film crew in Vermont. I have fond memories of all the cast. In the beginning John Forsythe tolerated me as an amateur, but then realized I had an instinct for acting and started to appreciate this gift. I learned so much from all of them.
Hitchcock was a connoisseur of food and had great knowledge in this area. We shot in Vermont because the hotel we stayed in, The Lodge, was famous for the best food in Stowe, Vermont. He liked the leaves of Vermont, but he really appreciated the food. There was always plenty on the set and I ate all of it because it was free. In my days as a chorus girl, I hadn’t had much to eat. I existed on graham crackers and peanut butter. When I began the picture, I was svelte and lithe, but by the time I buried Harry for the last time, the head of the studio called me… I think the word was blimp.” —Shirley MacLaine (The Trouble with Harry: Paramount 1955 “My First Film,” shirleymaclaine.com)
There was, of course, a learning curve as the actress had to acclimate to her director’s unusual personality.
“Hitch had a mind-tease code that kept you alert. One morning he came waddling toward me, eyes twinkling, and roly-poly stomach well out in the lead.
‘Pleasant period following death.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Genuine chopper, old girl, genuine chopper.’
‘And after your first line – dog’s feet.’
Finally, Hitch explained his version of cockney rhyming slang:
Good mourning. (Pleasant period following death)
Real-Axe. (Genuine chopper)
After you start your first line, paws. (Dog’s feet)
What a mind. I have the greatest appreciation for this mystery meister who gave me the freedom of artistic expression, to seek and learn from some of the best. Hitch, wherever you are, I love you…” —Shirley MacLaine (The Trouble with Harry: Paramount 1955 “My First Film,” shirleymaclaine.com)
However, the director worried that the presence of Steve Parker — a well-respected New York choreographer and her newlywed husband — on the set would be a distraction for the novice actress. “I don’t want him up here on this location. I want her thinking about Jennifer day and night.” Herbert Coleman assured the director that he would not be around on the set during the set while the actress was shooting her scenes. Unfortunately, he occasionally failed to live up to his promise.
“I was a happy man when I walked into the gym… He saw me come in, caught my eye, and looked away. I followed his look and was shocked to see Shirley and her bridegroom, Steve Parker, sitting in the semidarkness. It was obvious they were not discussing her role in Harry. I sat down beside Hitch and listened while he reminded me of my promise to keep Steve away from the shooting company. Burks finished lighting the set, the interior of Jennifer’s living room, and asked for a rehearsal. Howard Joslin assembled the cast and came for Hitch.
I joined Steve and had a serious talk with him. I told him that if I were directing Hurry, I’d be happy to have him around. ‘But Hitch is a different kind of animal. He believes that with a husband, even worse, a bridegroom, hanging around, the actress would have difficulty concentrating on her role in the film.’ Steve apologized for breaking his promise, and that was the end of that.” —Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
As someone who has directed a feature with amateur actors (not under the name that I use to write this blog), I can say that Hitchcock was not behaving unreasonably. Boyfriends, fiancés, and newlywed spouses are distractions to novice actors. I’ve had firsthand experiences with this. It isn’t such a big issue with more experienced actors or older professionals, but it makes a difference when the actor is young and green. This extends to all actors (both male and female). I’m sure Donald Spoto projects all kinds of salacious motivations onto the director’s annoyance with Steve Parker, but anyone who has been in that same situation will certainly understand his worry.
It was always Hitchcock’s intention to have George Tomasini edit both To Catch a Thief and The Trouble with Harry. As a matter of fact, in a February 1955 interview with Cahiers du Cinéma, he informed Truffaut and Chabrol that the film was “edited at the same time as ‘To Catch a Thief‘ — by same editor — and thus the two films will be finished around the same time.” In fact, it seems likely that he may have worked on the film before To Catch a Thief became such a post-production nightmare. Unfortunately, Tomasini became so embrangled in the looping and effects chores on Thief that finishing both movies became an impossibility for him. As a result, Alma Macrorie was brought in to edit Harry.
Actually, Lynn Murray — the composer who provided To Catch a Thief with a score — was also supposed to score The Trouble with Harry, but Murray was similarly overtaken with work on Thief and was forced to recommend that Hitchcock hire another composer.
“There are a couple of different accounts as to how Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock began working together. One that was told to me was from the composer Lyn Murray, who had scored the Hitchcock film To Catch a Thief. For some reason Lyn Murray was not able to do The Trouble with Harry, and Murray told me that he recommended his friend, Bernard Herrmann. And that’s probably a credible story, although I think that Hitchcock and Herrmann certainly knew of each other’s work at that time.
The score turned out to be a tremendously happy collaboration between the two. In fact, Hitchcock later said that it was his favorite of all of the scores that Bernard Herrmann wrote for him — even more than Psycho or North by Northwest. He thought that Herrmann had done a superb job at capturing the macabre humor in the subject. I think that’s one reason why he wanted to be very careful about the composer. I think he realized how important the music was going to be in helping carry the very delicate tone of this unusual film.
The main title of The Trouble with Harry contains several musical fragments that we’ll hear throughout the score.” —Steven C. Smith (The Trouble with Harry Isn’t Over, 2001)
In his book, “A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann,” Smith goes into specific detail about certain portions of the score (including the aforementioned title music):
“Like the film itself, the score is a balancing act of moods and whimsy. Its essential Englishness, such as Herrmann’s jaunty main theme for muted brass, low winds, and harp that sums up the film’s tone, particularly delighted Hitchcock, who considered the score Herrmann’s best. Harry’s undertone of autumnal gentility is personified in the wooing of the spinster Miss Gravely (Natwick) by the spry Captain Wilde (Gwenn). The couples’ relationships blossom with the Vermont forest, inspiring Delian tone paintings from Herrmann that wisp their way through the film: a quirky valse for woodwinds for the captain’s amiable lope; a lyrical ballade for oboe, harp, and strings to accompany the courting Wilde on his visits to Miss Gravely. (This theme, like several Harry cues, was originally written for ‘Crime Classics.’ Herrmann asked Elliott Lewis for permission to re-use the music, although he did not have to.)
The unfortunate Harry is buried not once but four times in the film. Herrmann mocks each ceremony with a variety of accent-heavy ostinatos that mimic the physical action: a demented little waltz for dainty winds; a grotesque promenade that bounces from brass to cuckooing clarinet.
Less convivial was Herrmann’s first experience with the Paramount Studios orchestra, no match for the concert quality playing he was used to at Fox. On the first day of recording [Lyn] Murray introduced Herrmann to the orchestra, hoping to prevent the inevitable: ‘I told them he was an old friend of mine and that they’d have a good time together.’ But soon Herrmann was battling his oboist (a second-class but well-liked player) and railing at players, cutters, and dubbers alike. ‘Herrmann was very superior about our complaints about the acoustics at Paramount,’ Murray recalled. ‘He said, ‘’You guys who can’t conduct always blame it on the acoustics!’’ After that first recording session, Paramount’s head music cutter walked up to me and said, ‘‘He may be a friend of yours, but he’s still a prick.’’ After the dubbing sessions Herrmann finally admitted he was physically ill.’” —Steven C. Smith (A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann, 1991)
Considering that both Herrmann and Hitchcock had exacting expectations and hard held opinions, it seems that their personalities would immediately clash. Oddly enough, this wasn’t the case at all.
“When Hitchcock met with him in January 1955, they discovered they shared ‘a great unanimity of ideas,’ in Herrmann’s words. … Beginning modestly with what film music scholar Royal S. Brown has described as his ‘bantering and scherzo-like music’ for The Trouble with Harry, Herrmann’s scores would immeasurably enhance Hitchcock’s greatest films to come… After The Trouble with Harry Hitchcock began to bring Herrmann in, according to the latter, ‘from the time of script. He depends on music and often photographs a scene knowing that music will complete it.’ The director also brought the composer into every stage of the editing, according to Herrmann, because ‘if you’re using music, he’ll cut it differently.” —Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)
Herbert Coleman remembered the initial scoring sessions fondly and makes no reference to Herrmann’s cantankerous tirade towards the Paramount orchestra. He was more focused upon the music itself and Hitchcock’s reaction to it.
“Hitch didn’t ask Bernie to let him hear the score before we all assembled on the scoring stage to record the music. There were smiles on the faces of the musicians as they played through the main title. One could anticipate the beauty of the Vermont landscapes by the lilt of the music, punctuated with an occasional hint of danger, especially over my credit… I even heard a muffled chuckle from Hitch when he heard the phrase Bernie had composed for the scene of the sea captain sneaking past the deputy sheriff, with his rifle concealed under his coat.” —Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
Music scholar, Robert Barnett, called the composer’s score a milestone in his career:
“The music itself (or elements of it) may be familiar under another title. When Herrmann was in the studio for Phase Four Decca in 1968, he fashioned a concert piece from it and called it ‘A Portrait of Hitch.’ He did this because he felt that this music reflected Hitch’s dry and diabolic sense of humor… The orchestral specification is modest: double wind, four horns, harp and strings. As was his usual custom he uses the orchestra in smaller groupings selecting a color from his palette to match mood and image. The music he wrote for the film exposes veins and arteries of winning freshness. Not one of the forty tracks is poor or misjudged. Herrmann gives every sign of having been totally immersed in lyricism and of enjoying every moment of it…” —Robert Barnett (The Bernard Herrmann Society)
If Herrmann thought enough of the score to adapt it into a musical tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, it is probably safe to assume that he was satisfied with not only his own work on the film but also the film itself.
“The film is in many ways the most personal and the most humorous of Hitchcock’s entire output. It is gay, funny, macabre, tender, and with an abundance of his sardonic wit…” —Bernard Herrmann (as quoted on “wisemusicclassical.com”)
Hitchcock wanted a special title sequence for the film that would serve as a showcase for Herrmann’s title music while getting the viewer into the whimsical spirit of what was about to follow. He decided to commission a cartoonist from the New Yorker named Saul Steinberg to create a series of drawings — or rather one extremely long horizontal drawing — that would scroll across the screen while the opening credits play out. The images that appear throughout the sequence are simple autumnal line drawings that end on a cartoonish rendering of a dead body. Steinberg delivered his finished work in July 1955 and paid the cartoonist $3,000 for his effort.
PREMIERE, RECEPTION, AND LEGACY
Shooting in Vermont afforded the production quite a few unique publicity opportunities that helped to promote Hitchcock’s offbeat new film, and none was more extravagant than the film’s premiere.
“With the encouragement of Joseph B. Johnson, governor of Vermont, we held the world premiere of The Trouble with Harry in Barre, Vermont [on Friday September 30, 1955, at 7:00 p.m.]. A vast crowd of invited guests was treated to a wonderful New England dinner in a large auditorium. Sitting with Hitch and Alma on the dias were governor [Joseph B. Johnson] and Mrs. Johnson, Shirley MacLaine, Jules Stein (the CEO of the Music Corporation of America), Mrs. Stein, Herman Citron (the MCA agent who took care of Hitch‘s affairs at Paramount), and Mrs. Citron.
The night before the premiere, Shirley discovered that her husband, Steve, had been assigned a table with Mary Belle and me, down below on the main floor. She came to see me, blaming Hitch for barring Steve from the dais. I was able to place the blame where it belonged, on the man from Paramount’s New York office who was in charge of the premiere.” —Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
Actually, such seating arrangements weren’t terribly uncommon. Individuals who aren’t useful for studio publicity wouldn’t be seated at the main table. Having said this, MacLaine wouldn’t have known this, and it was probably natural after the disagreement about her husband being on the set to assume that the director didn’t want him there either. In any case, the premiere was a major event. Hitchcock was honored by officials who made him an “Honorary Citizen and Mayor of Barre.”
“Cliff Miskelley was master of ceremonies for the affair. Standing on the stage, he introduced the guests seated there. Then began talking about how Harry happened to have been filmed in Vermont… From the applause at the end of the running of Harry, we felt we had a hit.” —Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
Alfred Hitchcock claimed that the audience audibly enjoyed the fact that he had included certain real-life local details in the film.
“We had an opening with it before the governor. Now Montpelier is the capital of Vermont, and Barre is the town next to it. They adjoin each other, rather like twin cities. And we had this opening with the governor there at this movie house in Barre, Vermont, and Montpelier next door. And a sheriff in the story on the screen picked up the phone and said, ‘Montpelier 2000, please.’ Biggest roar of laughter I’ve ever heard. It happened to be the correct number for the police. What would you do? You’d use the proper number to be correct. But it tickled them. They roared. How do you account for that? Familiarity of it.” —Alfred Hitchcock (It’s the Manner of Telling: An Interview with Alfred Hitchcock, Film Heritage, 1976)
Of course, being embraced by the New England locals did little to encourage Paramount suits, and they did everything in their power to bury the film. Hitchcock later claimed that he didn’t “think it would have failed commercially if the people in the distribution organization had known what to do with it. You see… that picture needed special handling, but instead it got into the assembly line and that was that.” In another interview, he added that the suits in charge made their negative predictions about the film’s commercial prospects “true by not publicizing the picture and opening it in a few small theaters. It’s easy to make the negative come true.”
Herbert Colman seemed to agree with this assessment and remembered how excited everyone was about the film’s potential after having such an enthusiastic reception at the premiere.
“Mary Belle and I joined Hitch and Alma at breakfast the next morning… Hitch said he was going to stop over in New York and discuss the publicity tour on Harry with Barney Balaban and would see me in the studio. When Hitch came back to the office, he told me that New York had decided to open Harry without the usual Hitchcock publicity tour. The picture opened in a little theater down a side street off Fifth Avenue, across from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. The theater lacked a marquee, and one would have to walk along the side street and stop in front of the theater to know it even existed.
The New York executives went even further in their efforts to dismiss The Trouble with Harry as being unworthy of a large and expensive campaign, despite the fact that every Alfred Hitchcock film in the past had been ‘sold’ to the public by a mammoth media campaign. ‘Word of mouth will make The Trouble with Harry a winner,’ they told Hitch. He bought it. The public didn’t. ‘It must be a flop,’ they told themselves. ‘There’s nothing about it in the papers or on TV.’” —Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
The film’s theatrical screenings were proceeded by a three minute “short” entitled ‘Vermont the Beautiful’ that was essentially a commercial for Vermont tourism, but it seems unlikely that tourism in the state increased as a result because Paramount didn’t release it to enough theaters or publicize it enough for the film to thrive.
It has been written that The Trouble with Harry nearly ruined Hitchcock’s career, but this is not the case at all. It is more accurate to say that the film was simply overlooked by the public due to studio neglect. Critical reception wasn’t overwhelmingly enthusiastic, but it received decent notices. An early trade review published in Variety pretty much established the tone of most of those that followed:
“This is a blithe little comedy, produced and directed with affection by Alfred Hitchcock, about a bothersome corpse that just can’t stay buried.
Edmund Gwenn is a delight as a retired ‘sea’ captain who stumbles on Harry’s corpse while rabbit hunting. In the belief he did the killing, he decides to bury the cadaver on the spot. Harry goes in and out of the ground three or four times, is responsible for two romances and not a little consternation and physical exercise. During the course of events Gwenn and Mildred Natwick, a middle-aged spinster who thinks she did Harry in, find love, as do John Forsythe, local artist, and Shirley MacLaine, young widow of the in-and-out Harry. Natwick pairs perfectly with Gwenn, and the script from the novel by Jack Trevor Story provides them with dialog and situations that click.” —Staff (Variety, December 31, 1954)
A trade review from Harrison’s Reports was similarly complimentary but did issue a warning that audience reactions might be mixed due to the film’s gallows humor.
“As described by Alfred Hitchcock, who produced and directed it, this picture is ‘a comedy about a corpse.’ It is a whacky, off-beat type of film, well directed and acted and quite amusing throughout, but as an entertainment it may be received with mixed audience reaction because many movie-goers may feel sensitive about a story that draws its principal laughs from the fact that the corpse is interred and disinterred several times by a group of gentle and innocent people, a few of whom have motivations for murdering the man, while two of them think that they actually did murder him. Much of the comedy is provoked by the imagined dilemmas of those who become involved with the corpse and by their efforts to help keep each other out of trouble with the law. The cast is weak from the viewpoint of marquee value, but all contribute amusing characterizations. Worthy of special mention is Shirley MacLaine, a newcomer, who has the feminine lead. Recruited from the stage, she is a pretty girl with a decidedly different personality. The picture, which is in Technicolor and VistaVision, was shot against actual Vermont backgrounds and offers eye-filling scenes of foliage that is ablaze with glorious autumnal coloring. Because of its subject matter, the picture seems best suited for class audiences that enjoy unusual screen fare. Its reception by small-town audiences is questionable.” —Staff (The Trouble with Harry, Harrison’s Reports, October 08, 1955)
I think that this New York based trade journal underestimated the rural public because a review for the Fort Worth Rambler was just as kind.
“One of the most refreshing shows we have seen this year in the way of a mystery movie is Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry. Hitchcock is known for his hair-raising, spine-tingling movies that deal with murder and mayhem… The difference in this movie and that of others written in the mystery manner is that this one tickles you in the jugular vein. Hitchcock uses a kind of comic suspense to hold his audience. The audience sits there with fear and anxiety laughing itself silly.” —Colburn (Critique by Colburn, Fort Worth Rambler, April 10, 1956)
One might raise an eyebrow after reading the film referred to as a mystery, but there is no question that the review was a positive notice. An archival review for The Times shows that the film was similarly embraced by at least one major publication in the director’s home country.
“Coming out into the sunlight beyond, after a career dedicated to the macabre, Mr. Alfred Hitchcock evidently finds that murder is, if not actually funny, at any rate not a matter for superstitious reverence. He now reveals himself as the life and soul of the wake… Our sympathies thus engaged on the proper side; we are much more concerned about the plight of the living with a body on their hands than about the trouble with Harry himself. The scene is a hamlet in New England where Miss Marple would probably feel quite at home. But Miss Marple is there none, and the sole detective pressure on the impulsive amateur gravediggers is that of a hatchet-faced young deputy sheriff, who is pretty sure something is going on, but realizes he is not nearly sharp enough to learn what.
Some may wish that Mr. Hitchcock had been able to spare from his farcical comedy the small boy who discovers the corpse — certainly on the second occasion — and also the sight of Harry’s bare feet sticking out of the bath while the four merry conspirators busily wash, iron, and press his clothes that he may be presentable when at last found officially. Yet though convention is all against it, and sometimes propriety, too, the sheer absurdity of the proceedings carries the day. When he goes home the armchair detective will probably recall various loose ends in the story and actual inconsistencies, but Miss MacLaine is so roguish, Mr. John Forsythe, as a painter of singular equanimity, so wooing, and Mr. Edmund Gwenn and Miss Mildred Natwick so equal to the demands made on them as the other, more broadly comical, lovers, that so long as he is in the cinema, he will merely take the fun as it comes.” —Staff (Mr. Alfred Hitchcock as the Life and Soul of the Wake: The Trouble with Harry, The Times, May 07, 1956)
Bosley Crowther’s review was a change of pace and offered a mixed and somewhat condescending analysis of the film’s merit, but it wasn’t nearly as scathing as one might have expected.
“…It is not a particularly witty or clever script that John Michael Hayes has put together from a novel by Jack Trevor Story, nor does Mr. Hitchcock’s direction make it spin. The pace is leisurely, almost sluggish, and the humor frequently is strained. The whimsy inclines to be pretentious, such as Miss Natwick’s cheery reply to Mr. Gwenn’s expressed hope that her father’s death was peaceful: ‘He was caught in a threshing machine.’ Or again, when the two are out exhuming the freshly buried corpse, she says, ‘After we’ve dug him up, we’ll go back to my place, and I’ll make you some hot chocolate.’” —Bosley Crowther (The New York Times, October 18, 1955)
This seems like an unfair analysis. Then again, there are two kinds of people in this universe. There are those who “get it,” and there are those who “don’t get it.” Unfortunately, Mr. Crowther usually fell into the latter category. A more thoughtful review was printed in The Boston Globe when the film was re-released to theaters in 1984 (along with Rope, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo).
“There’s no point in pretending that Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry has the razzle-dazzle or the ramifications of Rear Window or Vertigo… It’s the kind of shallow entertainment Hitchcock insisted he always made, despite the darker dimensions of the best of them. It doesn’t have the kind of virtuosic pacing or psychic drive of his best ’50s movies. Yet within its narrower scope, it does offer a number of sly delights, many of which stem from the fact that Hitchcock never was one to take an elevated view of human nature… Clearly, Hitchcock is having some mischievously cynical fun with the human propensity for assuming guilt. But he’s no Kafka. He doesn’t leave it at that.
The guilt, in fact, evaporates almost immediately. All, including John Forsythe as a painter who starts sketching Harry soon after discovering him, turn amusingly sneaky and callous as they worry about getting rid of the body. In Hitchcock’s view, guilt stops when inconvenience begins. As Harry stiffens, the literalness of the film’s title becomes apparent. Harry is trouble, nothing more. If Rear Window and Vertigo entertainingly rub our faces in the fact that film is a voyeuristic activity, The Trouble with Harry goes a step further by making us share the complicity that soon becomes the film’s motor.
Hitchcock said The Trouble with Harry was ‘shot in autumn for the contrapuntal use of beauty against the sordidness and muddiness of death.’ The pastoral beauty is apparent, not only in the glowing russets and golds, or in the last rays of sunlight glinting off the edges of a burial party’s shovels, but in Bernard Herrmann’s woodwind-dominated scoring as well. If the film succumbs to slack and to a draining away of urgency as its claustrophobic bloodlessness becomes apparent, it’s also vastly entertaining to see and hear Gwenn, as the stubby, beguiling tugboat captain in retirement, and Natwick, as a spinster aching to escape gentility, punctuate their elegant phrasings with eloquent hesitations. Gwenn in fact steals the film. He reminds us of how infrequently we encounter real charm. And to him falls the reminder that the phobia-ridden Hitchcock wasn’t entirely frivolous here. When Forsythe uses the phrase ‘it stands to reason,’ Gwenn is quick to reply, ‘Nothing stands to reason,’ Hitchcock’s ultimate message.” —Staff (The Trouble with Harry, Boston Globe, March 02, 1984)
The enthusiasm for the film on display in this review seems to suggest that time had been kind to the film, but it is always difficult to gauge retrospective analysis because critics are usually willing to give such films the benefit of the doubt when they were created by an established master such as Hitchcock. One wonders if the critic who covered the re-release for The Times was exercising this brand of decorum since he managed to cover the film without ever offering readers his actual opinion.
“The latest Hitchcock reissue is The Trouble with Harry, made in 1956 [Sic] and for many years unavailable. This was the third screenplay written for Hitchcock by John Michael Hayes, immediately following Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. Though the setting was changed to Vermont, Hitchcock always regarded this as the most British of his American films. Its Englishness lies in making light of the two themes that are perennially most disturbing, particularly in the kind of Puritan America where the story is now set… The comic understatement too is very British… Subsequently it has acquired the interpretative commentary that attaches to Hitchcock’s films, with the French critics reading it as a parable on the Resurrection and the Americans finding in it a more generalized moral debate between a restrictive Gnostic Puritanism and a Judaeo-Christian optimism.” —Staff (The Trouble with Harry, The Times, May 04, 1984)
Of course, there are plenty of critics and scholars who haven’t embraced the film. Donald Spoto’s summation of the film isn’t exactly a love letter.
“The Trouble with Harry is little more than ninety-nine minutes of actors talking (and talking some more), with only the repeated burying and unburying of a corpse for action… Decades later, some academics have taken up the critical sword on behalf of The Trouble with Harry, claiming to find in its rambling and tortured dialogue all sorts of philosophical and theological depths… [But] anguished literary-philosophical excuses should be unnecessary in defending a Hitchcock picture; his genius, after all, was to entertain a mass audience and, remarkably often, to deal with consequential matters. In this rare case, he fell wide of the mark.” —Donald Spoto (Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies, 2008)
Geoff Andrew of Time Out was just as critical.
“Hitchcock loved the project’s potential for macabre understatement, so he has the group reacting with cool, callous detachment toward death. There are delights to savor here: Robert Burks’ location photography, all russet reds and golds, underlining the theme of death; Bernard Herrmann’s spritely score, ironically counterpointing the dark deeds on screen; finely modulated performances from Natwick and (making her film debut) MacLaine. But Hitchcock is reluctant to follow the subversive premises of the story through to their outrageous logical conclusion; the dialogue’s sexual innuendoes now seem coy and awkward; the male leads are wooden; the ending too complacent; and the discreet style stranded by that dreaded British restraint so dear to the director. Now, if Buñuel had made it…” —Geoff Andrew (Time Out, September 22, 2014)
The trouble with Andrew’s review is that he criticizes the film for not being what he wants it to be instead of judging it against Hitchcock’s original intentions. Those who want a Buñuel film should simply watch one. When one judges the film properly, they will find that it is exactly what Hitchcock intended; it is an understated comedy full of quirky irreverent charm. It may not be to everyone’s liking and is more likely to inspire smiles and small giggles than belly laughs, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, such films often withstand multiple viewings much better than more aggressive comedies.
On the other hand, it is difficult to agree with Peter Bradshaw’s bold declaration in The Guardian that the film is “a masterpiece,” but it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. It is enough that it is on par with other comedies of the period and a good deal better than many of them. What matters beyond this is that critics weren’t ready to simply dismiss the film, and it probably wouldn’t have bombed if Paramount had given it a chance to prove itself at the box office. Unfortunately, they seemed intent to see the film fail, and their prophecy was self-fulfilled.
“It lost, I suppose, half a million dollars… So that’s an expensive self-indulgence. I didn’t think enough about the audience. Or the producers, for that matter. Here we come to the question of ethics — with other people’s money.” —Alfred Hitchcock (as quoted in “It’s Only a Movie: A Personal Biography of Alfred Hitchcock,” 2005)
It did actually do quite well in France, and François Truffaut later recalled that it had a long run at one of the smaller venues in Paris.
“It opened in a very small theater on the Champs-Élysées. It was expected to run no more than a week or two, but it played to packed houses for half a year. I was never able to figure out whether it was entertaining to Parisians or whether the audience was made up entirely of British and American tourists. I believe it wasn’t too successful in other parts of the world.” —François Truffaut (Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock, 1966)
The poorly publicized and ridiculously limited theatrical release on October 03, 1955, was easily overshadowed by the heavily publicized debut of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ the previous day, but the series would have been somewhat different if it hadn’t been for The Trouble with Harry.
“When James Allardice, who wrote [the introductions for ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’], came to see me and asked what kind of introductions did I want him to write for me, I said, ‘Well, I won’t tell you, but I’ll run a film I’ve made that hasn’t been released yet which should give you an idea of the kind of thing I want.” And I ran The Trouble with Harry for him.” —Alfred Hitchcock (The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock / Who the Devil Made It, 1963 / 1997)
Given this important piece of information, it should go without saying that fans who enjoy the dry and decidedly macabre wit that graces those iconic introductions should have no trouble embracing The Trouble with Harry. It stands out as a decidedly offbeat film that has earned the admiration it now receives from many cinephiles.
4 of 5 MacGuffins
Those who can afford to purchase these Universal titles separately (instead of as part of the boxed set) should absolutely take that route. The two discs are housed in a standard black 2-disc 4K UHD case with an insert sleeve that features film related artwork that is only slightly different from the art used for their older Blu-ray edition of the film. Actually, the more natural colors of the background might make this new cover superior to that earlier cover. One wishes that Universal would use the original one sheet designs or at least one of the vintage marketing concepts for the film, but the original one sheet for The Trouble with Harry isn’t really any better than what we have here.
At least fans who purchase the individual releases won’t have to fight with the packaging every time they wish to watch the film.
4K UHD: 4 of 5 MacGuffins
Universal’s 4K UHD transfer of The Trouble with Harry something of a stunner as it offers a crisp image that does justice to the beautiful cinematography on display. The added resolution does quite to increase the amount of fine detail evident in each shot as depth and clarity also see noticeable improvement. Colors are more vivid and dynamic but never unnatural or oversaturated, and the HDR only enhances what is good here. Dynamic range is impressive, and contrast is well handled throughout. Grain appears natural and resolves in an organic manner as well. The film elements used for the scan must have been in very good condition as there is little evidence of age-related issues save for the occasional white speck here and there. There’s certainly nothing that should distract the viewer. Compression issues never become a problem either. Any perceived problems likely stem from the source.
Blu-ray: 4 of 5 MacGuffins
Universal has recycled their old 2012 Blu-ray disc for this release, and our opinions about the transfer remain the same. However, we are subtracting half a star from our score for this release for the simple reason that Universal has missed an opportunity to use their new scan to create new 1080P Blu-ray master. What we have here isn’t bad at all, but a new scan could have provided fans with a superior image. It seems that Universal cares more about making a quick dollar from their catalogue titles than taking pride in the way that they are presented to viewers. A lot of people still love the Blu-ray format, and many actually prefer it to 4K UHD (frankly, I can understand their reasoning). This format still matters, and too many studios ignore it when prepping for a 4K UHD release. This is a shame because these films deserve better.
Having said all of this, this 1080P transfer of The Trouble with Harry is still quite beautiful. Robert Burks’ autumn landscapes are vivid and accurate and viewers will see detail and clarity never before observed on any of the previous home video formats. Contrast is perfectly rendered with deep black levels, and the source print is nearly immaculate. While grain is certainly apparent, this is inherent in the film’s celluloid source and contributes to a more cinematic experience. It is actually rather difficult to find something to complain about… but that doesn’t mean a new Blu-ray master from the 4K scan couldn’t have improved upon this already stellar image.
4 of 5 MacGuffins
Both discs include the same lossless 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio mix. We’ll admit that it isn’t going to necessarily impress listeners with its sonic prowess, and some will complain about the lack of a 5.1 mix. However, this track is a faithful representation of the original audio and a vast improvement over those included on early DVD editions of the film. There is no perceptible hiss present, and the track seems to be free from other annoying signs of age as well. Dialogue is consistent and always intelligible and Bernard Herrmann’s music has room to breathe due to the lossless nature of this track. For one to expect anything better than this seems rather unreasonable.
3 of 5 MacGuffins
The following supplemental material is available on both the 4K UHD and the Blu-ray discs:
The Trouble with Harry Isn’t Over — (32:06)
Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary on the making of The Trouble with Harry is a delightful look into the making of this often-overlooked film. John Forsythe, John Michael Hayes, Herbert Coleman, Patricia Hitchcock, and Steven Smith (Bernard Herrmann’s Biographer) discuss the production.
Home Video Trailer — (02:25)
Universe has mislabeled this so-called “Theatrical Trailer.” It is merely a promo for the VHS release of the film. This is a shame. It would have been interesting to see how Paramount chose to market this unique film since Hitchcock felt that the marketing department mishandled this one.
Production Photographs — (06:19)
This photo gallery plays by itself as a sort of slide show, but there is the option of skipping to the next photo.
“To my taste, the humor is quite rich… Nothing amuses me so much as understatement.” —Alfred Hitchcock (Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock, 1966)
The Trouble with Harry isn’t usually considered one of Hitchcock’s greatest, but those who enjoy dry gallows humor will find a lot to appreciate here. It is best to approach the film without any expectations about it and be open to what it has to offer. This is an offbeat comedy — nothing more, and certainly nothing less.
The new 4K UHD transfer is a gem. It is just too bad Universal didn’t provide fans with a new Blu-ray master instead of simply recycling their old disc.
Review by: Devon Powell
Staff (Variety, December 31, 1954)
François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol (Interview with Alfred Hitchcock, Cahiers du Cinéma, February 1955)
Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock Talks about Vermonters, Vermont Life, Autumn 1955)
Staff (The Trouble with Harry, Harrison’s Reports, October 08, 1955)
Bosley Crowther (The New York Times, October 18, 1955)
Colburn (Critique by Colburn, Fort Worth Rambler, April 10, 1956)
Staff (Mr. Alfred Hitchcock as the Life and Soul of the Wake: The Trouble with Harry, The Times, May 07, 1956)
Charles Bitsch and François Truffaut (Encounter with Alfred Hitchcock, Cahiers du Cinéma, August-September 1956)
Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol (Hitchcock: The First Forty-Four Films, 1957 / 1979)
Peter Bogdanovich (The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock / Who the Devil Made It, 1963 / 1997)
François Truffaut (Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock, 1966)
Herb A. Lightman (Hitchcock Talks about Lights, Camera, Action: An Interview with Herb A. Lightman, American Cinematographer, May 1967)
Andrew Sarris (Interviews with Film Directors, 1967 / July 1969)
Anthony Macklin (It’s the Manner of Telling: An Interview with Alfred Hitchcock, Film Heritage, 1976)
Donald Spoto (The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock, 1983)
Staff (The Trouble with Harry, Boston Globe, March 02, 1984)
Staff (The Trouble with Harry, The Times, May 04, 1984)
Steven C. Smith (A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann, 1991)
Sidney Gottlieb (Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews, 1995)
Bill Krohn (Hitchcock at Work, 2000)
Laurent Bouzereau (The Trouble with Harry Isn’t Over, 2001)
Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes, 2001)
Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, 2003)
Charlotte Chandler (It’s Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock — A Personal Biography, 2005)
Herbert Coleman (The Hollywood I Knew: A Memoir 1916-1988, February 08, 2007)
Donald Spoto (Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies, 2008)
Peter Bradshaw (The Trouble with Harry: Hitchcock’s Lost Masterpiece, The Guardian, July 02, 2012)
Nathalie Morris (The Trouble with Vermont, British Film Institute, August 15, 2012)
Sheldon Hall (Jerry Pickman: The Picture Worked — Reminiscences of a Hollywood Publicist, InMedia, 2013)
Geoff Andrew (Time Out, September 22, 2014)
Sidney Gottlieb (Hitchcock on Hitchcock: Selected Writings and Interviews — Volume 2, 2015)
Peter Ackroyd (Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life, 2015)
Edward White (The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock, April 13, 2021)
Shirley MacLaine (The Trouble with Harry: Paramount 1955 “My First Film,” shirleymaclaine.com)
Chester Novello (wisemusicclassical.com)
Robert Barnett (The Bernard Herrmann Society)