Anyone who’s seen this quirky, mostly unknown Hitchcock film knows that the trouble with Harry is that he won’t stay buried! This is one of the strangest whodunits I’ve ever seen and it’s just full of marvelously dark dialogue. The real magic of this film is its reliance on so much Understatement.
As it sounds, Understatement is the opposite of exaggeration. The big literary term for this is Meiosis. It’s often used for humorous or sarcastic effect. “I was a little worried when I saw the killer coming towards me with an ax” (when really they were terrified).
In The Trouble with Harry, Death is treated like a very matter-of-fact common thing. There’s even one man who walks while reading a book of Shakespearean sonnets and trips over the dead body, but gets up, makes no notice, and continues his trek. At one point Shirley MacLaine (in her film debut) is asked how the body looks, and she replies, “He looked exactly the same when he was alive, only he was vertical.” At one point, The Captain is dragging Harry’s body through the woods looking for a place to bury it when an elderly woman appears and asks drily, “What seems to be the trouble, Captain?” At one point the Captain cannot believe how many people are just happening by while he’s trying to get rid of the body and says, “Couldn’t have had more people here if I’d sold tickets.”
The whole film is full of these little touches of understatement. I can’t imagine how this was received by a 50’s audience used to Hitchcock’s more thrilling pictures. Though it wasn’t a big hit in the United States, it ran for over a year in England and France. Hitchcock has reportedly said this was one of his favorites of his own films, and I can see why. Anyone who has watched his TV show and has witnessed that dry wit of his will understand after they see this film.
The plot is seriously a man dies in the woods. One man, The Captain, thinks he killed him because he was shooting at a rabbit, so he buries him. Then circumstances they dig him up, then Harry gets dug up and buried three times in the film. It just gets more and more absurd and entertaining. This is also one of my favorites of Hitchcock’s films as well. Just too much black humor and fun. I think if it played today, more people would get it! So give it a try!