Thursday, August 26, 2004

Caught a showing on TCM last night of a Hitchcock film I'd never seen, The Trouble With Harry.

Harry is the tale of a dead man found in the Vermont woods, and the disruption this discovery causes among a group of small town residents. Definitely a change of pace for the Master (especially at the time), with its light, quirky tone...but overall the movie was slight and inconsequential, with a shrug-inducing finale, and suffered for it.

What it did have going for it was a solid cast full of faces familar from other films and sources, like John Forsythe (later "Charlie" of Angels fame/notoriety) as the romantic interest, a pragmatic artist; Edmund (Them!, Miracle on 34th Street) Gwenn as a retired sea captain who thinks he's shot the man in the woods while he was hunting; Shirley (Rat Pack) MacLaine as the pixie-ish and somewhat giddy widow of the man in the woods and the intended object of Forsythe's amor; Mildred Natwick, whom I had just seen in John Wayne's The Quiet Man; Royal Dano, veteran of a thousand films in which he played cattle rustlers and hoodlums, familiar to me as one of Arthur O'Connell's stooges in Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (this bugged me for a long time, where I had seen this guy); and Jerry Mathers as...Arnie, Maclaine's young son and finder of the body in the woods, setting the events in motion. This was, of course, pre-Jerry Mathers as...the Beaver. It was a kick to see all these familiar faces go through their paces. Also, the film's scenery was gorgeous. Much of it was filmed on location in Vermont in October- Hitch intended to film the whole thing up there but it rained constantly (wettest October on record at the time, ayuh) so he eventually had to give it up and come back to Hollywood, where he filmed several scenes on soundstages. He had his crew bring along boxes and boxes of fallen leaves, which were attached to plaster trees to approximate the woods. It's a tribute to the crew he utilized that it looks so convincing.

Overall, it was a fun film with an odd, whimsical tone, well worth watching for the cast and scenery and in particular if you like black comedy. It reminded me more of an extended episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents than an honest-to-goodness feature film, and also put me in mind of Arsenic and Old Lace. I don't think Hitchcock ever did another film like this one; his work got more dark in tone as time went on, until Family Plot, his last film, which had its blackly comic elements but was nowhere near as charming as Harry. If it had had an ending which lived up to its enjoyable first three quarters, it would have been a great one, but as it is, it's still a very good one. Ayuh.

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