Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Trouble With Harry

Title: The Trouble With Harry
Year: 1955
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes
Source Material: A novel by Jack Trevor Story
Running Time: 95 minutes

Saturday 21st May, 8:50am
Another early start but with a couple of interruptions. One from the online supermarket delivery (huzzah) and another for a quick nap as I was feeling desperately tired for some unknown reason. After about a 40 minute nap, I woke up and had a poo and suddenly I felt better.
Strangely, just minutes before I was to begin watching the film, I noticed my friend Lorna (in the UK) had posted on Facebook that she had just watched The Trouble With Harry - rather a coincidence, wouldn't you say?

Captain Albert Wiles - Edmund Gwenn
Sam Marlowe - John Forsythe
Ivy Gravely - Mildred Natwick
Mrs Wiggs - Mildred Dunnock
Arnie Rogers - Jerry Mathers
Calvin Wiggs - Royal Dano
Millionaire - Parker Fennelly
Tramp - Barry Macollum
Dr Greenbow - Dwight Marfield
Jennifer Rogers - Shirley Maclaine
Harry Worp - Philip Truex

Young Arnie Rogers is taking a walk through the countryside with his toy gun. He hears three gunshots. Eventually he stumbles upon the corpse of a man. He runs off.
Soon after, Captain Albert Wiles stumbles across the body. He has been out attempting to hunt rabbits, but is ashamed he has failed so miserably. He is appalled when he discovers the body and assumes the death was his fault with a stray bullet. He finds a letter within the man's pocket and sees that the man was Harry Worp from Boston.

As he tries to drag the body away, Miss Ivy Gravely, a spinster, arrives. She seems unsurprised by the situation and simply asks the Captain to join her later for coffee and blueberry muffins. She goes on her way. Before the captain can move Harry, more people arrive in succession. Captain Wiles hides behind a tree and watches the various interactions with the corpse.
First Jennifer Rogers, who has brought by her son, Arnie. Jennifer is somewhat relieved that Harry is dead and nonchalantly turns away again.
Then, Doc Greenwood walks through the glade reading his book, trips over Harry's feet, falls over and gets up, not paying any attention to the cause of his trip.
Then a tramp comes along - sees the corpse and steals his shoes.
The Captain soon tires and naps in his hiding place.

In the mean time, Sam Marlowe, a local struggling artist speaks to Mrs Wiggs at her store, seeing if anyone has shown any interest in his paintings. Her son, the deputy sheriff is busy tinkering with his car which is wanting to sell.
Ivy Gravely enters the store and she shows signs of wanting to impress a certain fellow. Sam suggests they give her a makeover. Outside, a millionaire is showing interest in Sam's paintings, but with no one to pay, he drives on.

Later, Sam goes up the hill and begins to sketch. He notices Harry's corpse and continues to sketch the dead man's face in pastel. The Captain is now awake and approaches Sam. They discuss the situation and decide they have to hide Harry, so they leave him behind a fallen tree. First they need to talk to Jennifer for her opinion.

Sam goes to see Jennifer and has an odd conversation with her son, Arnie:

Sam: "Perhaps I'll come back tomorrow."
Arnie: "When's that?"
Sam: "The day after today."
Arnie: "That's yesterday. Today's tomorrow."
Sam: "It was..."
Arnie: "When was tomorrow yesterday, Mr Marlowe?"
Sam: "Today."
Arnie: "Oh, sure, yesterday."
Jennifer: "You'll never make sense out of Arnie. He's got his own timing."

Arnie has a dead rabbit which he trades for a frog that Sam has brought with him. He then asks for the rabbit back so he can make more trades.

Sam learns from Jennifer that Harry was the brother of the man who was Arnie's father, who died before Arnie was born. Harry married Jennifer out of a sense of duty but on the wedding night, jilted her as his horoscopes warned him off:

Don't start a new project... it will never be finished Jennifer changed her name, took Arnie and left to live a more reclusive life. Harry had turned up that morning and during a heated discussion, she had hit him with a milk bottle and he had staggered off into the wood, somewhat dazed.

Captain Wiles has his coffee date with Miss Ivy Gravely which is a slightly awkward affair as they try and figure each other out. Arnie turns up and produces the dead rabbit. He claims it was killed by the captain that morning - this pleases Captain Wiles immensely as he has never had much success.

Then, Sam and Captain Wiles go to bury Harry. Once six feet under, Captain Wiles realises something. If his bullet had killed a rabbit (and there was evidence he'd also hit a tin can and a 'no shooting' sign) then all of his bullets were accounted for. This means, he is innocent - so they dig Harry up again. Examining the corpse, they figure it must be the graze on his head - evidence of a blunt instrument. Knowing what Jennifer told Sam, they decide it best to bury Harry again.

Miss Gravely later visits the Captain at his home and she confesses that she thinks she killed Harry. He had staggered towards her and was under the impression she was Jennifer. He tried to drag her into some nearby bushes and when her hiking shoe came off in the struggle, she had hit him with it.
They go and dig Harry up again as she feels it is what is best.

Later that evening, while Arnie is in bed, Sam, Captain Gravely and Ivy are all at Miss Rogers' home. After a discussion about the circumstances, they think it is probably best for all if they make a pact and bury him again.

Mrs Wiggs bursts in saying that there is a millionaire wanting to buy Sam's paintings, so they all head over to the shop. Sam doesn't want money and persuades him to provide for his friends as well. Strawberries delivered monthly for Jennifer, a new cash register for Mrs Wiggs, a hope chest for Ivy, a shotgun for the Captain, a chemical set for Arnie and, for himself, something he can only whisper to the benevolent art lover. Sam then insinuates to Jennifer that he would like to propose. She thinks about it...

Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs arrives and he has found Harry's shoes on a tramp. The story he has been told is that the tramp got the shoes off a dead man in the woods. Sam also sees the sketch Sam made of Harry and he notices how it resembles the description the tramp had made of the dead body.

Back at Miss Rogers' home, Jen accepts Sam's proposal. However, if he is to marry her, they have to prove Harry id\s dead first. So it's time to dig Harry up again.
Once out of the ground again, the group are confronted by Doc Greenbow, out for another of his walks. Jen explains that the dead man is her late husband and he says he will determine the cause of death. He says he'll meet them all at Jen's house where the light will be better., The others carry Harry there.

They wash Harry's clothes and hide him in the bath tub when Calvin Wiggs arrives asking questions. He has the sketch with him. Sam says he just made up the face from his imagination and with a few quick changes with his pastels, he shows the face alive and well. Meanwhile, Captain Wiles steals Harry's shoes out of Calvin's car. All evidence is now effectively ruined.
Having got rid of Calvin. They redress Harry and return him to his spot in the woods.
They arrange for Arnie to find him again, and (brilliantly) with Arnie's sense of timing, he will not be able to describe exactly when he found the body to the police.
It is also revealed that Sam had asked the millionaire for something very practical... a double bed.

The Trouble With Harry is Over.

Great Lines
Being a black comedy, the screenplay is littered with some witty gems.

Captain Wiles: (to Harry) "Worp, you're a long way from home. With the looks of it, you won't get back for Christmas!"

When the Captain considers the beauty of Jennifer Rogers, young enough to be his granddaughter, he says "Wish I was two years younger..."

Arnie's philosophy on the luck of nature: "Four rabbit's feet and he got killed."
...and when he has made a trade for the frog with Sam he asks for the rabbit back explaining; "You never know when a dead rabbit will come in handy. It already got me one frog!"

Jennifer's cavalier attitude to Harry's passing is delightful:

"You can stuff him for all I care. Stuff him and put him in a glass case. Only I'd suggest frosted glass."

This was the first of many films to be scored by the superb Bernard Herrmann.

Not only is it Bernard's debut with Hitch, but it is also Shirley Maclaine's first big screen role. For me, her defining moment in cinema history is the brilliant portrayal of Charity Hope Valentine in Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity, a film which succeeds in breaking my heart every time I watch it. So much joy and yet so sad.
Shirley was also nominated for BAFTA for her role as Jennifer Rogers. Not bad for a debut!

Some may find the absurdities of the farcical plot a little too much to take, but one has to have the suspension of disbelief if one is to enjoy the black comedy within.

Edmund Gwenn is such a pleasure to watch, as always, and it's a genuinely 'laugh out loud' moment when it is revealed that he leaves Miss Gravely to dig all on her own.

The dialogue is brilliant in its innocuousness and blasé attitude to such serious issues and the occasional innuendo is subtle enough not to offend.

There is a sweet gentility to the whole proceeding and I think anyone who cannot find the charm within is possibly a little cold-hearted.

My Verdict
I was surprised to find one other guide give this a mere 3 out of 10. I can only assume the reviewers were hung-over or something the day they watched. I think it's a splendid curiosity with the right levels of dark humour and some beautiful cinematography. 7/10

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