by Nathan Toro
Hitchcock is well known to be the auteur of suspense and imagery, but there’s always that one piece of artwork that is different than the others. As stated in DeRosa’s book Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes, “While the basic material did not necessarily lend itself well to Hitchcock’s cinematic treatment, relying more on dialogue than visuals to tell the story, its thematic concerns are ones the director focused on throughout his career: sex, death, and redemption.” (DeRosa, 264)These themes are reflected quite often in Hitchcock’s work. An example of all three of these themes is found in The Trouble with Harry. Besides the absolute golden humor in this film, the story is told in such a way that allows you to enter the space of the characters’ community. Just a small disturbance—Harry—caused an entire group of strangers to come together and expose all of their deep secrets in order to solve the mystery of this dead man that they just can’t seem to get rid the body of. Death—this strange man, Harry, appears out of nowhere dead in the open field where Capt. Wiles was minding his own business, hunting. His discovery of the body could not have been simple! The moment he tries to hide it, Ms. Gravely sees him and agrees not to say a word. Then, little Arnie comes by and discovers the body, reports it to his mother Ms. Jennifer Rogers, then Dr. Greenbow trips on him before Sam discover’s Harry’s body accidentally when attempting to draw scenery. They do say death brings everyone together! The theme of sex is quite common in Hitchcock films. This one in particular focuses on the downside of sexual activities. In this case, we find out the reason for Harry’s death was due to—spoiler alert—his unconsentual sexual actions. Jennifer and Ms. Gravely have their reasons for hating Harry and that is precisely what makes those two team up to protect each other. Redemption is only successful when everyone involved works as a team, of course. Capt. Wiles and Ms. Gravely had interest in each other as did Sam and Jennifer. The men naturally wanted to protect their women ad vice versa, so they all agreed that no one will be blamed for murder. So, they did just that and succeeded.
It’s not uncommon to see redemption supported by confessions and catharsis in Hitchcock’s films. In To Catch A Thief, John Robie must clear his name when the past creeps up on him. After a series of burglar robberies occur in the style of his previous crimes, an entire wild goose chase ensues in the retired criminal’s life to find vindication. When John finds the real burglar and blackmails her into telling the police the whole story about her working in tandem with her father and Bertani by dangling her with the threat of death down below, he is redeemed his innocence and finally appears not guilty.
More themes of catharsis appear in Rope and Shadow of a Doubt. Referring back to DeRosa’s text on The Trouble with Harry, he ties together similarities in these films. He says, “Sam Marlow is the character least in need of change. From beginning to end, he is open and frank, showing little concern for social convention. This attitude, however, does not take the form of a feeling of superiority—as it does with Brandon Shaw in Rope—but, instead, allows Sam to take pleasure in sharing and spreading his energy and freedom.” (DeRosa, 266) This statement is agreeable because of the development in Brandon Shaw vs. Sam Marlow. Once again in Shadow of a Doubt, we find a character much similar to Harry and that is Uncle Charlie who barges in and disturbs the peace in a community without any direct connection to them. Most motives are not always personal to everyone involved!
Now, aside from all that tension and serious talk—can we just talk about how hilarious The Trouble with Harry is? A film from 1955 can still make an audience as young as college students laugh out loud. The chaotic mess that Harry causes just by existing as a corpse truly shows how funny human nature can be. The moment Capt. Wiles finds his body, the reel begins. Little Arnie informs his mother, Jennifer, who is happy to find Harry dead in the most comedically nonchalant way possible. Then, the clueless Dr. Greenbow trips over Harry’s corpse multiple times while wandering and reading a book, yet never takes his eyes off the pages to realize what he tripped on! Let’s not forget the raggedy old guy that comes by just to steal Harry’s shoes! Guess its fair since he won’t be needing those anymore, huh? Then handsome Sam discovering Harry’s corpse after drawing some scenery his body is laying in, decides not to run away and scream. No – instead, he draws a portrait of Harry’s dead face?! Hitchcock sure had some dark humor!
DeRosa, Steven. Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes (New York: Cinescribe Media, 2011).
Hitchcock, Alfred. The Trouble with Harry (Paramount Pictures, 1955)
I 100% agree with you, Nathan! “The Trouble with Harry” was definitely one of Hitchcock’s most funniest films. It has the perfect amount of chaos and hilarious jokes that can even make a college student in 2022 laugh. Everyone who was tied into hiding Harry’s body all worked together without a second doubt. From Captain Wiles trying to cover up a murder he never even committed in the first place to the gang having to go back and fourth burying and unburying Harry, this movie was truly a comedic masterpiece.
I totally agree with your statement about Hitchcock’s films using the themes like sex, death and redemption. Hitchcock is the director who has created the textbook on suspense in movies and suspense usually revolves around those three subject matters. An good example you left out was the film “Rebecca” where the character who’s name is the title of the movie and we never even see her because she is dead before the events of the film. And we see redemption through “Maxim De Winter” when he learns that he is not responsibly for the death of his wife because she committed suicide. And I know Hitchcock is known for his humor because he used to do pranks on his co-workers and uses them in his films.