Home > Index > Comedy | Mystery > Movie Review

Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

"Blessed are they who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed."

The Trouble
with Harry

Plot Overview

Mr. Harry Worp of Boston, Mass., upon reading his horoscope, cur­tailed a certain project rather than pursue it come hell or high water. Later attemp­ting a redo he ended up a thrice-buried corpse in High­water, VT., discovered on a fall day where the Peyton-Place–like populace (“We're all nice; I don't see how any­one could help but like us”) sort out their own troubles before getting around to notifying the authorities of Harry's demise.


The opening scene is dominated by a church steeple and bells tolling, bells we hear in the distance from time to time as the story progresses, reminding us to look to heaven. Local painter Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) croons a tune as he ambles along: “Flaggin' the Train to Tusca­loosa,” about a man returning to claim a for­gotten love, setting the tone for romance. His paintings are sold—or more accurately not sold—by the way­side at Wiggs Emporium. They look like junk to me, but for the sake of reviewing this movie, we'll keep an eye out for an artistic representation of a religious take on romance and marriage.

Now, the only person to recognize Harry come to town is pretty Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine). She'd been married to one Robert who'd fathered her son Arnie (Jerry Mathers) but passed away before he was born. This is kosher. In fact the word matrimony derives from the Latin mater meaning mother, and mony meaning the state of, matrimony in the Catholic catechism being the state in which a woman is permitted to commence mother­hood. The word marriage doesn't even appear in the catechism, although we use it as a synonym when applied to opposite sexes so united, see 1Cor. 7:2. For our progressive art consumer who wishes to encom­pass same-sex marriages in his thought (Arnie: “How do rabbits get born?”), such new­fangled legali­zation does not apply to matri­mony per se (Sam Marlowe: “Same way elephants do,”) just to marriage. In “The Trouble with Harry” we do encounter one Dr. Green­bow (Dwight Marfield) who traipses the forests with his nose in a book, marrying physical and mental exercise together as it were. Here I've used the term marry applied to the close union of two entities not joined in any matri­monial sense. Feel free to do the same with same sexes.

After Robert died, “Harry his older brother decided to marry [Jennifer], because he thought it would be noble.” This is an Old Testament practice, cf. Gen. 38:8 & Deut. 25:5. When the apostle Paul was questioned whether this (and other) custom(s) carry through to New Testament times (1Cor. 7:1), he gave the widow consider­able liberty to marry whom­ever she wished (and is available), 1Cor. 7:39, although he thinks she'd be happier remaining unattached, 1Cor. 7:40. This freedom that Jennifer now enjoys with the demise of Harry comes under discussion when Sam becomes enamored of her and proposes.

During the course of the discussions, spinster Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick) is advised not to report the discovery of Harry's body to the authorities for fear of the press getting hold of it, and she would not want “our private lives spread indecently in the papers.” She retorts that there is nothing indecent about her life, but here indecently was used as an adverb describing how the media would play it, not as an adjective describing her life itself. Similarly, when Paul enjoins the widow to remarry “only in the Lord” (1Cor. 7:39) if at all, he is using the phrase adverbi­ally telling them not to proceed “wantonly against Christ” (1Tim. 5:11-12) rather than curtailing their liberty by insisting they find only Christian husbands, as the phrase would be applied adjectiv­ally. This is art here rather than artless doctrine.

The following "Who's on first" type exchange occurs:

Sam Marlowe: Perhaps I'll come back tomorrow.

Arnie: When's that?

Sam Marlowe: The day after today.

Arnie: That's yesterday. Today's tomorrow.

Sam Marlowe: It was.

Arnie: When was tomorrow yesterday?

Sam Marlowe: Today.

Arnie: Oh, sure. Yesterday.

Lest we be smug in our superiority, I'd like to point out that in the context of the epistle with Paul's instructions on marriage, he did say, (1Cor. 3:21-22) “For all things are yours; Whether … the world, or … things present, or things to come; all are your's.” We should under­stand that to mean that what­ever of the world a Christian legiti­mately possesses (present tense) he may keep, and also may legitimately acquire if he hasn't got it yet (“things to come.”) When there­fore Paul addresses Christians in mixed marriages (“the world, … present”), 1Cor. 7:12-13, that they may remain in one if the other is willing, that should also be taken as including permission to enter into one with a willing unbeliever.

“The Trouble with Harry” profiles various deceptions large and small, hidden and admitted. In the apostle's follow-up letter to the Corinthians, though, he presents him­self as sincere, (2Cor. 4:2) “... not handling the word of God deceit­fully.” One kind of decep­tion with which he'd be conversant is where (Gen. 34:13) “the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father deceitfully,” telling them they were allowed to inter­marry with them and later going back on it. Paul, there­fore, is not going to contradict his earlier permission to inter­marry with nonchristians. So when in this following letter he addresses (2Cor. 5:18) “the ministry of reconciliation,” and goes on to tell the church to, (2Cor. 6:14) “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” in Christian ministry, he cannot have meant to never to marry a nonbeliever, because then he would have deceived us earlier. Further­more, Paul cements his point on unentangled Christian ministry with a series of roughly quoted OT passages concerning ministry in the temple and the like. Included for example is, (2Cor. 6:17) “Where­fore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,” being a reference to a direction to OT priests in their ministry: (Isaiah 52:11) “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD.” That's in the immediate context of (Isaiah 52:7) “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” being reiterated in Rom. 10:15 as a manifestation of Christian evangelism. In “Harry” a tramp (Barry Macollum) removes the shoes from a corpse exposing argyle socks on feet that stick out through various scenes, but it follows the passages on marriage with an artist's eye for coordination, not some artless dogma that need­lessly forbids certain marriages.

On Jennifer's and Harry's wedding night, she worked herself up to “a certain enthusiasm” to fulfill her wifely duty according to 1Cor. 7:3-5, but things took an unexpected turn. Spinster Miss Gravely kept her­self pure letting no man “Cross her threshold” until her hoped for wedding night when “preserves must be opened some­day.” Retired sea Captain Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) might have some ideas along those lines, that, “Marriage is a good way to spend the winter,” as also the apostle allows for it to scratch that itch, 1Cor. 7:9.

Sam's paintings, I must confess, looked like junk to me, but there might be some­thing to them come the right buyer, as with Harry's story.

Production Values

“The Trouble with Harry” (1955) was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Its screen­play was written by John Michael Hayes based on Jack Trevor's story from his novel The Trouble with Harry. It stars John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaine, and Edmund Gwenn. All the acting was superb, the New England in autumn setting was nicely photo­graphed by Robert Burks, and Bernard Herrmann's musical score suited the picture well. Jerry Mathers who played the little boy went on to star in TV'sLeave it to Beaver” series. Due to the onset of snow, the shooting had to be moved to an adapted Paramount Studios, but the picture doesn't seem to have suffered. In fact some of the same footage of Vermont in autumn was used in “Peyton Place.” If this movie suffers at all it's from misplaced audience expectations when it doesn't deliver Hitch's trade­mark dark suspense but rather dry British humor.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

I found this picture quaint and boring, but that's in part due to gritting my teeth waiting for Hitch­cock's dark magic when all he delivers is dry British wit, although he does that well. I found myself chuckling, how­ever, when I went back over certain scenes in my mind. I think the movie could be down­right funny on a second viewing. It is what it is. Either you'd like it or you wouldn't.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Special effects: Well, at least you can't see the strings. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Three stars out of five.