Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry has all of the trappings of your usual Hitchcock film, including a mystery, a dead body, a beautiful young woman, and a darkly handsome leading man. But it has one thing that The Birds, Psycho, Vertigo, and Hitchcock's other horror offerings don't: humor—and plenty of it.
The 1955 dark comedy about a pesky corpse may not be one of Hitchcock's most popular films, but it has developed a cult following—and Hitch himself always had a soft spot for it. Here are 15 things you need to know about The Trouble With Harry.
1. BEFORE IT WAS A FILM, THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY WAS A SHORT COMIC NOVEL.
As with many of his films, Alfred Hitchcock found his inspiration in a novel. Unlike most of this other work, however, this one was a humorous book—not a horror or thriller. He was able to purchase the rights for just $11,000 by keeping his identity a secret. When he tried to renew the rights some years later—for free—author John Trevor Story fought back, saying that he had “no intention of maintaining Alfred Hitchcock in his old age.”
2. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE FLOP.
Apparently people weren’t interested in Hitchcockian humor at the time: Despite the fact that it was made on a small budget, the movie lost $500,000 at the box office. Nonetheless, it was one of Hitchcock’s favorite films.
3. IT WAS SHIRLEY MACLAINE’S FILM DEBUT.
She may be a Hollywood legend now, but in 1955, Shirley MacLaine was an ingenue chorus girl. Though Hitchcock had wanted his mainstay Grace Kelly in the role, she was unavailable. He considered French actress Brigitte Auber, but didn’t want to mess with her accent. A producer mentioned that he had seen The Pajama Game on Broadway and was particularly impressed by a young chorus girl who stepped into the lead role for one night. Hitchcock interviewed her and found MacLaine utterly charming—but he also liked the idea of directing someone who hadn’t acted in movies before. "All this simply means is that I shall have fewer bad knots to untie,” he told her when he hired her.
4. STUDIO HEADS CALLED MACLAINE TO TELL HER TO STOP EATING SO MUCH.
Not everyone was charmed by MacLaine. Horrifyingly, the actress was subject to a call from the president of Paramount, who was unhappy with her appearance after reviewing film. She had gained some weight over the course of shooting, due in part to the terrific meals she shared with Hitchcock every single day. “He knew I was just out of the chorus, so I hadn’t eaten in years,” she said. Studio heads noticed, and called to tell her to stop sabotaging her career. In another interview, she recalled, “I think the word was ‘blimp.’”
5. THE MOVIE NEARLY KILLED HITCHCOCK.
Though you might expect something to go awry on one of Hitch’s scarier sets, The Trouble With Harry was the one that almost did him in. He was on location in Vermont when a bracket holding an 850-pound VistaVision camera unit snapped. The unit plummeted to the ground, clipping Hitch in the shoulder and pinning a crew member to the ground. Had he been standing a couple of inches over, Hitchcock would have been a goner.
6. IT WAS PARTIALLY SHOT IN A GYMNASIUM.
Vermont, of course, is incredibly picturesque, and Hitchcock intended to film everything on location. But the weather didn’t always cooperate, so the crew had to build sets at a local gymnasium. That didn’t work so well, either; when it rained, which was often, the drops pinged off the tin roof of the building, ruining takes.
7. HITCHCOCK DISCOVERED JERRY MATHERS BEFORE THE REST OF THE WORLD DID.
The director cast then-unknown child actor Jerry Mathers as MacLaine's onscreen son, little Arnie. Two years later, Mathers would land the role that cemented him in television history: Beaver Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver.
8. JOHN FORSYTHE, ON THE OTHER HAND, WAS ALREADY WELL-KNOWN.
Forsythe already had a great career under his belt when he signed on to play the role of Sam, but the roles that would come to define him would come along later in his career: He was the voice of Charlie on Charlie’s Angels, and played Blake Carrington on Dynasty.
9. RESHOOTS WERE PARTICULARLY DIFFICULT.
When Hitchcock later decided he needed more shots of Harry’s corpse in the leaves, there were two problems: No corpse and no leaves. Philip Truex, the actor who played Harry, was unavailable for reshoots, and of course, L.A. leaves aren’t really the same as Vermont leaves.
To solve the Harry problem, a double was cast, his head hidden by a bush in the shot to disguise the difference. The leaf problem was more complicated—Hitch ended up having boxes of autumn leaves sent from Vermont, then had some poor assistants painstakingly pin them onto trees.
10. IT WAS THE START OF HITCHCOCK’S ASSOCIATION WITH “FUNERAL MARCH OF THE MARIONETTE."
Composer Bernard Herrmann went on to score many of Hitchcock’s films, including North by Northwest (1959), Vertigo (1958), and Psycho (1960). But he made one of his most lasting contributions with The Trouble With Harry, although audiences never heard it. Herrmann temporarily tried “Funeral March of the Marionette” as the music for the opening credits. Though they ultimately used a different tune, “Funeral March of the Marionette” would later be used as one of the most famous theme songs of all time: Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
11. THE MOVIE’S WORLD PREMIERE WAS HELD IN VERMONT.
Paying homage to the shooting location, Hitchcock arranged for the premiere to take place at a tiny movie theater in Barre, Vermont. As you might imagine, the town was thrilled to roll out the red carpet for the Hollywood cast and crew. According to the Barre Times, they were fed a Vermont-themed meal, including freshly pressed apple cider, boiled Maine lobster with drawn butter, prepared according to the Vermont recipe which won the New England Lobster Contest in 1954;” and “tossed Vermont harvest salad,” among other Vermont-y items. They also presented MacLaine with a red rose corsage “on behalf of the people of Barre,” and gave Hitchcock a Vermont map made of granite.
12. IT INSPIRED HITCH TO PROMOTE VERMONT TOURISM.
When the movie was released nationally, moviegoers were treated to a special opening film: A three-minute promotional short, directed by Hitchcock, called “Vermont the Beautiful.”
13. THE FILM WAS ONCE KNOWN AS ONE OF THE FIVE LOST HITCHCOCKS.
Along with Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rope, and Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry was one of the five films Hitchcock himself bought the rights to—and chose, for various reasons, to keep to himself. When he died, he left the rights to his daughter, Patricia, who was more forthcoming with circulating them.
14. AS USUAL, THERE’S A CAMEO BY HITCHCOCK.
Hitchcock shows up in most of his movies, if only for a second or two. But this cameo is truly blink-and-you'll-miss-it—that's him in the trench coat behind the car.
15. THERE’S A SINGLE LINE THAT CAPTURES THE SPIRIT OF THE WHOLE MOVIE.
During a series of interviews for François Truffaut’s book Hitchcock, Hitch told the French director that one simple bit of dialogue in the movie sums up the whole thing:
“One of the best lines is when old Edmund Gwenn is dragging the body along for the first time and a woman comes up to him and says, ‘What seems to be the trouble, captain?’ To me, that’s terribly funny; that’s the spirit of the whole story.”