The Guardian recently posted an online essay calling Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry a “lost masterpiece” — a few years after I already called it a “lost masterwork” and wrote an essay in defense of the film. Feel free to compare the two.
The essay by Peter Bradshaw is a bit cursory and uninformed, such as when he claims that Hitchcock did not make a cameo in this film — which, of course, any Hitchcock aficionado knows is untrue (Hitchcock walked-on in all of his post-silent era films, which is elementary knowledge). Though I like Bradshaw’s definition of the film as “radical absurdist cinema”, he misses the mark again when he claims that Hitchcock “remove[s] the suspense”. The Trouble With Harry actually features a few short suspense sequences, though in keeping with the absurdist tone of the film, they play almost like suspense satires. Regarding Sam, the misunderstood artist played by John Forsythe, perhaps Hitchcock was cloaking himself behind this facade. In any event, the use of paintings and other artwork in Hitchcock is an interesting field of inquiry that a lot of writers are beginning to pay attention to. The Trouble With Harry seems to feature Hitchcock’s most extensive use of art as a structuring motif.
I still agree with everything I wrote about the film in my earlier essay. However, I failed to mention the sheer visual beauty of the film. This beauty arrives not through expressive camerawork, innovative special effects, or virtuous montage techniques, as would be expected from one who is maybe the premier visual stylist the cinema has ever known — it comes from the picture book autumnal setting in Vermont. It is a very naturalistic and low-key beauty, which is very unique in the Hitchcock canon. In a recent screening of the film I was struck by the fact that this may actually be Hitchcock’s most outwardly beautiful film. I would tend to stand by that statement. Whether it is still a lost masterwork or not is debatable.