October 30, 2012 is when Universal is releasing the 'Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection' containing fifteen of the director's seminal works. In an effort to bring you the most in-depth coverage on this set we are going through each included movie to give you the most thorough review we can. Feel free to visit the 'Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection' hub page. There you will find links to the other movies in this set and everything you'd want to know about the set's technical specifics and its packaging.
Most of us remember Hitchcock for his mastery of cinematic suspense. His ability to weave a tale of murder and intrigue is unparalleled. Sometimes we forget that Hitchcock also tried his hand at other genres. Like comedy. Sure, there's still a murder in 'The Trouble with Harry,' but people aren't running around afraid for their lives. Instead, everyone who comes in contact with the dead man in the hills is completely fine with the fact that he's dead.
The dead man is Harry. He's lying peacefully on a hill surrounded by an idyllic autumn scene. The first person to stumble across the body is a young boy named Arnie (Jerry 'The Beaver' Mathers). Arnie runs home to tell his mother, Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine) about the grisly discovery. While the boy is gone, Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), an old hunter, finds the body and fears that he's the one that offed him. He figures an errant shot struck the now deceased man so he immediately thinks of ways to try and cover it up. As he's trying to come up with a solution to his problem another person discovers the body. Her name is Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick) and she doesn't seem too bothered that the man is dead either. The last person to wind up in this tangled web is Sam Marlow (John Forsythe), a local artist, who simply wants to help out as long as it benefits him somehow.
What's so funny about the movie is how nonchalant these characters are after finding a dead body. None of them react in any sort of way, other than indifference. Like seeing a dead body is just a part of their daily routine. Perhaps the body of Harry is simply a MacGuffin, used to bring this eclectic group of characters together to see what they'll do. It's almost as if the entire movie is an experiment to see how a murder mystery would turn out if everyone involved wasn't the least bit interested in solving it.
'The Trouble with Harry' is a nice change of pace from the overall tenseness of this set. The great majority of the films in 'The Masterpiece Collection' are top-notch thrillers that weren't made for laughs. Here we get to see a lighter side of the Master of Suspense, and surprise, surprise, he nails that too.
Some people may go into this movie hoping for some kind of Hitchcockian twist of suspense, but they'll most likely come out disappointed. 'The Trouble with Harry' is played in a completely different key than any other Hitchcock movie. It's sort of whimsical in a way as we follow this group of detached characters as they try to figure out what to do with the body. No big chase scenes, no villains lurking in the shadows. Yes, this is a very different Hitchcock movie indeed.
The key to the movie is its witty dialogue. Some of the best back and forth comes from Sam and the Captain as they bury, exhume, and then bury the body again. Their dialogue seems determined to poke fun at the whole idea of a murder mystery.
Sam Marlowe: I think, Captain Wiles, we're tangled up in a murder.
Capt. Wiles: Murder. If it's murder who dunnit?
Sam Marlowe: Who did it?
Capt. Wiles: That's what I say, whodunnit?
It's this kind of clever interchange that really gives the movie its playful spirit. After clinging to the edge of my couch during my screening of 'Rear Window' (it doesn't matter how many times I watch that movie I still get tense), 'The Trouble with Harry' was an unexpected but nice change of pace. Here Hitchcock shows that he's able to branch out and take on dark comedy as well as the next director.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Check the main hub page for the complete detail of the packaging of this set. Everything about it can be found there. For fun we've posted a picture of the section in the set created for 'The Trouble with Harry' so you can see what it looks like.
'Rear Window' looked great in high-def, but I think 'The Trouble with Harry' looks even better. This is a stellar looking 1080p transfer that showcases the beautiful on-location autumn landscapes.
Right from the beginning, as the camera establishes that we're focusing in on a small rural town caught in the fiery colors of fall, this presentation really shines. The establishing shots of the autumn colored trees – fire reds, sun-drenched yellows, and burnt oranges – are magnificently clear and appear without a hint of film damage. In essence they look as pristine as anything shot on film today. Clarity is so well done that you can even see single leaves falling off of the trees in the background.
The fine detail continues to impress as faces are afforded great clarity. Close-ups reveal intricate facial features such as freckles and smile lines. Hair does appear a little matted at times during medium shots. There is one scene in particular where the Captain's overcoat varies in color shades from neon blue to navy blue depending on where he is on screen. However, his tweed hunting jacket shows great textual detail in the stitching.
Rarely does film damage crop up in this one. It seems to be one of the cleanest transfers of the set. However, there doesn't appear to have been any overzealous use of DNR here. Fine grain is consistent and gives the film a nice rich, cinematic quality.
This is a very impressive presentation. The colors and the autumn-colored scenic landscapes are truly remarkable. Everyone should be happy with the way this one turned out.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is engaging and performs with decent clarity. Opening the movie is Bernard Herrmann's quirky score that really hammers home with some fun whimsical music. The music is forceful, but not overbearing. It's treated wonderfully here, drawing you right into the movie and giving you an idea that this isn't going to be a normal Hitchcock adventure.
I was impressed with the clarity of the opening scene. There's a gunshot and then you hear voices. The gun shot clearly echoes, giving the mono track the brief illusion that it may be something more. The voice in the distance can be heard clearly. Then there is the fact that just about every piece of dialogue in this movie is delivered at a lightning quick pace. Therefore it was necessary that every single word be audible and understandable, which they are.
Overall, I've been fairly pleased with the lossless mono tracks provided to these movies. With the exception of a few instances in 'Rope,' these tracks have exhibited exceptional clarity and have turned out rather well considering their age.
'The Trouble with Harry' is a departure from the norm for Hitchcock, but it doesn't make it any less good. The movie's dark humor is always clever; however it never goes for the laugh-out-loud type of gags. Instead it's more reserved in its approach to comedy and it works here. With one of the best video presentations in the set and a decent audio mix to boot, 'The Trouble with Harry' happens to be one of the 'Masterpiece Collection's hidden surprises.