Often unfairly dismissed as a film of minor pleasures, The Trouble with Harry is far from minor; coming from a director of ambitiously structured thrillers, it’s subtle and humble, but it’s also one of Hitchcock’s most assured, coherent pictures, and his most full-bodied statement on the paradoxes of human nature.
Set in beatific Vermont, Harry unfolds as a light comedy about how small-town charm can coexist with indifference towards violence. The charming and twisted opening scene, which stages the birth of a winter romance over a corpse (with one character casually stepping over the body as they go to make their exit) sets the tone.
Here, Hitchcock lavishes his attention on his characters’ idiosyncrasies (he may have famously referred to actors as cattle, but Hitchcock does love to revel in mannerism as an effect unto itself). Every one of these protagonists are simultaneously sweet and mercenary: self-deprecating and generous and casually cruel and complicit in crime and its coverup.
The policeman is cast as the antagonist (Hitchcock claimed to fear policemen above everything). He’s uncompassionate and arrogant and unlikable. It’s this band of small-town, accidental crooks that have our sympathy. Therein lies the joke. Murder only troubles us when we dislike the murderers.