Hitchcock’s Black Comedy: “The Trouble with Harry” (1955) starring John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaine, Edmund Gwenn, Mildred Natwick, & Jerry Mathers

Well, I wasn’t tall or thin or ethereal, so he wasn’t going to grab at me. So, I became his eating buddy. I gained about 15 lbs. during filming, and the studio got concerned. -Shirley MacLaine on her experience w/ Hitchcock

There is a dead man in a meadow in the hills above a small Vermont town. Capt. Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), comes across the body, and believes he accidentally shot him dead while hunting rabbits. Capt. Wiles wants to hide the body instead of going to the authorities. Capt. Wiles sees several other people stumble across Harry, most of whom don’t seem to know him or notice that he’s dead! A middle-aged woman, Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick), sees Capt. Wiles moving the body; she vows to keep it secret. A young single mother, Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine- her first movie after working as a chorus girl), does know Harry and seems happy that he’s dead. Her son, Arnie (Jerry Mathers), saw the body first. This is a time when 6 or 7 y.o. kids played alone outdoors! Later, struggling artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe- long before Dynasty) comes along and starts sketching near the body; Capt. Wiles confides in him.

Capt. Wiles: [after Dr. Greenbow trips over the body] Couldn’t have had more people here if I’d sold tickets.

This movie was Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s experiment to see how audiences would react to a movie w/o famous stars. He thought that sometimes big names hindered the flow and style of the story. He also wanted to test how American audiences would react to a subtle brand of humor than usual. Although a perverse sense of humor permeates all of his movies, this was only Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s second outright comedy. American audiences of the ’50s were perhaps uncomfortable w/ black comedy, so this was a box-office failure upon initial release. It ran for a long time in England, France, and Italy.

I just saw this movie for the first time after reading a few rave reviews on a Facebook group. Fans esp. seemed to like the scenery; though filming was done on location in New England, most of the scenes set in the forest were shot on a Paramount soundstage. The musical score is playful, funny, and quirky, adding much to the story. Lyn Murray, who worked on To Catch a Thief (1955), suggested Bernard Herrmann for this film. Thus began a long professional relationship between two innovative creatives; Herrmann composed the music for seven of Hitch’s movies.

[1] Part of the joke is that “nothing happens.” Hitchcock’s “anti-Hitchcock” film defies expectations for action, shock, mayhem, suspense, spectacular climaxes on national monuments, etc. Instead, it’s a New England cross-stitch of lovingly detailed writing, acting, photography, directing and editing.

[2] No Hitchcock film divides viewers more than this one. Some consider the film a masterpiece of understated black comedy; others deem it a plot less, pointless time-waster. …I’d say The Trouble With Harry is a great film that was probably a good two decades ahead of its time. The performances are wonderfully outrageous, especially the elders (Gwenn and Natwick) who give perceptive comic turns that actors nowadays just don’t seem to have the range to do. Forsythe and MacLaine are delightful too

[3] A light film for Hitchcock, but it does contain the transference of guilt theme, and the guilt bounces all over our main players. A small gem of a film that often gets overlooked, watch this one and you’ll be charmed by the trouble that Harry causes.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

For Rom Com Fans: “The Lady Eve” (1941) starring Barbara Stanwyck & Henry Fonda

[1] Practically everyone in the film has (at least) two names: Jean/Eve, Charlie/Hopsie, Muggsy/Murgatroyd/Ambrose, Harry/Colonel Harrington, Pearlie/Sir Alfred and so on. This suggests, quite rightly, that people are complicated complex beings, and that appearances often have nothing to do with reality.

Fonda …it must really take quite a lot of true acting ability to execute the pratfalls that he does without making Charlie such a wimp that you can’t imagine Jean still wanting him at the very end.

[2] …it’s all about sexual gamesmanship, and its tone is both matter-of-fact and dizzyingly playful at the same time.

…a boudoir farce, a slapstick clinic, a cynical dialogue comedy AND a love story of great, soulful heart.

[3] This may have been Henry Fonda’s best comedy part. …Fonda does so well in the part because he plays it absolutely straight. No tongue in cheek, no winks at the audience, Fonda plays it straight and sincere.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Col. Harrington: Don’t be vulgar, Jean. Let us be crooked, but never common.

This screwball comedy was written/directed by Preston Sturges, who wrote for theater/movies, then got into directing after age 40. He wrote the screenplay for Remember the Night (1940) starring Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. Returning from a year in Amazon forest studying snakes (his passion), the heir to an ale fortune, Charles Pike (Henry Fonda), meets Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) aboard a ship. Charles (shy/nerdy) is putty in the hands of Jean (who exudes confidence/charm). His street-tough bodyguard, Muggsy (William Demarest), is suspicious of the young woman. Charles and Jean fall in love, but he breaks up w/ her after learning that Jean and her father, Col. Harrington (veteran character actor Charles Coburn), are con-artists!

Jean: You see, Hopsie, you don’t know very much about girls. The best ones aren’t as good as you probably think they are and the bad ones aren’t as bad. Not nearly as bad.

Some time later, the Harringtons run into a friend who goes by the name Sir Alfred McGlennon Keith (Eric Blore). His latest con involves cheating millionaires at cards in a uber-rich town in Connecticut, where the Pikes happen to live. Eve gets an idea: taking on the persona of an Englishwoman (Lady Eve Sidwich) who could be Sir Alfred’s niece, and seeking revenge on Charles.

Jean: He isn’t backwards. He’s a scientist.

Sir Alfred: Oh, is that what it is? I knew he was… peculiar.

There are many laughs (thanks to the snappy dialogue and physical comedy); the romance is done very well, too! The opening credits feature a grinning cartoon snake, reminding us of Satan in the Garden or Eden. Even before Charles climbs aboard the ship, Jean drops an apple (representing knowledge) which hits his head. The single ladies checking him out make Charles very uncomfortable, but Jean trips him to get his attention. Everything about Jean- her perfume, high heels, looks, and sparking wit- have a strong effect on Charles. The chemistry between Fonda (who plays his role totally seriously) and Stanwyck (who is good in every role) is electric!

“Shakespeare’s Globe: A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (2014)

This is a very appealing production of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays that should get wide attention. The cast is good, John Light ably doubles as Theseus and Oberon, and Michelle Terry impressed me as Hippolyta and Titania. -Excerpt from IMDB review

Trailer for the production

The play (which I saw last week on YouTube) opens w/ a dance/battle, showing us that Hippolyta (Michelle Terry), the leader of the Amazons (a tribe of women), was captured by Theseus (John Light) during war. Terry reveals intelligence, sensitivity, and power. She makes a connection w/ Hermia when she is threatened w/ death or life as a nun (if she doesn’t marry Demetrius- her father’s choice). As the play goes on, Hippolyta’s proud manner turns to teasing of Theseus; they share chemistry and could have a happy marriage.

The fairy land ruled by Oberon and Titania is decorated w/ animal heads and full of mischief. The quarrel between the long-married king and queen (over an orphaned Indian boy) has upset nature. Light’s Oberon is charismatic and full of energy in his gymnastic moves; he can act tough, but also has a soft side. He sympathizes w/ Helena when she’s chasing Demetrius, the man she loves. Terry’s Titania falls for (the ass-headed Bottom) after being tricked by Oberon.

The young lovers (Helena, Demetrius, Hermia, and Lysander) are cute, funny, and energetic.They become muddy and disheveled as they tumble through the woods together. Hermia (Olivia Ross- also seen in Killing Eve) and Helena (Sarah MacRae) show real pain and confusion as their friendship is tested. The young men, Lysander (Luke Thompson) and Demetrius (Joshua Silver) try to one-up each other. The mischievous fairy, Puck (Matthew Tennyson), is there to make sure they don’t hurt each other.

The Mechanicals are also clog dancers; the sounds of their arrival breaks into the goings-on of the lovers. This group of Athenian workmen are planning to present an entertainment for the Duke’s wedding. Led by the comic/anxious, Peter Quince (Fergal McElherron), they attempt at presenting the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe w/ seriousness (despite their lack of talent). Flute (Christopher Logan) plays Thisbe w/ sensitivity, though he is rather clumsy. Snug (Edward Peel) has to use his joiner’s skills to repair their little stage, even during the performance- LOL! Bottom (Pearce Quigley) starts out wanting to play all the parts; he also flirts w/ the (live) audience. The Renaissance music helps to bring it all together.

“Royal Shakespeare Company: Love’s Labour Won” (2015)

Autumn 1918. A group of soldiers return from the trenches. The world-weary Benedick and his friend Claudio find themselves reacquainted with Beatrice and Hero. As memories of conflict give way to a life of parties and masked balls, Claudio and Hero fall madly, deeply in love, while Benedick and Beatrice reignite their own altogether more combative courtship. Set amidst the brittle high spirits of a post-war house party, where youthful passions run riot, lovers are deceived and happiness is threatened – before peace ultimately wins out. -Synopsis

I saw this play on Marquee TV (which is an arts and culture streaming service); I signed up for the free 14-day trial. The play is more commonly known as Much Ado About Nothing; it’s my favorite Shakespeare comedy. This adaptation is set in the time period made famous by the recent PBS drama series and movie Downton Abbey. Hero (Flora Spencer Longhurst) and Claudio (Tunji Kasim) are the younger/fresh-faced couple. Beatrice (Michelle Terry) and Benedick (Edward Bennett) are the slightly older/jaded pair content to be singletons. By means of “noting” (which sounds similar to “nothing,” meaning gossip, rumor, and overhearing), Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into confessing their love for each other; Claudio is tricked (by Don John and his accomplices) into rejecting Hero at the altar thinking she has been unfaithful.

We are in an English village w/ an estate fit for royals. In the living room, there is a tall/elegantly-decorated Christmas tree. In one hilarious scene, Benedick hides inside the tree (while Leonato, Prince Don Pedro, and Claudio discuss him and Beatrice). There are songs and dances which come from (or are orchestrated to fit) the early 1900s vibe. We hear “Sigh No More” sung by Balthasar; it tells women to accept men’s infidelity and keep on living w/ joy. In the 1993 film directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, the song is featured prominently in both the opening and finale.

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,-
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.

Benedick and Beatrice (“too wise to woo peaceably”) are the main interest of the play; they have some of the best (and most memorable) lines. Terry (who became director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 2017) commented in an interview that “Beatrice felt very deeply,” so humor was a “defense mechanism” she used. I loved how this actress played the (pivotal) scene in the church.

I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.

Not till God make men of some other metal than earth [would she consider having a husband]

Benedick is a bit disappointed when his best pal (Claudio) has the “intention to turn husband.” Benedick is also adept at using humor. The life of a bachelor suits him best, and only a rare woman would convince him otherwise.

…But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none.

I wish my horse had the speed of your tongue.

I liked how this production created a balance between the light and serious moments. The humor is played (mostly) w/ subtlety, as would suit Brits from that era. Beatrice, Benedick, and some of the minor characters have scenes w/ physical humor. I was impressed by how light the actors were on their feet (when the scene called for it). You can watch some scenes below!

Beatrice and Benedick meet.
Leonato, Prince Don Pedro, and Claudio set a trap for Benedick.
Beatrice and Benedick say they love each other, but she wants him to kill Claudio!

“Star Trek: DS9”: Season 1, Episode 16 (“The Forsaken”)

[Bashir has been assigned to chaperone a trio of visiting diplomats]

Sisko: Think of it as an opportunity, Doctor. You never know when a friendly ambassador is going to be in the right place at the right time to help your career.

Bashir: Another hour with them could destroy my career!

Sisko: It’s a simple job: just keep them happy, and away from me.

Bashir: Simple? Nothing makes them happy! They are dedicated to being unhappy, and to spreading that unhappiness wherever they go! They are the Ambassadors of Unhappy!

Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig)- the first year senior officer- has to take care of a delegation of (high-maintenance) ambassadors visiting DS9. Cmdr. Sisko (Avery Brooks) didn’t want to deal w/ them, so he gave the job to the eager, enthusiastic doctor. In Quark’s bar, the ambassador from Betazed, gets robbed of her brooch. Majel Barrett Roddenberry (AKA “The First Lady of Star Trek”) has her first guest starring role as Lwaxana Troi. She wears an elaborate blonde wig; she also wore a blonde wig when she played Nurse Chapel in TOS. Odo is able to find the thief; Mrs. Troi is very interested in him! An ongoing joke concerning her love interests recurs here; notice Odo anxiously looking around as he exits a turbolift, fearing running into her. Capt. Picard acted similarly when Mrs. Troi was on board the Enterprise in TNG: “Half a Life.” The story about a brief affair w/ a Ferengi leader refers to events in “Ménage à Troi.”

Lwaxana: Mm. All the men I’ve known have needed to be shaped and molded and manipulated, and finally I’ve met a man who knows how to do it himself.

O’Brien is fed up w/ the (Cardassian-built) computer. It gives opinions on his commands, so he suggests installing a new one to Sisko. An object appears from the Gamma Quadrant which looks like a probe, but has a sophisticated computer. After downloading information from it, O’Brien notices the station’s computer seems to be working better.

Odo: Frankly, in my humble opinion, most of you humanoids spend far too much time on your respective mating rituals.

Sisko: It does help the procreation of one’s species.

Odo: Procreation does not require changing how you smell, or writing bad poetry, or sacrificing various plants to serve as tokens of affection.

The computer starts to malfunction, leaving Odo and Mrs. Troi trapped in a turbolift. Lwaxana, who loves elaborate clothes and seeks romance around every corner, isn’t only played for comedy. On TNG, the Enterprise crew saw her mainly as Counselor Deanna Troi’s overprotective mom. Here we see here as a kind, sensitive, and likable character (underneath the larger-than-life personality). Eventually, Odo tells her about his life, and we see another side of the gruff lawman. The actors have good chemistry in their scenes.

[Lwaxana Troi has taken off her wig]

Lwaxana: No one’s ever seen me like this.

Odo: Why? It looks fine.

Lwaxana: It looks ordinary. I’ve never cared to be ordinary. So you see, Odo, even we non-shapeshifters have to change who we are once in a while.

Odo: You are not at all what I expected.

Lwaxana: No one’s ever paid me a greater compliment.