(director/producer: Alfred Hitchcock; screenwriters: story by Jack Trevor Story/John Michael Hayes; cinematographer: Robert Burks; editor: Alma Macrorie; music: Bernard Herrmann; cast: Edmund Gwenn (Capt. Albert Wiles), Shirley MacLaine (Jennifer Rogers, Harry’s Wife), John Forsythe (Sam Marlowe, the painter), Mildred Natwick (Miss Ivy Graveley), Mildred Dunnock (Mrs. Wiggs), Jerry Mathers (Arnie Rogers), Royal Dano (Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs), Dwight Marfield (Dr. Greenbow), Parker Fennelly (Millionaire), Barry Macollum (Tramp), Philip Truex (Harry Worp); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; Paramount; 1955)

“It’s not helped by the wooden performances of the leads.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This was only Alfred Hitchcock’s second foray into comedy, the other being Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It was a favorite of Hitchcock’s, but didn’t register with the public. It was one of the few films he ever made that lost money. It’s a droll whimsical black-comedy set in rural Vermont during the autumn, that is too cutesy and awkward. There was something subversive about the plot that was never explored, as Hitchcock instead keeps it too restrained and ordinary and ends on a sentimentally optimistic note. It’s not helped by the wooden performances of the leads and the outdated sexual innuendos that keep cropping up in the clumsy dialogue. One line in particular stands out, as the Captain speaks lovingly about his sudden attraction to a spinster: “Well preserved women and preserves have to be opened some day.” The film is based on the story by Jack Trevor and is penned by John Michael Hayes. Bernard Herrmann does the jaunty musical score, his first for Hitchcock in the start of a long relationship together.

The trouble with Harry is that he’s dead but can’t stay buried. The inhabitants of a small Vermont village find him on a sunny fall day only to bury him and then dig him up on four different occasions over the course of a day. They are unconcerned about him, and are only concerned that maybe they accidentally killed him and would rather not have the police investigate. Harry’s first discovered on a country field by a boy named Arnie Rogers, who is playing in the woods while toting around a toy machine gun. He runs home and tells his mother, Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine, in her film debut), who tells him she doesn’t care when she discovers it’s her husband Harry Worp. She had earlier conked him on the head with a milk bottle when he appeared at her door to claim his husband’s rights. An elderly retired tugboat captain, Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), is hunting rabbits and stumbles upon the body thinking he might have accidentally shot him. So he panics and attempts to bury him. While he is moving the body, the village old maid Miss Ivy Graveley (Mildred Natwick) approaches and agrees to keep mum about his secret burial plans. The prim lady flirts with the Captain and invites him to her cottage for coffee and blueberry muffins. Her secret is that the dazed Harry tried to rape her, mistaken her for his wife, and she conked him on the head with her hiking boot to repel his advances. No one at this time knows that Harry was married to Jennifer, but as she explains he was her first husband’s brother–the father of little Arnie. When her first hubby was killed shortly after their marriage, Harry married Jennifer but she soon gave him the boot and changed her name when she discovered his astrology chart showed they were not compatible.

A tramp also discovers the body and steals his shoes. Dr. Greenbow stumbles over the body while hiking in the woods, but doesn’t notice since he’s intently reading a book while walking. In the meantime starving artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) has returned from painting the landscape to check if the village store owner, Mrs. Wiggs (Mildred Dunnock), has sold any of his paintings. Her son Calvin (Royal Dano) is the deputy sheriff, an inept lawman who goes out to the woods because he heard gunshots and wishes to catch the culprit to fine him for hunting on posted land. When the artist lends his hand to help the other three, all the gravediggers ban together to keep Calvin from finding the body that they have repeatedly dug up and reburied. Because of Harry’s death a loving relationship develops between Jennifer and Sam, as well as with the Captain and the spinster. The film ends as it began, but on the most gentle of notes, with little Arnie again discovering the body. It paints a pretty picture of the selfless artist living for love and art and community, who shuns the nasty commercial world of the big cities for this rural paradise. The trouble with the film is that the fairy-tale story was too corny and gentle and coy to be much of a comedy or a mystery or an engaging romance tale.