(Sir) Alfred Hitchcock Penelope Houston - Essay

Penelope Houston

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Trouble with Harry] opens with a characteristic flourish, an incisive transition from tranquility to violence…. Unlike The Ladykillers, which broke wholly with reality, or Bunuel's Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz, with its ambiguous terrors. The Trouble with Harry establishes a setting neither entirely fantasticated nor disturbingly close to the real. (pp. 30-1)

Relaxed and deliberate, The Trouble with Harry spins out its single joke—the calm acceptance of the fact of violence that is the basis of comedie noire—with an alert regard for the possibilities of a situation…. Although the corpse is kept persistently in the foreground, the film blandly skirts the macabre, Harry exists merely as an inapposite feature in an idyllic pastoral scene. Quietly concentrated, the film's humour is largely a matter of a balance precariously sustained: the blazing splendour of the landscape sets off the grim little joke of a plot: the characters are normal people who in unguarded moments reveal fantastic preoccupations. In its insolent determination to explore the limits of good taste, the comedy is poised on a knife edge.

The authentic gaiety that lightens this gallows humour comes somewhat unexpectedly from the latter-day Hitchcock….

The Trouble with Harry is personal and idiosyncratic, a film with the somewhat specialised appeal of a John Collier short story or a Charles Addams cartoon. The Man Who Knew too Much is a thriller off the Hitchcock assembly line, a 1956 model with a setting on the fashionable tourist circuit (Marrakesh) and a smooth chromium finish. What it lacks, simply, is an engine powerful enough to set the whole apparatus in motion….

Momentarily, Hitchcock still brings off the shock of surprise…. But where the earlier film went like a bullet, the remake weightily ambles. The Man Who Knew too Much is a thriller of the most straightforward kind, an affair of pursuit and movement; and for Hitchcock, it is now apparent, the chase itself has lost its excitement. (p. 31)

Penelope Houston, "A Hitchcock Double," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1956 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 26, No. 1, Summer, 1956, pp. 30-1.