When Harry’s corpse is discovered in the countryside of a quaint town, the residents struggle, very politely of course, with who is responsible for the untimely death, and what to do about the troublesome corpse.
This dark, quirky comedy deals with death in a very matter-of-fact manner. Hitchcock grew up with a European outlook of death—not necessarily morbid, but with the ability to find humor in it. As a result, he was able to take the novel by Jack Trevor Story, and present one of his few true comedies. The storyline is fairly simple, the corpse of an outsider is discovered and three different people believe they may have been the killer.
Throughout the film, the creative artist helps gather clues and by the end, the truth is revealed. What makes this fun to watch is the way the characters react to the death and their possible responsibility for it—with proper decorum. As Miss Gravely comes upon Captain Wiles dragging the corpse away, she calmly asks, “Is there a problem?” Or the bespectacled doctor who trips over the corpse on three different occasions before he sees that it’s a corpse and Captain Wiles comments that he hopes the doctor never performs surgery on him.
What’s also interesting about the story is that this dead man has the uncanny ability to bring people together. Sam now has the opportunity to meet Jenny, a girl he has admired from afar. Miss Gravely now has the courage to ask the Captain to tea. Harry has done more for the people in death than in life. Unloved, un-mourned, they all see him as a problem to be solved rationally and logically. Even by today’s standards, some of the dialogue is hilarious. This comedy stands up to the test of time. The beautiful autumn panorama of Vermont and light, comedic score lighten the subject matter and add greatly to the peaceful calm that has been disturbed by Harry’s appearance.
Last Thoughts: Unfortunately, this was not a box office success for Hitchcock. This was a departure from what he had produced earlier. The audiences were expecting a thriller rather than a comedy and were disappointed. Additionally, American audiences didn’t find the subject matter particularly funny. However, European audiences loved it and the film played there for a year or more. This was Shirley McLaine’s first film role as an energetic 19 year-old.