Harry is dead, and his body is causing trouble for the various people who come across him!
This is nice change of pace for Hitchcock and although it doesn’t have anything to really mark it out in visual terms (apart from the gorgeous Vermont location), it is joyfully mischievous.
Apparently it took a while to find an audience in America and certainly this is much more an English story. Perhaps Hitch was feeling a little homesick for some Ealing! The macabre, yet delightful plot isn’t so far removed from The Ladykillers, with the rather matter-of-fact attitude the various characters have to Harry’s condition. The way they bury him and dig him up again multiple times is hilarious, but must have been quite shocking to those not used to such ideas being used for comedy (apparently Hitchcock wanted to see how the US would react). But comedy it is and a fine one at that, subtly performed by a small cast, including Shirley MacClaine in her first screen role (and adorable she is too). The other stand-out was Edmund Gwenn, the stories first suspect (not that anyone cares!). It stars John Forsyth, but in this second viewing for me, I couldn’t help but find him annoying at first. He won me over though, despite another daft sub-plot of instant marriage proposals! Mind you, I say sub-plot, but as usual, the body is not the real concern. Treating poor old Harry as more of an inconvenience underlines this.
For such an unassuming film, it also has another notable first in the score by Bernard Herrmann. Though this is probably the least known of his collaborations with Hitch, it was apparently the director’s favourite and it is wonderfully playful. Perhaps because the camera was lazier than normal and there was no suspense to speak of (as it should be in comedy), maybe it was easier for the composer to match the characters more closely, like in a cartoon. There’s a lovely moment where the Captain tries to hide his rifle from the deputy sheriff!
I’ve read in other reviews that some critics felt there was something deeper going on. A treatise on death and religion, perhaps? Maybe, if you like, but it still doesn’t stop this being one of Hitch’s more harmless and infinitely watchable films.