Hitchcock had a well-developed sense of humor, but it usually emerged as he was torturing the audience with almost unbearable suspense. You have to let the tension out from time to time, be it through a scream or a nervous chuckle. When he set out to film a straight comedy, you get almost the opposite—an absurd situation punctuated by the macabre.
Harry has gone and died in the woods and plenty of people have reason to believe that they have killed him. Also, for such a relatively remote place to die, plenty of people stumble across his body. Between trying to figure out who killed him and whether or not to let the authorities in on the whole thing, Harry gets buried and dug up multiple times. In many ways, it could be seen as a companion piece to “Rope.” Only there we find a murder and a body that no one knows about, here we have a body that many see and any number of people could have killed.
In the midst of all of this silliness, there are deep conversations concerning guilt, responsibility and punishment. Much of the movie revolves around perception and reality. So many characters think that they are the ones who have killed Harry, and the appearances and presumptions begin to take on more importance than the actual facts.
Sadly, for today’s audience much of the charm of this film is missed. The macabre and shocking bits are too subtle for the hardened fans of shock, and the humor is too intelligent, verbose and subtle for our present generation… but it is both shocking in its attitudes and funny in its delivery.
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