An occasional series where I review a randomly selected movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock…
Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
A dead body causes problems for various people in a sleepy New England village…
This laid-back comedy sees characters treat a murder victim like a minor inconvenience. Morality is sidelined in favour of humour. The plot kicks off when a local man called Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn, using the same befuddled charm that won him an Oscar for Miracle on 34th Street) is hunting in the woods. After shooting at a rabbit, he finds a corpse with a bullet wound and assumes he’s killed him. But before he can dispose of the body, various neighbours arrive on the scene – and each has their own part to play in the mystery of what really happened. One is local painter Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe); another is the corpse’s widow, Jennifer (a winsome Shirley MacLaine in her first movie), who seems glad he’s dead.
However, the maybe-murder-mystery never feels that important because Hitchcock is more interested in the black comedy. The characters and situation are heightened and not intended to be taken too seriously. But because of this, it does fall a little flat at times. The script is often structured like a stage farce, complete with characters arriving and leaving at key moments, people hiding behind trees, and a dead body having to be buried and dug up multiple times. However, it’s played and directed too slowly to really take flight. So while amusing, it’s rarely gripping.
At least it looks good. Vermont’s autumnal colours and wide-open spaces are really well served by the Technicolor and VistaVision format. (As well as shooting on location, a woodland clearing was created in a Hollywood studio, with hundreds of New England leaves shipped in.) But you yearn for a bit more oomph behind the dialogue. Sam Marlow drives the story despite being one of the few villagers who has nothing to do with the victim, yet John Forsythe is a bit underwhelming. Jack Lemon or James Stewart, say, would have *commanded* this movie and Sam would have sparkled in every scene. As it is, the film trundles along entertainingly if not that spectacularly.
Seven men walking past a limousine out of 10