In the unusual opening credits for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry (1955), the camera tracks from left to right over primitive, cartoon-like drawings depicting an autumn pastoral:  birds and trees of ill-proportioned shapes and sizes, rendered primarily in hues of reds, oranges and blues, a New England house with a porch and rocking chair, a shining sun, more birds, now looking to the right of the frame, before concluding with the incongruous image of a horizontal corpse, face up with blank expression, eyes closed, in pointy, oversized shoes.  This is set to Bernard Herrmann’s idiosyncratic score, by turns playful, whimsical and sinister.  For the credits, Hitchcock hired renowned New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg, whose affectedly childlike (i.e. faux naif) perspective and dry humour in these (uncredited) drawings, a la Hitchcock’s favourite painter Paul Klee (1879-1940) who aligned his work with romanticism, (1) immediately establish the film’s off-key, childlike point of view.  As Ed Sikov argues: “Steinberg’s cartoon vision of nature in the credits sequence is both juvenile and grotesque, as if drawn by a disturbed child.  It exudes an element of corruption that distorts what might otherwise be a kindergartener’s view of a landscape.” (2) This segues into the film proper, where an actual, flesh-and-blood child wanders through the almost dream-like New England countryside during the fall: gun-toting, intrepid preschooler Arnie Rogers (played by Jerry Mathers, later of TV sitcom’s Leave it to Beaver).  Through this careful use of juxtaposition, he embodies the primitive spirit, childlike perspective and dynamic implicit in these faux-naif credits.  This, in turn, reflects the “romantic interest in art processes as in the growing-up processes,” (3) which is very Coleridgean in its equation of the child’s way of seeing with the mind of the artist.  While Arnie is neither disturbed nor corrupt, his ambiguous innocence, especially in the face of violence and death, suggests important correctives to a vision of the child and nature that might otherwise be termed romantic and, more specifically, Wordsworthian.  He might not occupy a great deal of screen time, but each scene he appears in is both memorable and significant.  Indeed, the fact that Hitchcock bookends his offbeat, dark comedy with Arnie, who has the dubious honour of both finding and re-finding Harry’s unwelcome body, further attests to the centrality of the child and childlike to Hitchcock’s overall vision.

Trouble With harry3

The question of Hitchcock’s romantically-informed vision has been raised by a number of critics.  For example, feminist critic Camille Paglia places The Birds (1963) “in the main line of British Romanticism descending from the raw nature-tableaux and sinister femme fatales of Coleridge” (4); she half-jokingly reads the crows in the bird attack on the Bodega Bay-school children as “Coleridgean emissaries vandalising sentimental Wordsworthian notions of childhood.” (5) Similarly, John P. McCombe seeks to connect The Birds to a “series of philosophical, aesthetic, and religious ideas expressed in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ (1798),” while juxtaposing the film “more generally with the early works of both Coleridge and William Wordsworth.” (6) By contrast, Lesley Brill analyses Hitchcock’s handling of romance based on Northrope Frye’s conception of narrative structure, how he mixes romance with realism, romance with irony.   In the process he shows how Hitchcock was sometimes romantic, sometimes ironic, and sometimes both.  As for Harry, Brill argues that it “sets forth with unequalled bluntness and economy the romantic vision of innocence and immortality that informs the greater part of Hitchcock’s work.” (7) More recently, Richard Allen, building on the ideas of Brill and others, illuminates Hitchcock through the lens of romantic irony as set out in the writings of German philosopher, critic and poet Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829).  Incorporating understandings from noted critics such as Anne K. Mellor and Clyde de L. Ryals, Allen highlights romantic irony as a composite concept in Hitchcock’s work that generates unresolved possibilities, concurrent perspectives and divergent interpretations, where the romantic is ironic and the ironic is romantic.

Romantic irony at once accounts for the divergent interpretations of the role of the romantic ideal in Hitchcock’s work but also provides an explanation of the relationship between form and content that defines Hitchcock’s emplotment and subversion of that ideal.  The concept of romantic irony describes the both/and rather than the either/or logic that governs the universe of Hitchcock’s films, and it explains how it is that critics could construe Hitchcock’s work both as an affirmation of the ideal of heterosexual romance and as a critique of that ideal. (8)

He partly aligns this ideal with the romantic attitude of Byron, Shelley and Keats. (9) But while conceding Hitchcock’s connections with English romanticism, Allen argues that the director inherited his romantic-ironic idiom not from early but late romanticism, from the “cultural influences of the fin de siécle,” (10) notably, Oscar Wilde, R.L Stevenson and Freud.  Therefore, in approaching Harry as a narrative of romantic renewal, which illustrates the “benign, redemptive dimensions of nature,” (11) Allen chooses not to explicitly connect this with a Wordsworthian vision.  In so doing, he overlooks how the construction of the child and childhood shapes the film’s development of character, setting, theme, plot and point of view.

In pursuing these connections with romanticism in Harry, a film largely neglected in the Hitchcock canon, I agree with Allen that romantic irony offers a useful conceptual framework for addressing Hitchcock’s oeuvre.  Where I differ with Allen is in my assertion that Hitchcock derives his romantic-ironic idiom here crucially from William Wordsworth.  As Judith Plotz points out, Wordsworth’s image of the innocent child “trailing clouds of glory,” the child of nature, remains a benchmark for romantic constructions of childhood.  However, Plotz shows how this romantic ideal has overshadowed the Wordsworthian child “of clouds rather than glories,” who is a “much darker and more complicated entity than has been usually acknowledged.” (12) This more nuanced interpretation opens up a space for reading Wordsworth as a romantic ironist.  In Mellor’s most lucid description,

the authentic romantic ironist [as opposed to modern deconstructors such as Paul de Man] is as filled with enthusiasm as with scepticism.   He is as much a romantic as an ironist.  Having ironically acknowledged the fictiveness of his own patternings of human experience, he romantically engages in the creative process of life by eagerly constructing new forms, new myths.  And these new fictions and self-concepts bear with them the seeds of their own destruction.  They too die to give way to new patterns, in a never-ending process that becomes an analogue for life itself.  The resultant artistic mode that alone can properly be called romantic irony must therefore be a form of structure that simultaneously creates and de-creates itself. (13)

Whereas Mellor sees fit to include Byron, Keats, Coleridge but not Wordsworth in her study of romantic irony, Susan J. Wolfson, building on the irony and scepticism of these critical inquiries into romanticism, identifies significant moments of self-doubt in Wordsworth’s poetry.  But instead of romantic irony, she frames this in terms of the interrogative forms of romantic poetry, or its “questioning presence,” whereby Wordsworth’s autobiographical masterwork The Prelude, for example, contains multiple “voices didactic and doubting, confident and hesitant, prophetic and haunted.” (14) In my analysis of Harry, I wish to further develop the case that Hitchcock is as much a romantic as an ironist, who simultaneously creates and de-creates myths about childhood, by participating in this creative act of self-questioning.

In reading young Arnie through the romantic-ironic lens of Coleridge, Wordsworth and others, I will show how Hitchcock re-imagines, reinvents and recreates the myth of the romantic child while at the same time ironising, challenging and subverting some of its core assumptions.  Pivotal here is the interplay between childhood, nature and highly ambiguous, unstable notions of innocence.  Also, I will show how Hitchcock fuses his English romantic and continental European influences with American cultural narratives, literary traditions and child-rearing discourses, particularly nostalgia for nineteenth-century boyhood in the writings of Mark Twain. (15) Making the most of his backdrop, Hitchcock fuses the European with the American pastoral tradition to express different nuances of Wordsworthian, Rousseauian, Thoreauvian and Twainian attitudes, reconfiguring these attitudes in a way that is uniquely Hitchcockian.  Of further relevance is how critic Donald Spoto detects an “almost palpable undercurrent of a dark and grotesque Puritanism in this picture,” (16) though he is unable to decide whether the candour and nonchalance accorded to themes of sex and death are a condemnation and/or affirmation of Puritanism.  Taken together, this suggests that Hitchcock was renegotiating romanticism within the context of Puritanism, which may be further aligned with Hitchcock’s Catholicism, in so far as Puritanism and Catholicism, as I have argued elsewhere, can be said to “form part of a common discourse.” (17) And as Spoto acutely observes here: “One of the oddly intriguing aspects of this picture is that it is a kind of double-edged sword which elaborates two viewpoints simultaneously.” (18) As I hope to show, this double vision extends to Hitchcock’s highly nuanced construction of the all-American boy child, who emerges as the site of tensions between romantic and Puritan ideologies of childhood.

As both a cinematic and literary director, Hitchcock’s romantic influences included William Blake and Charles Dickens, and we can safely assume that he knew his Wordsworth too. (19) This literary awareness is evidenced from the opening of Frenzy (1972) on the Thames embankment, where Sir George (John Boxer), the Minister for Health, delivers his speech to a crowd of onlookers, journalists and dignitaries on the government’s clean-up of the river and quotes the famous line from Wordsworth’s “French Revolution as it Appeared to Enthusiasts at its Commencement” (incorporated into Book XI of The Prelude): “‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.” (20) It doesn’t seem to bother the Minister that when Wordsworth composed this line he was deeply disenchanted with the events of the Revolution, whereupon he was forced to modify his earlier views of life’s bliss which he connected with the “innocence” of childhood.  “Brook lime and flag iris, plantain and marsh marigolds rioted on the banks and kingfishers swooped and darted about, their shadows racing over the brown trout,” Sir George reminiscences, with mock-Wordsworthian effusiveness, which could have come straight from The Prelude.  But his speech is interrupted when the crowd spots the naked body of a woman floating face down in the Thames, strangled by a necktie (“I say, that’s not my club tie?” asks Sir George), which, in contrast to the essentially “unfallen” world of Harry, leaves little or no doubt that Wordsworthian sentiments have no place in the still-befouled world of present-day London.  While it is easy to credit these literary flourishes to the pen of Anthony Shaffer, Frenzy was – like nearly all of Hitchcock’s films – conceived by the director in close collaboration with his screenwriter, handpicked by him after the success of his play, Sleuth.  And as Foery corroborates in his account of the making of the film, the “fact is that the real scenario writer on a Hitchcock project was the master himself, even though he virtually never took actual screen credit.” (21)

The Trouble with Harry

Staying unusually faithful to Jack Trevor Story’s 1949 novel of the same name, Hitchcock worked closely with John Michael Hayes (the third of four collaborations with the director) in transposing Harry’s quaint setting and characters from Sparrowswick Heath, England, to Highwater, Vermont, New England.  Here, the screenwriter drew on his own New England upbringing for local colour and detail, recontextualising the themes of nature, sex, death and regeneration.  Through the character of Sam Marlow (John Forsythe, in the film), this included some Calvinist musings (taken almost verbatim from Story) about predestination.  But Hayes and Hitchcock also added the character of Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs (Royal Dano) to give “voice to the puritanism that is only hinted at in the novel.” (22) He hearkens back not only to Protestant reformer John Calvin but dour New Englander Calvin Coolidge, who was President of the United States when Hayes was a boy. (23) As well, they changed Story’s summer backdrop to autumn, whose colour and beauty is a principal source of counterpoint for the apparent corpus delicti.  This change further works on the symbolism of autumn which, as Hitchcock notes, is “‘the time when leaves fall and things die,’” (24) thereby giving romantic resonance to motifs of death and regeneration, primitive innocence, man’s relationship with nature and the Fall.  Whereas Brill construes this vision of autumn in ironic, that is, unfallen, terms where “the knowledge of sin and of death is excluded,” (25) Ken Mogg problematises this pastoral reading, since it offers a “vision of a still-flawed paradise and one on which winter will soon encroach.” (26) Whatever the case may be, the opening establishing shots encapsulate these Puritan and romantic themes, beginning with the stately, pristine-white image of a Congregational Church near a bandstand, which dissolves into the Technicolor splendour of the autumn countryside, with the church visible in the distance. (27) As if to subtly lend significance to these postcard-worthy images, a single church bell is ringing.  After that, a moving figure, first appearing in extreme long shot against the landscape, implies little or no differentiation between the human subject and this reverential view of nature (or Nature with a capital “N”).  Through seamless dissolves and cuts, Hitchcock’s camera moves closer and closer to the figure who turns out to be a small child.

In projecting the English pastoral ideal onto the beauty and splendour of the American landscape, Arnie emerges from the woods as if from some idyllic, prelapsarian realm, recalling Wordsworth’s child of nature, particularly its early incarnation in “Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” where nature keeps the poet in touch with his childhood memories:

like a roe
I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led […]
For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
And their glad animal movements all gone by,)
To me was all in all. (28)

The effect of these childhood memories connected with nature produces in the poet “elevated thoughts; a sense sublime.” (29) “Therefore am I still,” he proclaims, “A lover of the meadows and the woods,/And mountains.” (30) One finds such sentiments tirelessly repeated in Wordsworth’s writings on childhood in, most notably, of course, The Prelude.  The child might be of a different age, the season other than autumn, but Wordsworth’s and Hitchcock’s effects are essentially one and the same.  As a lover of meadows, woods and mountains, Arnie evokes the wild, solitary, roving child one closely associates with the English pastoral romantics and especially Wordsworth.  As Plotz discusses: “Wordsworth habitually focuses on solitary children assimilated to a landscape – Lucy, the Idiot Boy, Ruth, the Highland Boy, the Norman Boy, the Boy of Winander, the Danish Boy – all in their elemental beings who in their singleness can mediate between the unitary landscape and the unitary human mind.” (31) Such a romantic conception marks the child out as “a figure of nature rather than culture.” (32) And as befits a child his age, Arnie is somewhat awkward, uncoordinated, in his “animal movements,” though, at the same time, he displays an awareness of woodcraft or hunting-and-pursuit modes.   Rather than stopping to imbibe nature, Arnie happily goes about his business, a model of childhood self-sufficiency. In this almost wordless opening sequence, where Arnie is without speech, he is suggestive of a primitive, pre-social, pre-linguistic childhood.

The Trouble with Harry

Michael Walker suggests that the “opening sequence of Arnie playing in the woods sets the tone: the film overall is ludic”, whereby a “child’s ‘world of innocence’ is here distributed across the narrative.” (33) In terms of the nexus between the child, nature and play, Arnie reminds one of the imaginative child of Wordsworth’s friend and rival, Coleridge, whose “young adventurer in life”

enters upon his course with such a mind, [where] everything seems made for delusion.  He comes with a spirit whose dearest feelings and highest thoughts have sprung from under the influences of Nature.  He transfers to the realities of life the high wild fantasies of visionary boyhood: he brings with him into the world the passions of solitary and untamed imagination, and hopes which he has learned from dreams. (34)

Yet our introduction to Arnie already suggests some ironic qualifications to this Wordsworthian and Coleridgean conception, whereby the child’s “innocent” world of imagination and play is linked to the potential for violence and the tangibility of death.  Our first clear image of the little boy, strategically shot at low level through a pair of tree trunks as he moves towards the camera, has him wearing khaki shorts, a striped t-shirt, blue socks and sneakers, packing a toy six-gun in his holster and carrying a “disintegrator ray gun, with the atomic booster and radioactive catalytic supercharger” (as it is identified in Hayes’ script).  He is thus presented as the all-American 1950s boy child, obsessed with space and westerns, which turns the child more into a figure of popular culture than nature.  As Gary Cross chronicles, science fiction films and comics inspired a range of futuristic space toys during the early 1950s, which included Strato-Guns, space helmets, robots and space ships. (35) This futuristic obsession ran curiously alongside “the western fad, a romantic extension of heroism into the past,” (36) which included the sale of miniature frontier towns, ranches and forts, plastic solders and Indians, play suits, games, toy guns and holsters. Cross links this fad to the radio and movie cowboys of the late 1940s and early 1950s and the rise of prime-time westerns later in that decade. (37) “Only in the mid-1950s did many toys celebrate World War II combat, and then as a historical event commemorated along with other past heroics.” (38) Thus, when Arnie hears the three shots ring out from afar, “he throws himself on the ground like a trained soldier, never releasing his gun from firing position.  We assume the little boy has gotten his combat training from TV, and his automatic physical response, like the gunshots, intensifies one’s sense of lyricism gone awry.” (39) Whatever the nature of this influence, Arnie is a gung ho child, ready for action and adventure.  Almost immediately he gathers himself, rises to his feet, at which point he hears a raised voice from within the woods indicating a struggle.  As he ventures into the clearing, his head movements suggest that he is looking for something and he is duly rewarded for his efforts: the body of Harry Worp, around whom the plot revolves.  Hitchcock deploys a forward tracking shot to align viewers with the child’s point of view, followed by the film’s iconic shot of Harry: feet pointed up to the sky, the child looking down on Harry.  In this romantic linking of the living child with the dead man, Allen suggests that “the little boy, the promise of the future, is perceived to sprout from the head of the corpse,” (40) fitting in with larger themes of rebirth and redemption.  Thus, from death springs life, embodied in the child of nature.  Yet in his ambiguous innocence, Arnie is unperturbed by his exciting new discovery, out of the usual range of his childhood experience; he pauses for a moment, then scurries away to tell his mother.  One may sense here that the child’s world of play has just blurred imperceptibly into some darker reality.

In terms of a darker reality impinging on the otherwise idyllic landscape, this accords with the world experienced by the intrepid nature child of “Tintern Abbey.”  Wordsworth’s descriptions here of “the tall rock/The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,”  (41) underline the dark and looming aspects of the landscape, whose “colours and their forms” otherwise produce in the child an “appetite: a feeling and a love/That had no need of a remoter charm.” (42) For Geoffrey Durrant, this suggests “a glad acceptance of disorder, violence, and even fear.” (43) Such exhilarating, boyish moments of “danger and desire” (44) are also recorded in The Prelude and the “Home at Grasmere” fragment, where the poet recalls himself as a “roving School-boy,” at the “Adventurer’s age,” (45) inhabiting a “blissful Eden” (46) at his beloved childhood home.  Contrasting with warm woods, sunny hills and green fields are

Deep pools, tall trees, black chasms, and dizzy crags,
And tottering towers; I loved to stand and read
Their looks forbidding, read and disobey,
Sometimes in act, and evermore in thought.
With impulses that scarcely were by these
Surpassed in strength, I heard of danger, met
Or sought with courage; enterprise forlorn
By one, sole keeper of his own intent
Or by a resolute few who for the sake
Of glory, fronted multitudes in arms. (47)

While one might be hard-pressed here to find visual correlatives for some of the more dark and forbidding Wordsworthian imagery, Steinberg’s drawings in the aforementioned credits sequence help set the vaguely threatening tone apropos the landscape, as does Herrmann’s score which often provides a dark counterpoint to the warm, autumnal imagery. But more importantly, this conception of the child comes close to being militant and is clearly the antecedent to the adventurous, gung ho, soldierlike Arnie, more than a century after Wordsworth.

The Trouble with Harry

Throughout the film, Arnie remains something of a cipher; he is the unknowable romantic child one associates with Wordsworth; the embodiment of an “autonomous, unitary [and remote] consciousness.” (48) In Hayes’ shooting script, he is described thus:  “Age four, an energetic, forthright little male explorer in life.  He has an active face, and an alert mind capable of remembering what he sees, but with only a primary talent for evaluation.” (49) Like so many of the straight-faced characters throughout the film, Arnie’s “active” facial expressions in the opening sequence, from which we are meant to infer hidden feelings, thoughts, perceptions or sense impressions, are extremely nuanced, if oblique, and hence difficult to read.  He alternately registers eagerness, interest, curiosity, wonderment, bewilderment, apprehension, concentration, fear, distress and alarm.  Yet he is not overwhelmed by fear; as I suggest above, he is ready and willing to face danger, even if he cannot fully apprehend its nature. When he hears the raised voice, “Okay, I know how to handle your type,” one can see his face processing the meaning of this (which, indeed, is what the audience is doing, whereby the adult perspective becomes mediated through the child).

In filling some of these gaps in Arnie’s hidden psychology, it is instructive to compare how Arnie is introduced in Story’s novel, where he is named “Abie.”

The small boy named Abie climbed the woodland path that led to Sparrowswick Heath.  His body lay at an acute angle with the steep and stony way, a toy gun was clutched firmly beneath his left arm.  You could tell, by the expression on his face, that he knew where he was going and why.  You could tell that he knew this path and where it led; that it held no terrors for him, even though the trees crowded thick and leafy on all sides, further than he could see or the sun could penetrate.  You could tell that this was his hunting-ground; he did the scaring around here; it was not the things in the dark woods that Abie feared, but the things that feared Abie.  Abie was four; there was a strong, square look about his body, clad in long dungarees; he had a desperate set to his russet face, and the watered parting of his hair, running, as it did, half on the right-hand side of his head then cutting across and finishing up on the left-hand side, betrayed an adventurous spirit. Also Abie had the gun. (50)

In this passage, Abie is a boy on a mission.   He is sure of himself:  “he knew where he was going and why,” which suggests a further corrective to the more aimless movements of the Wordsworthian nature child.  He is also at home with his surroundings, which “held no terrors for him” – a boy who is marking his territory, armed and dangerous.   Most interestingly, he is set up as a sort of hunter/predator, which aligns him with Captain Wiles.  But we are also offered a glimpse into the child’s singular instincts for self-preservation when the sound of the Captain’s gunfire becomes too close for comfort: “He reached a decision. He decided to retreat and leave the game to the new captain.  Abie had all the time in the world for shooting, being still less than school age, whereas the new captain often had to go to town and an afternoon like this might well be precious to him.” (51) Story also conveys something of the half-comprehending, associative nature of the boy’s consciousness, implied on some level in Hitchcock’s film, where the gunshots appear to be coming from one direction and the struggle from another, “yet the two things were tied together by the afternoon and the pounding of the little boy’s heart.” (52)

The Trouble with Harry

The doubling between Arnie, as little hunter in the making, and Captain Wiles is merely implied in the film, connected to a valorisation of the primitive and both Rousseauian and Thoreauvian in its implications.  As the Captain (Edmund Gwenn) attends to his hunting-rifle, “Old Faithful”, he soliloquizes:  “Fewer things in life give a man more pleasure than hunting.  It satisfies his primitive nature, striding through the woods picking up the kill.”  For his part, Arnie will end up doing exactly that:  picking up the Captain’s kill – a rabbit –and bringing it home to show his mother.   Later, he will return the rabbit to its “rightful” owner.  As closer to his primitive nature, the Captain resorts to poaching in order to live out his Davy Crockett fantasy, by haphazardly shooting anything that moves, much to the frustration of Calvin Wiggs who tells Sam: “Bullets and guns are dangerous.  They kill things.” Arnie, too, in effect disregards this injunction and, helped by a lively imagination, lives out his hunter fantasy.  Here, in the nexus between primitive boy/man and nature, Harry evokes Henry David Thoreau in Walden, his account of life deep in the woods of (very aptly) New England, when he admits that he likes sometimes to “take rank hold on life and spend my day more as the animals do.  Perhaps I have owed to this employment and to hunting, when quite young, my closest acquaintance with Nature.” (53) But for Thoreau the naturalist and animal rights advocate:

We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun; he is no more humane, while his education has been sadly neglected. This was my answer with respect to those youths who were bent on this pursuit, trusting that they would soon outgrow it. No humane being, past the thoughtless age of boyhood, will wantonly murder any creature which holds its life by the same tenure that he does.  The hare in its extremity cries like a child. (54)

It is clear that neither the Captain nor Arnie ponder at length on the suffering inflicted on the poor rabbit.  Both boy and man have yet to outgrow their savage, “boyish” instincts.

Yet the Captain’s and the child’s return to nature here equally recalls the sentiments of Jean-Jacques Rousseau who, in “A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality,” makes an appeal to resume “your ancient and primitive innocence” uncorrupted by culture and civilisation: “retire to the woods, there to lose sight and remembrances of the crimes of your contemporaries; and be not apprehensive of degrading your species, by renouncing its advances in order to renounce vices.” (55) Rousseau castigates his own “[unnatural] passions [which] have destroyed their original simplicity, who can no longer subsist on plants or acorns, or live without laws and magistrates.” (56) Similarly, the Captain, in retiring to the woods and reverting back to his primitive state, acts is if he is above these laws.  For Rousseau, an important influence on the Romantic Movement and Wordsworth, the child was innocent until corrupted by civilisation and culture.  And as philosopher George Boas construes it, the “cult of childhood” is bound up with notions of innocence and a more general belief in primitivism.   But without these negative connotations of depravity, Boas explains, Rousseau’s child of nature is “closer to the animal and should be allowed to live as his animal nature demands.  He is equipped with the means of self-preservation and the rest lies dormant within him to mature at a later date.” (57) Thus the model pupil of his 1762 treatise on education, Émile, whose nature has been formed by the world of nature, spends most of his time playing outside, living like an animal, which sounds a lot like our Arnie.  But coupled with the above-mentioned allusions to Thoreau, Hitchcock negotiates tensions between these two states of the primitive, one of which is more savage and cruel and the other wholly “innocent.”

The Trouble with Harry

From a romantic-ironic standpoint, Arnie’s animal representation is pitched somewhere between the wild/savage and wild/innocent (i.e. “noble savage”), which yields two concurrent perspectives on the essential nature of the child. (58) As Scutter explains, “There’s a conflation of puritan and romantic ideologies at work: on the one hand, children are seen to be wild animals in need of taming, domestication and confinement and, on the other, children are seen to belong, with animals, to a gentle and uncorrupted natural world.” (59) One finds both children in the writings of Wordsworth, as in the “coarser pleasures of my boyish days” and the child’s “animal movements” in “Tintern Abbey” or, as in “House at Grasmere,” where

While yet an innocent Little-one, with a heart
That doubtless wanted not its tender moods,
I breathed (for this better that I recollect)
Among wild appetites and blind desires,
Motions of savage instinct my delight
And exaltation. (60)

While children and animals are linked in Wordsworth, as per romantic ideology, this doesn’t necessarily mean being kind to animals. On the contrary, the child from The Prelude happily traps woodcocks and plunders birds’ nests.  “In thought and wish,” Wordsworth admits “[…] I was a fell destroyer.” (61) And when he recounts how he stole a bird from the trap of another boy, who then pursues him to reclaim what is rightfully his, this is not unlike Arnie “stealing” the Captain’s rabbit (notwithstanding the incontrovertible childhood law of finders keepers).

[…]  Sometimes it befell
In these night wanderings, that a strong desire
O’erpowered my better reason, and the bird
Which was the captive of another’s toils
Became my prey; and when the deed was done
I heard among the solitary hills
Low breathings coming after me, and sounds
Of undistinguishable motion, steps
Almost as silent as the turf they trod. (62)

That Arnie is governed by these Wordsworthian wild appetites and savage instincts may be further gathered from his attitudes and behaviour with respect to animals.  When Sam asks about the rabbit he is holding, his reply is very nonchalant: “Dead” (a joke which Hitchcock and Hayes can’t resist repeating in the film, when Arnie interrupts spinster Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick) and the Captain having afternoon tea on her front porch).  In so far as the child’s attitude subverts highly romantic associations between children and animals, Arnie transmits only faux sympathy as he laments the death of the rabbit, whose body he rather vigorously pats despite its rigor mortis state.  “Fooouuur rabbit’s feet and he got killed.  He should’ve carried a four-leaf clover, too,” he tells Sam, who adds, helpfully, “And a horseshoe.”  Still, the way he carries the rabbit around with him shows something like affection for a pet, not just pride over a hunting trophy.  The dead rabbit, which Arnie has earlier exchanged for Sam’s live frog, is somewhat perversely linked to life, though this suggests the lagomorph’s infamous reputation for fecundity (i.e., “breeding like rabbits”).   At least this seems to be how Arnie intuits it, who, rather than dwelling on death, immediately asks “how do rabbits get to be born,” a question which Sam manages nicely to evade (“Same way elephants do”).  For Arnie, then, life and death are ultimately One.  It would seem that Arnie has made the connection between the inert Harry in the clearing and the inert rabbit, even if he is not the type of child to cry over the death of Bambi’s mother!  But while Abie in the novel evinces a somewhat sadistic attitude to animals, at one point throwing a saucepan-lid at the Captain’s tabby who recognized this object “as one which had been tied to its tail for the greater part of yesterday,” (63) in the film Hitchcock and Hayes only hint at this streak of sadism in the boy.  Although unquestionably Calvinist/Puritan in its implications, this sadism could suggest Thoreau’s point that a little cruelty “in the thoughtless age of boyhood” will help him outgrow it later and become a better, more humane adult. (64)

As much as the deadpan nature of the child’s responses to death is in line with Hitchcock’s brand of English gallows and black humour, Arnie’s otherwise unperturbed attitude to death strikes a Wordsworthian note.  In “We are Seven,” the speaker of the poem asks of:

A simple Child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death? (65)

Later, the speaker of the poem seeks to know why the little cottage girl insists on counting her dead siblings as if they were still alive, her answers revealing an apparent inability to grasp basic distinctions between life and death.  Or as Wordsworth sums up his purpose in his preface to the Lyrical Ballads, the stanzas of “We Are Seven” show “the perplexity and obscurity which in childhood attend our notion of death, or rather our utter inability to admit to that notion.” (66) In delving into Wordsworth’s thought process, Geoffrey Hartman posits that the little cottage girl does not know of death because she still “dwells in the realm of imagination” and that “the imagination does not know of death.” (67) More precisely, it is “the spell of nature that still weaves a charm against her own, too powerful imagination […] This charm invests the world with the promise of wholly satisfying the mind, or, what is the same, bestows on nature an illusion of deathlessness.” (68) Yet, given the fact that she’s able to recount the death of her siblings in chronological order (first Jane, then John), while at the same time insisting that “we are seven,” suggests that the child both knows and does not know of death, which perfectly accords with Wordsworth’s romantic-ironic vision and also Hitchcock’s.

As personified by the eponymous Harry, death itself turns out to be essentially a “nothing” for both Arnie and the adult characters who share this more or less unperturbed vision.   Death holds almost no gravitas for them (as the title makes clear, Harry is more trouble – nuisance – than a cause for grief, sorrow). (69) Granted, the Captain manages his remark about “hasty reverence” in burying Harry, but when Sam asks his nautical friend whether he would he like to say a few words on Harry’s behalf, he receives the rejoinder, “Yes, I would – Harry Worp, don’t ever show your face around here again,” which quickly dispels any air of reverence to these proceedings.  But it is Arnie, more than the Captain or perhaps even Sam whose paintings include abstract landscapes, who dwells most clearly in the realm of imagination and nature; and, despite the constant reminder of the dead man (“Hey, what’s he doing in the bathtub?” Arnie asks, in his inimitable, unflappable fashion), and an equally dead rabbit, both knows and does not know of death.  He might be the first and last to find Harry’s body, but he remains curiously untouched by mortality.  To be more precise, his is no passage from innocence to experience; rather, his “innocence” never comes to harm.

The Trouble with Harry

When Arnie does receive intimations of mortality, it is attended by Wordsworthian perplexity and/or obscurity, which comes out most clearly in the early scene where Arnie shows his mother Jennifer (Shirley Maclaine) the whereabouts of Harry’s corpse, and they share a rather curious conversation about Harry, Providence, death and lemonade.  Jennifer thanks Providence for “the last of Harry” and Arnie, quite understandably, responds with ignorance:  “Who’s Providence, Mommy?”  Jennifer, happily reinforcing her son’s misapprehension, tells him that Providence is “A very good friend” (read: God).  (As a cornerstone of Calvinist theology, the reference to divine intervention ties in later with Sam’s Calvinist-sounding musings on predestination).  Then Jennifer is shocked to learn that Arnie cannot recognise Harry (“Can’t you remember, Arnie?”), which is perfectly understandable given that Harry is actually Arnie’s uncle as well as stepfather.  Ergo, he has seen him before.  The conversation turns on Harry’s dead state and the nature of death, which Jennifer euphemistically explains to her son as a form of “deep sleep, a deep, wonderful sleep.”  One could easily imagine parents explaining death this way to their children, in order to safeguard their innocence.   And that Arnie innocently asks his mother why Harry doesn’t get up and do something and whether the wound on his forehead will “get better” seemingly reveals his inability to grasp basic distinctions between life and death; like the little cottage girl in “We Are Seven” he speaks of the dead Harry as if he were still alive (perhaps a foretaste of his attitude towards the “living dead” rabbit).  Of course there is also the possibility that Arnie senses more here than he is able to put into words.  Jennifer promises to make him lemonade when they get home, which is all very well, until Arnie asks, apparently from nowhere:  “Will lemonade put me in a wonderful deep, deep, sleep, Mommy?” Jennifer’s reply is rather outrageous:  “No, but it’s better than no lemonade.”  (Perhaps she has this thought in mind when she later tells new beau Sam that Arnie is so tired that “he will sleep all day and half the night”).  While the meaning of Jennifer’s remark is somewhat puzzling, for both Arnie and for viewers, in terms of the nexus between the child and death this apparently throwaway dialogue strikes both a romantic and (especially given the aforementioned reference to Providence) Calvinist/Puritan note.  For, historically, these opposing ideologies of childhood were both peculiarly bent on sending the child to an early grave, though their rationale for doing this was very different. (70)  When Jennifer calls on Arnie to “just forget you ever saw this man” Arnie asks, “Is there a special way to forget?”  Jennifer’s advice is absurdly simple: “Just think of something else.”  While I shall return to this point, we have already seen how the mother doesn’t need to instruct her son in the ways of forgetting; on the contrary, this effortless forgetting is highly suggestive of an “enviable mnemonic vacancy” (71) in the child, as Linda M. Austin puts it, identifying such forgetting with Wordsworth.  Such mnemonic vacancy in the child will provide an important resolution for the plot.

The Trouble with Harry

Thus far, I have been primarily interested in Hitchcock’s indebtedness to the English pastoral and romantic tradition through his romantic-ironic treatment of the Wordsworthian child, without properly considering the American influence on Hitchcock and Harry.  Hitchcock moved to Hollywood in 1939 after signing a contract with David O. Selznick and became a US citizen in 1956.   His American period is usually regarded as the high water mark of his career, which has overshadowed his British period.  Despite his early attraction to American culture, and his major reputation as a Hollywood director, Freedman and Millington write that Hitchcock “never lost his sense of thorough alienation from the country and culture in which he found himself, manifested in small ways and large.” (72) But in reconsidering how “Hitchcock’s evidently distanced relationship with his adopted country has been portrayed as a deficit,” Kent Jones theorises that “he maintained that distance, perhaps superstitiously, in order to keep the country and its folkways from becoming ordinary to him.” (73) Recast in romantic terms, this suggests that he was deliberately cultivating a “naive” outlook apropos American culture and its influence on his cinematic art, which is the very essence of defamiliarisation (in the Shklovskyian sense of “making strange”) and closely adheres to Coleridge’s prescriptions for the artist, who needs to “carry on the feelings of childhood into the powers of manhood; to combine the child’s sense of wonder and novelty with the appearances which every day, for, perhaps, forty years, had rendered familiar […] this is the character and privilege of genius, and one of the marks which distinguish genius from talents.” (74) And in Harry, one of the marks of Hitchcock’s genius is how he works with familiar material and voices made available to him through his British and American cultural milieu, retaining the more universal aspects of the source novel, while translating that material into unfamiliar forms, in order that his audience may also see things in novel and strange ways.  Nowhere is this better seen than in his reimagining of Mark Twain.

When Hitchcock decided to transpose the setting of Story’s novel from England to New England, he knew very well that it would confer a different set of cultural meanings, resonances and allusions, which he mined for his own purposes.  Thus the aforementioned allusions to Thoreau were no accident; nor were the nods to Twain, which were perhaps bound to emerge as part of this transposition.  But, given the novel’s prior connections with English romanticism, we may surmise that both Hitchcock and Hayes essentially treated the English and American pastoral as part of the same tradition, though, as per their romantic-ironic idiom, they were able to grasp parallels and contrasts, continuities and discontinuities.  Or as Greg Garrard summarises:  “Although British Romantic models dominated early Anglo-American literature, pastoral has a very different place in American literature, criticism and culture.  Both contrasts and parallels are instructive:  where British ecocriticism [the interdisciplinary study of the intersections between literature and environment] focused on Wordsworth in its early explorations, American ecocriticism identified Henry David Thoreau as a key figure.” (75) Further instructive is how Leo Marx, in The Machine in the Garden, starts out by situating these contrasts between Old and New World ways of seeing, noting that the “pastoral ideal has been used to define the meaning of America ever since the age of discovery, and it has not yet lost its hold upon the native imagination.” (76) In the European mind, the American landscape was still fresh, green and unspoiled, capable of fulfilling “what had been thought a poetic fantasy,” (77) which may also explain its appeal to Hitchcock.  For Marx, Thoreau (whom he characterises as a “transcendental pastoralist,” inclined to reverie) was a major influence on the American pastoral ideal, as was Twain. “No book,” he writes, “confirms the relevance of the pastoral design to American experience as vividly as the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).  Here, for the first time, the [pastoral] mode is wholly assimilated into a native idiom.” (78) Marx traces Twain’s artistic impulse in Huckleberry Finn to a “deliberate effort to reclaim the past,” (79) awash with nostalgia, which began with his 1875 essay, “Old Times on the Mississippi” (printed in the Atlantic Monthly) and also saw the writing of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)And this nostalgia likewise infuses Harry.  In particular, Arnie’s representation is informed by the free, adventurous and subversive spirit of a Twainian “rough-and-tumble” boyhood, connected with nature.

But, while Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn have been seen as representative of the American realist version of the pastoral, a line of continuity may also be traced between Twain and the English pastoral romantics, which is also a continuity expressed in Arnie’s English-cum-American representation.  As Peter Coveney argues, Tom Sawyer is “Mark Twain’s hymn to the ‘child of nature,’ born for ‘Blake’s joy,’” which pursues familiar tensions between “natural enjoyment” and “religious inhibition” (80); while Stanley Brodwin reads Tom Sawyer as an “Edenic, hymnal fairy tale,” which offers another version of “the natural in the world of youth clinging to and playing out its instincts and need for adventure in a society sometimes angrily, sometimes lovingly, but always insistently asserting its [Presbyterian] authority over that play.” (81) After Tom and his gang flee to Jackson’s Island to become pirates, Tom wakes up early and revels in the sights and sounds of nature.  In Twain’s American rewriting of the romantic child, the following passage could be riffing on The Prelude.

It was the cool gray dawn, and there was a delicious sense of repose and peace in the deep pervading calm and silence of the woods.  Not a leaf stirred; not a sound obtruded upon great Nature’s meditation […] Now, far away in the woods a bird called; another answered; presently the hammering of a woodpecker was heard.  Gradually the cool dim gray of the morning whitened, and as gradually sounds multiplied and life manifested itself.  The marvel of Nature shaking off sleep and going to work unfolded itself to the musing boy. (82)

It’s a moot point whether nature unfolds itself to a musing Arnie, but he is on his own island adventure in the film’s pastoral opening, which accords with the romantic notion that “Every child is an island, at any rate a peninsula, separate from the adult world and from its own adult self.” (83) Interestingly, Jennifer seems nonplussed about her son’s exact whereabouts ­– when he is not frolicking in the woods, avoiding the haphazard fire of the Captain’s gun, he is running his own errands, without maternal interference. And in allowing him to play out his natural instincts and need for adventure, Arnie enjoys a level of freedom and autonomy that seems like a throwback to American “boy culture” of the nineteenth century, which, as Anthony E. Rotundo points out, was “surprisingly free of adult intervention – it gave a youngster his first exhilarating taste of independence and made a lasting imprint on his character.” (84) This freedom allowed him to pursue a range of activities that mostly centred on the great outdoors – swimming, hiking, exploring, and hunting – and we can clearly see points of contact with Arnie’s own interests and activities.  As a latter-day Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer, Arnie cheerfully slings a dead rabbit instead of a fishing pole or knapsack over his shoulder.

In twentieth-century terms, this concept of a Twainian childhood translates into privileged, middleclass, laissez-faire discourses of childhood, circa the 1950s and early 1960s.  As laid down in the plethora of self-help, child-rearing manuals such as the many editions of Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care (1946) and, later, Dr Haim G. Ginott’s bestselling Between Parent and Child (1965), “permissiveness” became the byword for raising upright, strong, healthy children.  At its most optimistic, permissiveness meant a childhood that was for the most part free, unencumbered by adult authority, linked with curiosity, exploration and outdoor play.  But William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954), appearing just one year before Harry, shows how children will “inevitably” degenerate into mayhem and savagery when this permissiveness is taken too far and where there is a complete lack of adult supervision, a vision of childhood which Hitchcock perhaps imbibed when he directed Harry.  As described by Ginott, this permissiveness sounds rather Twainian:

Permissiveness is an attitude of accepting the childishness of children.  It means accepting that “boys will be boys,” that a clean shirt on a normal child will not stay clean for long, that running rather than walking is the child’s normal means of locomotion, that a tree is for climbing and a mirror is for making faces […] The essence of permissiveness is the acceptance of children as persons who have a constitutional right to have all kinds of feelings and wishes.  The freedom to wish is absolute and unrestricted; all feelings and fantasies, all thoughts and wishes, all dreams and desires, regardless of content, are accepted, respected, and may be permitted through appropriate symbolic means.  Destructive behaviour is not permitted; when it occurs, the parents intervene and redirect it into verbal outlets and other symbolic channels. (85)

The Trouble with Harry

When he is on onscreen, Arnie is often linked to movement: when he is not roaming the countryside he is scurrying, rushing out of doors.  Though we never actually see him getting his shirt dirty, climbing trees, making faces in front of the mirror, it would not be out of character to imagine him doing these things either.  But the fact that Jennifer puts in a request for a smelly chemical set for her son (when Sam makes his unusual transaction with the millionaire buyer of his paintings) speaks volumes about his coarser boyish pleasures, I think, to call upon Wordsworth again; a little boy who is more than willing to get his shirt dirty, make a right mess, in which the permissive, supportive mother is more than willing to oblige.   As it relates to Ginott’s permitted symbolic outlets, playing with chemical sets, toy guns, slingshots, unsanitary frogs and dead animals allows the wild/innocent to freely express his thoughts, wishes and desires, in accord with more permissive, Rousseauian approaches to child-rearing.  But at the same time the more “violent” and “unsavoury” connotations of this play align Arnie with the wild/savage of Puritan/Evangelical ideologies of childhood.  Once again, Hitchcock negotiates two simultaneous viewpoints on the child.

Along these lines, Arnie’s somewhat unrefined, undomesticated instincts hearken back to the Good Bad Boy of American literary tradition.  As described by Leslie Fiedler, the Good Bad Boy points up romantic-ironic tensions between Puritan and romantic ideologies of childhood.   Thus, whereas “Good Good Boy does what his mother must pretend to the rest of the world (even to herself) that she wants him to do: obey, conform; the Good Bad Boy does what she really wants him to do: deceive, break her heart a little, so that she can forgive him, smother him in the embrace that seals back into her world forever.” (86) Fiedler considers the lying, stealing, swearing Tom Sawyer as the exemplar here, whose “delinquency is the declaration of maleness.” (87) More recently, Henry Jenkins links Fiedler’s Good Bad Boy to more permissive approaches to child-rearing during the 1950s and 1960s. (88) Arnie, as loveable imp, is the logical result.   Thus, he will happily confess to his mother that he swiped two glasses of lemonade.  “I would’ve given you two glasses”, Jennifer tells her son, who offhandedly replies, “It’s more fun to swipe.” As per his Good Bad Boy persona, he does what his mother really, deep down, wants him to do: break her heart so that she can forgive him (and, evidently, let him get away with it, too).  He is a distant cousin to the droll, self-seeking Harold from Hitchcock’s Young and Innocent (1937), who knows how to swipe a little girl’s ice cream from right under her nose.  But a more pertinent comparison is how Jerry Mathers’ portrayal of Arnie foreshadows his later screen persona as the mischievous Theodor the Beaver” Cleaver in the primetime American sitcom (1957-1963), which Jenkins argues

signaled the emergence of a tamed, domesticated, and suburbanized conception of the Bad Boy, one well-suited to the comic realism of the American sitcom tradition; Beaver’s popular exploits paved the way for the network appearance of Dennis the Menace.  The good-natured representation of the Bad Boy found in Dennis the Menace or Leave it to Beaver had more in common with the nostalgic tales of the nineteenth-century small town life than the brutal slapstick of twentieth-century urban comedy. (89)

Some of the Beaver’s antics and schemes – like selling water on a hot day, catching and selling frogs, making trades with his classmates, swindling a little girl out of her money,  bringing home a pet rat, buying a baby alligator with his older brother Wally– are quite Arniesque.

Indeed, in straying from sentimental romantic models, Arnie is extremely canny, opportunistic, especially for a boy his age. He is able to smooth talk Sam into trading his dead rabbit for Sam’s frog; he might have learned this from Tom or Huck.  Arnie, ever the pragmatist, thinks that Sam has got the best deal, because he won’t have to worry about feeding it!  But Arnie goes one better: he asks Sam if he can “borrow” his rabbit, whereupon he announces his intentions “to make some more trades.” In the next scene, he appears on Miss Gravely’s porch with the said rabbit, while she and the Captain are partaking in coffee and blueberry muffins.  Arnie informs the Captain that the kill is his, but he is exceedingly slow to grasp the implications.  (As Brill suggests, for the Captain, “when he realizes that his third bullet killed the rabbit rather than Harry, it brings release from the misapprehension that he is an inadvertent murderer,” (90) though this importantly overlooks how the child here is a force of release, redemption).  Meanwhile, the half-salivating Arnie is eying off the muffins, right in front of him.  When the Captain asks where he found the rabbit Arnie makes a Freudian slip, “In the blueberry muffins,” which amusingly lays bare his thoughts and desires.  And when Miss Gravely rewards Arnie’s find with a muffin, he is quick to renegotiate: “That was a two-muffin rabbit.”  Miss Gravely, amused by Arnie’s impeccable logic, gladly accedes to his demands; afterwards, the Captain and Miss Gravely presumably chuckle at the child’s forthright, precocious, mercenary nature.  Whether it’s swiping lemonade, muffins, or making trades, Arnie is one smooth operator!  According to Rousseau, selfishness, or self-love, in the wider sense, is the only “natural passion” (91) in the child, thereby sanctioned in his radical child-rearing program: “Wholly unmoral in his actions, he can do nothing morally wrong, and he deserves neither punishment nor reproof.” (92) At least this seems to be the “enlightened” attitude of the grownups in Harry.  While Arnie, too, may be regarded as basically primitive, selfish, hence “unmoral”, in so far as he is simply responding to his natural passions, his what’s-in-it-for-me morality, indicative of the appearance of reason, implies an “instrumental relativist orientation”, in the pre-conventional stage of Kohlberg’s theory of moral development.  Responding to cultural constructions of good and bad, right or wrong, the child at this stage perceives a right action in terms of “that which instrumentally satisfies one’s needs and occasionally the needs of others.  Human relations are viewed in terms like those of the marketplace.  Elements of fairness, reciprocity, and equal sharing are present, but they are always interpreted in a physical, pragmatic way.” (93)

The fatherless boy, being raised solely by his young mother, is noteworthy as a “modern” representation of a non-nuclear, single-parent family, which runs counter to the 1950s American ideal of the male-breadwinner and female-homemaker family, centering on the child.  Jennifer tells Sam that her early marriage was cut short when Robert was killed (presumably in action), after which she learned that she was pregnant with Arnie.  (In the novel, Arnie has been conceived out of wedlock which is allusive in terms of his wild/savage nature, as per Puritan ideology.  This detail was also changed from Hayes’ original draft, to comply with the Production Code Authority). (94) When Harry, Robert’s older brother, married her out of chivalrous motives, he was unable to consummate the marriage because his horoscope suggested to not start anything new that day!  Running away from her second husband, Jennifer sought refuge for a time at her mother’s, before changing her name and setting up a new life for herself and Arnie.  Just prior to the events narrated in Harry, Harry has turned up on her doorstep demanding his conjugal rights, which is to say that he too is governed by his primitive instincts; he is summarily rejected by Jennifer and hit over the head with a milk bottle.  Thus Jennifer is a perfect example of how a woman in 1950s American society can survive without a husband.  Somehow she has managed to make the best of unfortunate circumstances; consistent with the theme of life from death, Jennifer tells Sam she bought her house using Robert’s life insurance.  Later, Sam, who has clearly fancied her from the beginning, will propose, whereby the non-nuclear family will have the opportunity to become nuclear again.  In accepting his proposal, Jennifer intimates: “I am very fond of you and I think you’d make a good father for Arnie.” But what kind of father/husband will he be?  Not the dominant type.  Valuing his own artistic freedom, he will be willing to grant Jennifer freedoms that other husbands of his era might not.  As Sam reassures: “We might be the only free married couple in the world.”  Though he will not be a authoritarian father, I have more than a sneaking suspicion that Sam will be guided by Puritan rather than romantic assumptions – on at least two occasions, he has to suddenly check himself on how he addresses his future son (“Well, I put the little … I put Arnie back to bed”) in front of Jennifer.  While Jennifer recognises that her son is no paragon of childhood virtue, one strongly suspects blind spots on the part of the good mother, as is her prerogative.  There is also the promise of more children (thanks to the “double bed” Sam requests from his rich art patron, he will be able to fulfil his marital duties, unlike the feckless Harry).  Somehow they will manage to eke out a modest standard of living on Sam’s talent.  The only stumbling block to the couple’s happiness is Harry’s body, which if missing rather than found under US law, could delay their marriage for several years.

By virtue of his mnemonic vacancy Arnie helps here to conciliate a happy ending.  As a feature of romantic and specifically Wordsworthian constructions of childhood, Austin explains how in its vacant, mnemonic state childhood “was movement without memory because the early years are the one time of life when there is not enough of a past to remember.  The ‘Ode [:Intimations of Immortality’] envisions this state radically.” (95) Harry, too, envisions this state radically, in the child’s distorted sense of time, as Sam finds out.

Sam:  Perhaps I’ll come back tomorrow.
Arnie: When’s that?
Sam:  The day after today.
Arnie:  That’s yesterday. Today’s tomorrow.
Sam: It was.
Arnie:  When was tomorrow yesterday, Mr Marlow?
Sam: Today.
Arnie: Oh sure, yesterday.

Arnie’s mother chimes in: “You’ll never make sense out of Arnie.  He’s got his own timing.”  Indeed, one could say that the child is not only out of this world, but out of time, ahistorical; just as childhood is often presumed to be. (96) As Plotz argues, the romantic, essential figure of the timeless child comes out of its identification with Nature and its aforementioned “autonomous, unitary consciousness.” (97) This is certainly how Mogg reads Arnie’s apprehension of time, embedded within multiple references to time and timelessness (e.g. Sam’s broken watch), eternity, which he regards as “the perfect illustration of psychoanalyst Marie Bonaparte’s contention that ‘[t]he days of the child seem to unfold in some sense outside of our time.’ In other words, they correspond to a form of pastoral.” (98) Or, to be more exact, Arnie’s childhood days correspond to Wordsworth’s eternal and sublime view of nature.  At the end, the characters exhume Harry’s body for the umpteenth time, launder his clothes, and replant him in the clearing for Arnie to find all over again.  That is, in finding Harry’s body today not yesterday, a unique opportunity presents itself to resolve the trouble with Harry (who, it transpires, died from natural causes), thus warding off the Deputy Sheriff’s suspicions.  And so the film comes full circle, except the main characters now watch from the sidelines as Arnie emerges with his space gun a-ready.  Though out of earshot, they anxiously urge the tyke to run home and tell his mother.  Sam, once again, forgets himself, in addressing his future son:  “Beat it, you little creep,” then looking askance at Jennifer, “I mean, hurry home, son.”  Overlaying the closing shot of Harry’s upturned feet is the end title that “The Trouble with Harry is over”, which for Brill “recalls in its direct clarity the end of old folk tales and stories for children.  Everyone will surely live happily ever after.” (99) Yet this narrative of childhood is, as I have shown, extremely double-edged and not all sugar and spice.

The Trouble with Harry

In Harry, Hitchcock both affirms and questions the claims of a romantic vision of Nature, childhood and innocence, resulting in subtly opposed realities or perspectives on the child figure.  These perspectives are presented in an “unstable equilibrium, following Schlegel’s both/and logic,” (100) which lends further support to Allen’s case for Hitchcock as a romantic ironist.  Thus Arnie Rogers’ construction is both romantic and not, Puritan and not and both romantic and Puritan at the same time.  Reading Arnie’s nature through the romantic-ironic purview of William Wordsworth in particular underlines specific tensions between the child as wild/innocent and wild/savage, which correspond to tensions between romantic and Puritan thought.  And as it concerns the link between the child’s and adult’s nature, this suggests that people (like the Captain, Harry) are forever torn between their primitive instincts and the demands of civilisation and the rule of law.  (101) Here, Rousseau meets Thoreau.  In conflating English with American pastoral notions of childhood, Hitchcock grafts Wordsworth’s child of nature onto Twain’s nature child.  That is, Arnie is a Good Bad Boy connected with a rough-and-tumble American version of romantic childhood, a la Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, which nostalgically harks back to American boy culture of the nineteenth century.  Further, a point of intersection may be discursively located between Twain and boy culture and more permissive, twentieth-century approaches to child rearing. Thus the “all-American” child is actually part English and part American, part historic and part contemporary; a hybrid child/hood construction, whose inherent tensions, contradictions, and ambiguities lie at the heart of romantic irony.  Out of this, the English-born director renegotiates his own version of romanticism within the context of postwar, post-romantic America.

This article will appear in a forthcoming collection edited by Debbie Olson titled Hitchcock’s Children: The Child in the Films of Alfred Hitchcock, published by Routledge in 2014.  Published here with the kind permission of the author and the publisher.

Author note: I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Hitchcock scholar and “guru” Ken Mogg (of “The MacGuffin” web page) for his encouragement in writing this paper, for taking the time to proofread my manuscript in its final stages, which often meant clearing up some misunderstandings and unforgivable errors, and for being ready and willing to contribute his inspired ideas. I’d also like to thank his friend, scholar Freda Freiberg, for her interest and additional input.


  1. David Burnett, “Paul Klee: The Romantic Landscape,” Art Journal 36, no. 4 (1977):  p. 323.
  2. Ed Sikov, Laughing Hysterically: American Screen Comedy of the 1950s (New York: Columbia University Press 1994), p. 157.
  3. Marshall McLuhan and Harley Parker, Through the Vanishing Point:  Space in Poetry and Painting (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1969), p. 23.
  4. Camille Paglia, The Birds (London:  British Film Institute, 1998), p. 7.
  5. Ibid., p. 67.
  6. John P. McCombe, “‘Oh, I see ….’:  The Birds and the Culmination of Hitchcock’s Hyper-Romantic Vision,” Cinema Journal 44, no. 3 (2005): p. 65.
  7. Lesley Brill, The Hitchcock Romance:  Love and Irony in Hitchcock’s Films (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 283.
  8. Richard Allen, Hitchcock’s Romantic Irony (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), p. xiv.
  9. Ibid., p. 11.
  10. Ibid., p. 257.
  11. Ibid., p. 183.
  12. Judith Plotz, Romanticism and the Vocation of Childhood (New York: Palgrave, 2001), p. 47.
  13. Anne K. Mellor, English Romantic Irony (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1980), p. 5.
  14. Susan J. Wolfson, The Questioning Presence:  Wordsworth, Keats, and the Interrogative Mode in Romantic Poetry (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1986), p. 150. 
  15. Somewhat surprisingly, Harry failed to resonate with American audiences, unhelped by Hitchcock’s box office clout at the time with such films as Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955).  Hitchcock implies that this was because of irreconcilable differences between British and American humour:  “The Trouble with Harry is an approach to a strictly British genre, the humor of the macabre. I made that picture to prove the American public could appreciate British humor.” Spoto, Art of Alfred Hitchcock, p. 233.   Even today, Harry remains one of Hitchcock’s least appreciated and understood films, particularly in the United States.
  16. Donald Spoto, The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Films (London:  Fourth Estate, 1992), p. 235.
  17. Adrian Schober, Possessed Child Narratives in Literature and Film: Contrary States  (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), p. 169.
  18. Spoto., p. 236.
  19.   See Ken Mogg, “Hitchcock’s Literary Sources,” in A Companion to Alfred Hitchcock, ed.  Thomas Leitch and Leland Poague (Chichester, West Sussex, UK; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), pp. 28-47.
  20. William Wordsworth, “French Revolution as it Appeared to Enthusiasts at its Commencement,” in The Poetical Works of Wordsworth: With Introductions and Notes, ed. Thomas Hutchinson, rev. Ernest de Selincourt (London: Oxford University Press, 1950), line 4, p. 165.
  21. Raymond Foery, Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy: The Last Masterpiece (Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2012), p. 30.
  22. Steven DeRosa, Writing with Hitchcock: The Collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes (New York, London: Faber & Faber, 2001), p. 138.
  23. Ibid., pp. 137-8.
  24. Peter Bogdanovich, Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Robert Aldrich, George Cukor, Allan Dwan, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Chuck Jones, Fritz Lang, Joseph H. Lewis, Sidney Lumet, Leo McCarey, Otto Preminger, Don Siegel, Josef von Sternberg, Frank Tashlin, Edgar G. Ulmer, Raoul Walsh (New York: Knopf, 1997), p. 480.
  25. Brill, Hitchcock Romance, p. 284.
  26. Ken Mogg, “Alfred Hitchcock – Master of Paradox,” Senses of Cinema 36 (2005), accessed August 31, 2012. http://sensesofcinema.com/2005/great-directors/hitchcock/.
  27. As Catherine L. Albanese notes, “out of 154 congregations in the [American] colonies in 1660, nearly 90 percent (138) could be described in the broad sense as Calvinist in orientation.  Of these, 75 were Congregational, 41 Anglican, 5 Presbyterian, 4 Baptist, and 13 Dutch Reformed.  Eliminating these last leaves over 80 percent who had, generally speaking, not only Calvinist but Puritan roots.  That kind of numerical dominance would continue to be a feature of organized Protestantism in the United States.” America: Religions and Religion, 2nd ed. (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1992), p. 399.
  28. William Wordsworth, “Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour.  July 13, 1798” in The Poetical Works of Wordsworth: With Introductions and Notes, edited by Thomas Hutchinson, revised by Ernest de Selincourt (London: Oxford University Press, 1950), lines 67-75, p. 164.
  29. Ibid., line 95, p. 164.
  30. Ibid., lines 102-103, p. 164.
  31. Plotz, Romanticism, p. 22.
  32. Ibid., p. 6.
  33. Michael Walker, Hitchcock’s Motifs (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005), p. 107.
  34. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Prose and Verse, Complete in One Volume (Philadelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co., 1840), pp. 482-483 (pp. 492-493), accessed December 11, 2012,  http://books.google.com.au/books/about/ The_Works_of_Samuel_Taylor_Coleridge_Pro.html?id=VdscAAAAMAAJ&redir_esc=y.
  35. Gary Cross, Kids’ Stuff:  Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood  (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 155-156.
  36. Ibid., p. 156.
  37.   Ibid.  Jackie Chester (Billy Mumy) in the Hitchcock-directed episode, ‘Bang! You’re Dead,” from season seven of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (broadcast October 17, 1961) is clearly a product of this Western fad.  When he innocently mistakes the revolver his Uncle Rick has brought back with him from his travels in war-torn Africa for a “surprise,” his actions have potentially fatal consequences.  In charting this Hitchcockian shift from boy child as victim (Stevie in Sabotage [1936], Hank in The Man Who Knew Too Much [1956]) to “victimiser,” Jackie’s obsession with guns and Westerns hints at corruption by pervasive attitudes and elements within American society, entailing a critique of US gun culture, imperialist and hypermasculine values.  Hitchcock even swaps his usual levity for seriousness in the opening and closing address, by issuing a warning to keep firearms out of reach of children.  Interestingly, in an interview from the early 1970s, the aging director expresses concern about the greater violence in American crimes, which he attributes to the “wider possession of guns.” Arthur Knight, “Conversation with Alfred Hitchcock,” in Alfred Hitchcock Interviews, edited by Sidney Gottlieb (Jackson:  University Press of Mississippi, 2003), p. 168.
  38. Cross, Kids’ Stuff, p. 154.
  39. Sikov, Laughing Hysterically, p. 159.
  40. Allen, Romantic Irony, p. 184.
  41. Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey,” lines 77-78, p. 164.
  42. Ibid., lines 79-80, p. 164.
  43. Geoffrey Durrant, William Wordsworth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 40.  
  44. William Wordsworth, The Prelude: A Parallel Text, ed. J.C. Maxwell (Harmondsworth, Middlsex: Penguin, 1972), Book I, lines 497-498, p. 60.
  45. William Wordsworth, “Home at Grasmere [fragment from The Recluse],” in The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth.  The Excursion. The Recluse. Part 1 Book 1, ed.  E. De Selincourt and Helen Darbishire (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), line 2, p. 313.
  46. Ibid., line 105, p. 317.
  47. Ibid., lines 711-720, pp. 336-337.
  48. Plotz, Romanticism, p. 5.
  49. The Trouble with Harry: Isn’t Over, written, directed & produced by Laurent Bouzereau (Los Angeles County, CA: Universal Studios Home Video, 2001), DVD.
  50. Jack Trevor Story, The Trouble with Harry (London: Allison & Busby, 1989), p. 7.
  51. Ibid., pp. 8-9.
  52. Ibid., p. 10.
  53. Henry David Thoreau, Walden and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (New York: Collier, 1962), p. 154.
  54. Ibid., pp. 155-156.
  55. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality,” in The Social Contract and the Discourses, translated by G. D. H. Cole and revised and augmented by J. H. Brumfitt and John C. Hall with an introduction by Alan Ryan (New York, Toronto:  Everyman’s Library/Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), p. 124.
  56. Ibid.
  57. George Boas, The Cult of Childhood (London:  Warburg Institute/University of London, 1966), p. 31.
  58. In Marnie (1964), Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), who is about to embark on his South Seas honeymoon voyage with Marnie (Tippi Hedren), jokes to his former sister-in-law Lil (Diane Baker):  “Take care. We’ll bring you back a noble savage!”
  59. Heather Scutter, Displaced Fictions:  Contemporary Australian Fiction for Teenagers and Young Adults (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1999), p. 225.
  60. William Wordsworth, “Home at Grasmere,” lines 703-708, p. 336.
  61. Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book I, line 316, 50, line 318, p. 52.
  62. Ibid, lines 324-332, p. 52.
  63. Story, The Trouble with Harry, p. 67.
  64. One may find a Hitchcockian precedent here in chipper British schoolboy Christopher from Young and Innocent, who has the audacity to bring a giant dead rat he has shot to the dining room table, eliciting disgust from his father and older sister, Erica (Nova Pilbeam).  Like Arnie’s rabbit, the rat is a trophy.  However, hygiene and etiquette are the issues here; Chris is merely told to go away and wash his hands.  When he returns to the table, Chris defends accusations from his brothers that the rat was dead to begin with:  “It wasn’t.  It was running across the yard.”  He then boasts of how he could have “popped” fugitive Robert Tisdsall (whom the sister is secretly helping to harbour in a windmill), which leads to bloodthirsty talk from the boys about Tisdall fainting from hunger in the field with “rooks pecking at his eyes,” unnerving Erica.  Arnie, I think, would have no trouble joining in this conversation.
  65. William Wordsworth, “We Are Seven,” in The Poetical Works of Wordsworth: With Introductions and Notes, ed. Thomas Hutchinson, rev. Ernest de Selincourt (London: Oxford University Press, 1950), lines 1-4, p. 66.
  66. William Wordsworth, “Preface,” in Wordsworth and Coleridge: Lyrical Ballads and Other Poems, by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 2003), p. 8.
  67. Geoffrey H. Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry, 1787-1814 (New Haven and London:  Yale University Press, 1964), p. 144.
  68. Ibid., p. 145.
  69. Mogg calls Harry Hitchcock’s “exemplary MacGuffin” (i.e. a plot device which has little or no significance per se):  “how fitting it is that Harry should be an inert object.  He is as near to nothing […] as makes no difference.” “Alfred Hitchcock – Master of Paradox.” Indeed, both Harry and death in this film turn out to be essentially nothing.  The nothingness of death further underpins the motif of the closet door, which opens ominously to reveal just that: nothing.  Or as Brill reads it: “The closet is conspicuously empty and the closet door is ‘only a closet door’, as Miss Gravely assures the startled Captain.  Love, death, and closets are no more than themselves.  They harbor no guilt, no fright, no skeletons.” Hitchcock Romance, p. 288.  To better appreciate the sense of inversion, it is instructive to compare the image of the closet with its more fear-provoking counterpart from Robert Cormier’s adult novel, Now and at the Hour (1960)As husband and father Alpha LeBlanc lies alone on his deathbed in the throes of cancer, he is gripped by indescribable fears and anxieties:  “There were some places in the room where he didn’t like to look.  The closet door was never shut.  He didn’t like to look at the closet and he tried to tell them [his family] to close the door.  The closet was always there, waiting for him to look at it.  He wished someone would close it.  Beyond the door was darkness, and he was afraid that the darkness would creep out of the closet into the room. He had to be on guard against the closet all the time, to see that the darkness stayed there.”  Cormier, Now and at the Hour (New York: Laurel-Leaf Books, 1988), p. 159.
  70. David Grylls, Guardians and Angels: Parents and Children in Nineteenth-Century Literature (London & Boston: Faber and Faber, 1978), p. 39.  He writes:  “Corpses had always played a large part in the Puritan tradition of upbringing, but it seems somewhat harder to understand why the Romantic view of children should entail an obsession with their death.  However, this was certainly the case – indeed, with many authors, the greater their sympathy, the less the child’s chance of survival.”  Ibid., p. 40. Whereas early death in the Calvinist/ Puritan outlook served as a warning to other children and was a demonstration of faith, the Romantic obsession seems to have been motivated largely by pathos, as notoriously exploited by Dickens.
  71. Linda M. Austin, “Children of Childhood: Nostalgia and the Romantic Legacy,” Studies in Romanticism 42, no. 1 (2003): p. 85.
  72. Jonathon Freedman and Richard H. Millingon, “Introduction,” in Hitchcock’s America, ed. Jonathon Freedman and Richard H. Millington (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 7.
  73. Kent Jones, “Hitchcock’s America,” in 39 Steps to the Genius of Alfred Hitchcock: A BFI Compendium, ed. James Bell (London: British Film Institute, 2012), p. 109.
  74. Coleridge, Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, p. 253.
  75. Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism (Abington, Oxon; New York:  Routledge, 2012), p. 54.
  76. Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Machine Ideal in America.  (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 3.
  77. Ibid.
  78. Ibid, p. 319.
  79. Ibid.
  80. Coveney, Image of Childhood, p. 222.
  81. Stanley Brodwin, “Mark Twain’s Theology: The Gods of a Brevet Presbyterian,” in The Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain, ed. Forrest G. Robinson  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 225.
  82. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, intro. John Seelye, notes Guy Cardwell (New York: Penguin, 1986), p. 100.
  83.   Plotz, Romanticism, p. 3.
  84. E. Anthony Rotundo, “Boy Culture,” in The Children’s Culture Reader, ed. Henry Jenkins, (New York and London:  New York University Press, 1998), p. 337.
  85. Haim G. Ginott, Between Parent and Child: New Solutions to Old Problems (New York: Avon, 1965), p. 110.
  86. Leslie Fiedler, “The Eye of Innocence,” in Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait, intro. and ed. Henry Anatole Grunwald (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), pp. 224-225.
  87. Ibid., p. 225.
  88. Henry Jenkins, “Dennis the Menace, ‘the All-American Handful,’” in The Revolution Wasn’t Televised:  Sixties Television and Social Conflict, ed. Lynn Spigel and Michael Curtin (New York & London: Routledge, 1997), p. 122.
  89. Ibid., p. 125.
  90. Brill, Hitchcock Romance, p. 286.
  91. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile, trans. Barbara Foxley, intro. P.D. Jimack (London and Toronto: Dent; New York: Dutton/Everyman’s Library, 1974), p. 56.
  92. Ibid.
  93. Lawrence Kohlberg, The Philosophy of Moral Development: Moral Stages and the Idea of Justice. Vol. 1 of Essays on Moral Development (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981), p. 17.
  94. DeRosa, Writing with Hitchcock, pp. 138-139.
  95. Austin, “Children of Childhood,” p. 85.
  96. Interestingly, French critics/filmmakers Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol connect this with a Twainian vision:  “the little boy in the film for whom today is tomorrow since yesterday was today and tomorrow will be yesterday is just like the American humorist’s character who is no longer very sure where it was he or his twin brother who was long ago drowned in the bathtub.” Hitchcock: The First Forty-Four Films, trans. Stanley Hochman (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1979), pp. 135-6.  These scholars are referring to Twain’s oddly disturbing sketch, published in 1874, entitled “An Encounter with an Interviewer,” where Sam Clemens interviews his alter-ego Mark Twain.  The image here of a drowned child/body in the bathtub as well as the confusion over burying a “troublemaking” body has points of contact with Harry.
  97. Plotz, Romanticism, p. 5.
  98. Ken Mogg,”The Universal Hitchcock:  The Trouble with Harry (1956),” (paper, 1997) accessed http://www.directors.0catch.com/s/HITCHCOCK/The_Universal_Hitchcock.htm (accessed April 13, 2012).
  99. Brill, Hitchcock Romance, pp. 289-290.
  100.   Allen, Hitchcock’s Romantic Irony, p. 9.
  101. Frenzy envisions these primitive instincts associated with childhood in psychopathological terms. As the good doctor explains to his solicitor friend:  “On the surface, in casual conversation, they [criminal sexual psychopaths] appear as ordinary, likeable adult fellows.  But, emotionally, they remain as dangerous children whose conduct may revert to a primitive subhuman level at any moment.”

About The Author

Adrian Schober is a Melbourne-based film writer and scholar with a PhD in English from Monash University, Australia. He is the author of Possessed Child Narratives in Literature and Film (Palgrave, 2004) and a Devil's Advocates monograph on The Omen forthcoming by Auteur/Liverpool University Press. He is also the co-editor (with Debbie Olson) of Children, Youth, and American Television (Routledge, 2018) and Children, Youth, and International Television (Routledge, 2021). He is currently engaged in a research project on Steven Spielberg and Romanticism through the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Contemporary Culture Research Unit at the University of Melbourne.

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