Hitchcock's only comedy, adapted for Allens Lane Theater

by Len Lear
Posted 4/18/24

Alfred Hitchcock was known as “the master of suspense,” but "The Trouble with Harry" is quite different.

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Hitchcock's only comedy, adapted for Allens Lane Theater


Alfred Hitchcock, one of the all-time great movie makers, was known as “the master of suspense” thanks to such nail-biters as “Psycho,” “Rear Window,” “North by Northwest,” “Vertigo” and “Dial 'M' for Murder.” But I doubt if any but the most ardent movie buffs are familiar with Hitchcock's one attempt at “black comedy,” his 1955 “The Trouble with Harry,” starring Shirley MacLaine in her film debut and John Forsythe, later the star of the TV series “Dynasty.”

“The Trouble with Harry” is about how nine residents of a small Vermont village react when the dead body of a man named Harry is found on a hillside. (Spoiler alert: He is not a murder victim, but several village residents have to figure out what to do with Harry, who winds up being buried and dug up several times and then hidden in a bathtub before being redeposited on the hillside.) I saw the movie with my mother when it came out and enjoyed it thoroughly.

“According to Dave Kehr, of the Chicago Reader: “Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 comedy has long been overshadowed by the masterworks that surround it, but it's a wonderful, fanciful film, the most optimistic movie he ever made, a fairy tale among nightmares.” 

Noel Butcher Hanley, a professional actor and director whose family lived in Chestnut Hill for many years, also loved the film. But she was inspired to do something more with it. 

“Harry is a gem – and it hit me one day, why not make it into a stage play?” she said. “The novel it is based on is very descriptive. I'm fascinated by adaptations, and by the human connections in this story, so I got a copy of the script.”

Hanley, whose resume is as long as Joel Embiid's arms, has directed seven plays at Allens Lane Theatre. “My dad wanted to see me in plays,” she said, “so I came to Allens Lane often to be close to Chestnut Hill, where he lived. But this is the first play I've written, thanks to Covid. That gave me the time to create this world premiere, which I had dreamed of doing for a long time.”

“Trouble” was devised by Hanley and adapted by Josh Hitchens, a local author and storyteller for the Ghost Tour of Philadelphia since 2007. Josh is also a theater director, actor, playwright and teaching artist who has been labeled "Philadelphia's foremost purveyor of the macabre" by local theater reviewers.

Hanley grew up in Villanova and started acting at Agnes Irwin High School, although her first role was at Episcopal Academy, where she appeared in “Summer & Smoke” by Tennessee Williams. 

“I was painfully shy and nerdy and a voracious reader,” she said. “A teacher encouraged me to try acting, so I auditioned and fell in love with it. It was a great challenge to bring a character to life. And it still is.”

Hanley, who eventually had roles in countless movies and TV shows, earned her Equity card by 1984 and her SAG/AFTRA card by 1989. In 2004, she earned a master's degree in theater at Villanova University – a 50-year-old in class with students who were still in their 20s.

“I passed Villanova every day on my way to school as a young person, so I finally went there,” she said. (Hanley also earned a BFA with a double major in English and Fine Arts in 1975 from Dickinson College.) 

Hanley was also a docent at Woodmere Art Museum for 10 years, and she developed their music program for eight years, including the Friday Night Jazz events and classical music concerts.

“People have asked me why I want to direct community theater,” Hanley said. “For me, it is an opportunity to teach, coach and mentor. I love it. The actors are very competent, and in 'Trouble' Janet Wasser is phenomenal! She is on fire. And Tom Keels is also great!”

“The Trouble with Harry” started April 5 and continues through April 21. For more information, visit allenslane.org. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com