Based on Jack Trevor Story’s novel and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, a dead body is discovered by several people who fear they had a hand in killing him, and they bury the body and dig it up again several times.
In the autumn a little boy with a toy rifle walks on a hill, hears gunshots, and comes upon the dead body of a man on the ground. Captain Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) is sitting under a tree talking to himself with his hunting rifle. He gets up and walks, finding the body. He thinks he did it himself by mistake while trying to shoot a rabbit. He looks in the man’s coat and finds a letter to Mr. Harry Worp, 87 Maple Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts. He picks up the feet and begins to drag the body when Miss Ivy Gravely (Mildred Natwick) sees him and asks him what he is planning to do. Albert says he is going to cover him up and forget him. She asks if he is going to notify the police, and he says no and asks her not to tell anyone. She offers to help him and invites him to come over for a snack. He accepts and tells her to leave so that she won’t be an accessory after the fact.
Albert hears the boy’s voice, and he hides behind a tree. The boy and Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine) come up to the body, and she says he is in a deep sleep. They head home for lemonade. A man reading a book trips on the body, gets up, and walks on. A tramp (Barry Macollum) approaches the body, removes the new shoes, and puts them on.
Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe) carries a painting while he walks on a road singing. Albert sleeps against a tree. Sam stops at a stand by the road where Mrs. Wiggs (Mildred Dunnock) sells paintings. She looks at his new painting and says she likes it. They go in her house that has a sign “Wigg Emporium.” Sam and Deputy Sheriff Calvin Wiggs (Royal Dano) discuss the shooting. Calvin says he posted the area, and there should be no shooting there. Calvin gets in his old car and drives off. A new car drives up to the art stand, and the chauffeur opens the door for a millionaire (Parker Fennelly).
In her house Mrs. Wiggs prepares meat and talks with Sam. Ivy comes in and knows Sam’s name. Sam buys some groceries and appears to be short of money. Ivy admires a tea cup and asks Sam to hold it. She asks if it is finger size, and he says it is for him. Ivy buys the cup and says a man is coming over to her place for coffee and muffins. She asks Sam how old he thinks she is. He guesses fifty, and she says she is 42. Sam offers to cut her hair so that she will look younger. He goes out to get scissors. The millionaire is holding a picture, but Sam gets the scissors and goes back in the house. So the millionaire gets in the car and leaves. Mrs. Wiggs cuts Ivy’s hair. They hear Calvin return in his car.
Sam carries a canvas on a hill and sits on a log to draw the feet and legs of the body. He asks the man to get out of his picture and discovers he is dead. He kneels down and draws the man. Albert wakes up and sees him. He comes up behind Sam, who asks if the body is his. Albert says it was an accident. Sam is drawing the face, and he considers the death philosophically, that he helped the man fulfill his destiny. Albert says he has no conscience, and it was nothing like that. He does not want anything to do with the police. Albert tells him to forget it, but Sam asks about the others who have seen him. They talk about the pretty girl and the boy. Sam warns him he may get a murder charge if he is not careful. Sam suggests they talk to Jennifer Rogers. If she does not know anything, Sam offers to help bury him. Albert says he is going over to Ivy’s for coffee. Sam suggests they hide Harry, and they begin to drag the body; but they see the man reading the book approaching and hide. He trips over the body again and asks to be pardoned before walking on.
Albert walks on the road with his rifle and sees a man talking to the state police in his car. Albert tries to hide his rifle as he walks by.
Sam finds Jennifer on her front porch and says she is so beautiful that he wants to paint her nude. She says she is making lemonade and offers to give him one. Sam shows the boy Arnie Rogers (Jerry Mathers) a frog. Sam has a dead rabbit on his lap while he talks with Arnie. Jennifer brings out the lemonade. Arnie borrows Sam’s dead rabbit and walks off. Sam asks Jennifer who the dead man Harry is, and she says he is her husband. She says Arnie’s father is dead. He says Harry is dead too. Sam asks her where Arnie got the rabbit. She says he found it. He asks her what to do with Harry. She suggests he stuff him. He asks her to tell him about her husband, and she says Robert got killed. Arnie was on the way, and then Harry came along and wanted to marry her. She says she found out the truth on her second wedding night, the terrible truth about Harry. She asks Sam how old he is, and he says about thirty. She says she put on her best nighty, and she tried to be enthusiastic because Harry loved her. She says he never came in but called the next morning. She says his horoscope for a Taurus told him not to start anything new. She says his horoscope might stop him from doing the dishes. She says she changed her name. Then he knocked on the door, and she hit him on the head with a milk bottle. She said he staggered off.
Albert walks up to Ivy, who says she is surprised and invites him in. They sit at a table on the porch and eat blueberry muffins. He says it is a man’s cup. She says her father used it until he died, caught in a threshing machine. Albert says he faced death many times. Arnie arrives with the dead rabbit, and he says it is Albert’s because he shot it. Arnie says he found it in the woods and gets two muffins. Then he leaves. Albert and Ivy talk about what to do with Harry. She suggests putting him in the pond; but he intends to bury him so that he won’t pop up. She agrees underground is better.
Albert and Sam carry shovels and look for a place where the earth is soft. Sam starts digging by a tree. Albert takes off his coat and digs too. Later Sam is in the hole, and Albert says he is tired. Sam climbs out, and they put the body in and fill in the hole. Sam tells Albert to stick to shooting rabbits. Albert says he did shoot a rabbit. Sam says he renovated Ivy, who bought a new cup. Albert feels he may be in love. Albert asks Sam what Jennifer thought of his shooting. Albert says he fired three bullets—one for the sign, one for the beer-can, and one for the rabbit. He realizes that he did not kill Harry and starts digging him up. Sam says he has incriminated himself by burying the body. Albert says he has to find out if he killed him. Sam helps him dig. They examine the body, and Sam says it is not a bullet wound, but it was caused by a blunt instrument. Sam says they are entangled in murder. Albert asks who done it. Sam mentions Jennifer and suggests they bury him again. Albert says he will not bury someone else’s bad habits. Sam says it could have been Dr. Greenbow or the tramp. They decide to bury the body again.
Albert and Ivy get out of a boat, and he welcomes her into his home. He says they became friendly in one day. He says she is not prim. She tries to explain that she felt gratitude for his burying her body. She says he hit him over the head with her hiking shoe because he annoyed her. She says he insisted they are married, but she never saw him before. He pulled her into the bushes twice and swore at her. They fought, and she won. She says she was annoyed. Albert says Mrs. Rogers knocked him silly, and Ivy finished him off. She says it would not have been fair to Albert to go through life thinking he had killed someone. She says they should let the authorities know about it, but he advises her not to do that. She says it is her responsibility and offers to make him some hot chocolate.
Albert smokes a pipe while someone digs up the grave. In Jennifer’s house she serves coffee for Sam. She says she feels comfortable with him, and he says the same. She is worried about Harry. They hear a knock, and Ivy comes in with Albert. Ivy says she killed Harry with her shoe. She says they are going to tell Calvin Wiggs. A closet door comes open, and Jennifer closes it. Sam tells Ivy that murder will spread her private life in the newspapers. Ivy says she made up her mind. Albert suggested that they talk to Jennifer. She says they can do what they think is best. Sam says the details of her marriage will come out. Sam asks where they left Harry, and he says he will go bury him again. They go out.
In the evening the four leave the grave after tossing flower petals on it. They walk away, and Sam says he could paint Jennifer. Mrs. Wiggs runs to them and says the millionaire wants to buy all Sam’s pictures. He agrees to talk to him, and they walk down the hill.
In the house the millionaire says he wants to buy them all, but Sam says he does not want to sell them and that he could not afford them. Albert advises him to get a lot of money for them. Sam asks Jennifer what she likes. She says strawberries, and Sam asks for a regular supply. He asks what Arnie wants, and Jennifer says a chemistry set. Mrs. Wiggs asks for a cash register with a bell. Sam asks for a beauty parlor for Ivy, who asks for a hope chest. Albert asks for hunting supplies. Sam says the paintings are his. The millionaire asks what he wants. Sam whispers, and the millionaire agrees. Sam asks him to come back in a month for more paintings. The millionaire says he has a steady customer. Sam asks if he did the right thing, and Jennifer says he did. Sam asks her to marry him. She says she just got her freedom today. He says she will keep her freedom if she marries him. She asks for time to think about it. Calvin comes in, and Mrs. Wiggs says Sam sold all his paintings. Calvin says he got the shoes from a tramp who said he found them on a dead man. Calvin answers the phone, and Sam, Jennifer, Albert, and Ivy leave. Calvin notices the drawing of the dead man’s face. Mrs. Wiggs says it is new but is not for sale. Calvin says it matches the description. He reports the tramp’s story about a corpse.
At Jennifer’s door Albert asks Sam about Calvin walking in with Harry’s shoes. They go in with the shovels. Jennifer tells Sam that she will marry him. Albert says they have to develop a good story for the police. Sam kisses Jennifer, and she says she has a short fuse. She asks him what he asked the millionaire for. He whispers, and she says that is practical. Sam says Jennifer has to prove that she is free and that Harry is dead. Albert does not want to dig him up again. Jennifer says she is thinking of Ivy’s murder. Sam says he can wait seven years, but Ivy suggests digging him up. Albert says he will do it.
At night Sam and Albert dig while Jennifer and Ivy watch. Ivy says Sam now has a motive for killing Harry. Jennifer suggests they stick to the truth. Sam says they will have to explain to the police. Jennifer says they can clean up Harry. They hear a man and hide. Dr. Greenbow (Dwight Marfield) is reciting poetry and notices the body. Sam says he had an accident and asks for the cause of death. Jennifer says she will take him home for the last time.
In her house Jennifer and Sam are cleaning the suit, and Ivy hangs up his shirt and tie. Jennifer says she will iron the shirt dry. Albert wakes up and sees the closet door come open. He says he thought it was Harry. Ivy asks about the cut she made on his head, and Jennifer offers to put adhesive tape on it. Calvin comes to the door and rings the bell. Jennifer opens the door, and he asks for Sam. She calls him, but Calvin walks in and sees the others playing bridge. Calvin asks Sam where he was working today. Calvin shows him his sketch pad and asks if he painted the picture and who it is. Sam says it is a drawing and that it came to him out of the blue. Calvin says the tramp’s description fits the picture. Calvin asks where he painted it, but Sam says his subconscious. Calvin does not believe him because it is the face of a dead man. Sam says it is a man sleeping, and he starts altering the drawing so that the eyes are open. Calvin says he destroyed legal evidence. He says he will find out what is going on and starts to leave. The door comes open, and the body is seen in the bathtub. Dr. Greenbow comes in and asks where he is. Jennifer says Arnie is in the bathtub playing with his frog. Albert sounds the horn of the car, and Calvin drives off.
Albert comes back in and says he was not frightened. He admits he was only the captain of a tugboat. Ivy says he is a handsome captain. He shows the shoes he got from Calvin’s car. The doctor comes in and says he had a heart seizure. He asks why he was in the bathtub. Jennifer explains that Harry has been buried several times. She tells how Albert thought he shot him, Ivy hit him with her shoe, and she hit him on the head. Jennifer and Sam want to get married. She asks the doctor to keep quiet about all this, and he leaves quickly, calling it a nightmare. Ivy says they have to dress Harry, and Jennifer suggests they pretend to find the body.
On the hill the four watch as Arnie approaches the body. He sees the body and runs off. Albert asks Sam what he asked for from the millionaire. Ivy asks too, and Albert says a double bed.
This macabre comedy plays upon the contrast of the seriousness of a murder being discussed and handled by people as a normal thing. Hitchcock, who seems obsessed by murder, has fun with this one.