director Henry Koster
I hadn’t watched a movie on VHS in so long…. I actually had to figure out how to re-hook up my VCR. And it took some work.
With my kids back from Australia, I wanted to find a good movie for our New Year’s Eve movie night. I wanted a classic and the movie that I’d ordered from Netflix had not yet come in, so I trundled down to the now nearly anachronistic “Ye Olde Video Shoppe” and browsed to see what they had to offer. Harvey was actually one of the top ones that I was looking for. I had an odd feeling for The Poseidon Adventure (1972), which has the New Year’s Eve thing going for it. Oddly, I recall seeing that film a number of times as I was growing up. But the pickins was slim but ultimately I found Harvey on VHS.
In the end, Felix had a bit of a migraine so it was just Clara and I that watched it. Great fun, I must say.
Though as a kid I watched The Poseidon Adventure many times, I had never seen Harvey (not that these films have anything in common, mind you). Not until a friend enlightened me some 20 or so years ago and I was brought in to the wonder and enjoyment of this classic film.
I have always loved Jimmy Stewart, ever since I recall being first introduced to him via cinema. Harvey was one of his personal favorite roles and it’s doubtlessly one of his best. Adapted from a Pulitzer-winning play by Mary Chase, Harvey is the story of Elwood P. Dowd, a man without a care in the world whose best friend is a 6 foot something invisible rabbit.
Of course, everybody thinks he’s crazy. Especially his older sister Veta (played by the amazing and Academy Award winning Josephine Hull) and his niece, Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne), both of whom are trying to re-connect in the town’s society and find Myrtle Mae a man. Embarrassments lead Veta to finally try to have Elwood committed. Nearly slapstick insanity ensues when Veta gets committed instead.
The whole film plays off of Elwood’s sublime charm, ease, and happiness. He’s unflappable, blissed-out almost, a model of kindness, gentility. He’s also a drunk.
Interestingly, the film treats his alcoholism blithely. He’s never shown to be “drunk”, per se, though he is constantly ordering two martinis, one for him and one for Harvey. If alcoholism is potentially a cheerful state of being in the film, psychiatry is anything but. The story is a paean to the mystical, magical world of fantasy to which we all can belong in strict converse to the “reality” that drugs and forced cold baths bring about. Ultimately, it’s a cab driver who notes how he meets all kinds of wonderful folk on the way to the sanitarium but they always come out as gruff realists, unfriendly and unkind. This is what ends up saving Elwood.
Surely, psychiatry around 1950 featured probably as many curses as cures, but let’s face it, who’s ever met a perpetually cheery, benign, open, gentlemanly drunk?
In the end, it’s revealed that Harvey is a “pooka”, a Celtic fairy spirit that takes animal form quite often and thanks to a few little effects, it’s made clear that he does exist. So there is a magical world, after all. Harvey is a big invisible rabbit, not a pink elephant. And the kindness and gentility of Edwood P. Dowd is more of a testament to how people would be well-suited to slowing down, showing one another courtesy and interest, and knock back a few martinis while you’re at it.
Clara enjoyed the film quite a bit. As did I. And it is indeed one of the best Jimmy Stewart films there is. And there are a lot.