Directed by Henry Koster (1950)
What do you say about a lanky pleasant-looking middle-aged man who goes around town passing out his card to all and some, especially in bars, and just when you’re getting to know him a little, or you’re telling him about your triumphs and your mishaps, your disappointments and your dreams, because people just naturally open up to him, he tells you what his friend Harvey would say about it — and Harvey turns out to be a “pooka,” a six-foot-tall rabbit, usually invisible to almost everybody? Well, what do you say about a six-foot-two barrel-chested gum-chewing Catholic Irishman, who writes a novella about a man who likes to fly kites from the tops of skyscrapers, leaning out from the parapets while the tug of the kite keeps him from falling? Or how about a Jewish man who first escapes from Hitler’s Reich, goes to church all the time, and ends up making movies like The Robe and The Bishop’s Wife — and who saw Bud Abbott and Lew Costello and persuaded Universal to take them on, saving the studio from bankruptcy?
Well, that would be Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stewart, playing what he called his favorite role ever), in our Film of the Week, Harvey, about a man who likes everybody he meets, and who, as he says to the director of the Funny Farm where the family’s trying to get him, er, established, has certainly encountered “reality,” but he has won out over it. Scientists, he says, have conquered space and time. Harvey has done ’em better: he has conquered objections. Then it’s Myles Connolly, author of Mr. Blue and longtime Hollywood writer and producer, not to mention the godfather of Frank Capra’s three children, and the editor of a Catholic magazine that got banned in socialist Mexico; and Henry Koster, the director of this smooth and sparkling gem, another fellow who seems to have liked everybody.
Now, you can’t have a relative going around talking about a giant invisible rabbit. For one thing, it’s bad for your romantic life, if you’re his niece. “People get hit by cars every day,” she says to her mother Veta (Josephine Hull, who won an Oscar for her supporting role; you may remember her as one of the daft old biddies in Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace). “Why can’t that happen to Uncle Elwood?” Oh, Myrtle Mae doesn’t mean it, and though Veta knows that her brother is, how to say, not like other people, she also ends up half believing that there really is a rabbit. I mean, after all — even the camera suggests that there’s somebody sitting next to Mr. Dowd! And she loves her brother dearly. “Myrtle Mae,” she says to her niece in one of her frequent fits of exasperation, “you have a lot to learn, and I hope you never learn it!”
If Elwood P. Dowd is harmed by his fantasy, it sure doesn’t show, because he’s the wisest man you’ll want to meet, though he doesn’t know that he’s wise, and of course, there is that big rabbit — actually, as he says, six foot three and a half inches, because it’s important to get the facts straight. The terrific irony is that even Dr. Chumley, the man who runs the, ahem, boarding house for people with curiosities in the attic (Cecil Kellaway), starts to believe that the Pooka does exist. He’s lived his whole life as a scientist, and now he finds there’s a chance, just a chance, that he can live as a real human being with a gigantic rabbit named Harvey for a friend. Ah, hope springs eternal in the human breast!
This is a film to watch with the whole family. A little kid will crow with laughter, and it will put a knowing twinkle in many a grandad’s eye. Meanwhile — how did that door there swing open?
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Saturdat night at the movies. Just viewed " Marty" and " Harvey"
There is a piz-za of " Marty" in all of us!
"Harvey" over time would become what is known as a " Holy Fool" in Russia. These folk too were loved and tolerated despite their eccentricities.
My absolute favorite movie. I love the line that Elwood says to Dr. Chumley, “Doctor, years ago, my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world Elwood--she’d always call me Elwood--in this world Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ For years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”