IMDB #191 Harvey

As a child, I was never prone to the whimsical deadpan effort (or the legitimate mental instability) necessary to invent and maintain an imaginary friend.

But today we can all wish we knew a certain 6'3.5" tall pooka named Harvyer, who we don't see but really get to know in the 1950 classic of the same name.

Best imaginary friend ever? (With the obvious exception of Joey from "Friends"'s childhood companion, a Space Cowboy named Maurice).

The Key Players:

Henry Koster was a German-born director most famous for this film, Three Smart Girls (a smash hit musical that saved Universal from banruptcy in 1936), and personally convincing Universal to sign Abbot and Costello after seeing them in a nightclub.

Jimmy Stewart pulls into a tie with Cary Grant for most countdown appearances with 4.

Josephine Hull would actually win Best Supporting Actress for this role as yet another sweet-natured aunt with a certifiable brother (though she doesn't poison anyone this time).

Peggy Dow, Charles Drake, Cecil Kellaway, Victoria Horne, Jesse White, and William Lynnn make up the rest of an ensemble cast.

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The Story:

Stewart stars as the easygoing, pleasant, and unfailingly polite Elwood P. Dowd, a rich eccentric prone to handing his card to everyone, inviting them for a drink, and introducing them to his friend, Harvey.

Harvey, we learn, is a giant talking rabbit seen only by Elwood, and his continual deference to his "friend" mortifies his older sister Veta (Hull) and her daughter Myrtle Mae. After Elwood ruins a society event they're hosting, Veta decides to finally have him commited to a sanitarium.

The visit to the sanitorium, Chumley's Rest, goes predictably awry however, when Veta admits to Dr. Sanderson that she's even imagined seeing Harvey once or twice herself (having phrased the general idea of the invisible rabbit in a way that doesn't make it clear that it's her brother's delusion to begin with). So she gets committed instead.

They let a bemused Elwood go- on his way out he loses track of Harvey, but he runs into the head doctor's wife, Mrs. Chumley, and tells her about his pooka friend. When she gets inside they realize their mistake, and set off to find him.

Following are a series of missed connections at various bars as they try to track Elwood down, and some inklings that Harvey may not be as imaginary as he seems...

The Artistry:

Harvey is, in a word, charming, and easily so on the strength of Jimmy Stewart's grinning laconicness. Among his countdown performances so far, he gives my second favorite performance (he was a struggling writer in The Philadelphia Story. It's an unfair bias).

The movie around him is a little tricky to classify in tone- it seems set up to be a screwball affair- an early stooge charged by a family friend to keep Elwood away from the party slips on a wet floor and goes sprawling, knocked unconscious. Certainly when they all run out to find Elwood in the city I expected many more hi-jinks, but instead they find him alone at a bar (no Harvey even), and he talks wistfully about how he met Harvey, and what he means to different people in a great monologue.

It's more dramatic depth than I would've bet on, and the Pulitzer prize for the Mary Chase play it's based on makes more sense the more I consider it (she also wrote the screenplay). Harvey is about being happy wherever you are, whomever you're with.


Small clues start to add together on the nature of our invisible friend: A hat with two large holes in the top, doors opening on their own, and a curious dictionary definition of "pooka" when orderly Mr. Wilson looks it up:

"From old Celtic mythology, a fairy spirit in animal form, always very large. The pooka appears here and there, now and then, to this one and that one. A benign but mischievous creature. Very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and how are you, Mr. Wilson?" (cue the double take)

Finally it all adds up- head of the sanitorium Mr. Chumley even meets Harvey himself. Veta stops Elwood from getting an injection that might keep him from seeing things that aren't there, but will also take away his serene, happy nature. Myrtle Mae (concerned this whole time about ever finding a man) makes eyes at Mr. Wilson, Nurse Kelly and Dr. Sanderson reconcile a longstanding love/hate relationship, and Harvey even rejoins Elwood after it seems like he would stay with Dr. Chumley.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I think higher, especially since there aren't many movies with this sort of general affability anymore, and definitely not with a subtle philosophical bent.

The Legacy:

The play has been made for television a crazy six times, and Steven Spielberg recently contemplated making a new film- word is he backed off the idea when no one was willing to invite a comparison to Stewart by taking the role.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

The contemplative scene in the alley- though it is palookaless.

Leftover Thoughts:

-Hull deserves the Oscar, I think, because she had to toe the believing/not believing in Harvey line the entire film.

-Frow now on if anyone asks "Is there anything I can do for you?" I'm going to smile and respond "Well what did you have in mind?"

Coming Up...

Tue, May 18th: 190. The Hustler

Fri, May 21st: 189. The Kid

Tue, May 25th: 188. The Best Years Of Our Lives

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