I watch a lot of films and I may have a favourite of the month, or year but this film has been a favourite since childhood and returning to it never diminishes that.
Harvey 1950 – James Stewart
The film is based around a middle aged brother and sister and the sister’s daughter who is of a an age where she should be finding a husband.
Elwood P Dowd, the brother, is our main character, he is a slightly bumbling but clearly intelligent man with a wonderful view of life. He is played by James Stewart. Elwood has a Pooka – which manifests to himself as a large white rabbit – called Harvey.
We do not see Harvey in the film but we are very aware of his presence, as indeed many others are.
I like this film because it very cleverly combines a range of emotions.
HumourThe humour is delivered mainly by the sister character Veta, superbly performed by the Josephine Hull. She is a whirlwind of energy, opinions, worry and care. Placed in situations near Elwood the extremes of character couldn’t be more profound.
A big comedy of errors occurs when Veta tries to have Elwood committed to a mental institute after he commits one too many social gaffs which she is unable to tolerate while she is trying to find a husband for her daughter Myrtle Mae.
PathosWe are led to genuinely like Elwood P Dowd we are totally convinced of his deep goodness and charm. If we had an afternoon in his town we’d love to spend it sitting and having a drink with him and Harvey - well I would. We like him despite the film pointing out his flaws. Elwood drinks and we know he hangs around bars a lot, and he sees things that people don’t normally see. We understand that he has sidestepped what would normally be presumed to be a normal life in the society in which his sister lives. Or do we like him because of these flaws?
Elwood P Down is a small philosopher and thinks he has himself sussed out. Some great quotes.
Elwood P. Dowd: Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.
Elwood P. Dowd: Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be" - she always called me Elwood - "In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.
Self AnalysisThere is the bite and the rub in this film though and it leaves us to question ourselves. See this
Elwood P. Dowd: Harvey and I sit in the bars... have a drink or two... play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people they turn toward mine and they smile. And they're saying, "We don't know your name, mister, but you're a very nice fella." Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We've entered as strangers - soon we have friends. And they come over... and they sit with us... and they drink with us... and they talk to us. They tell about the big terrible things they've done and the big wonderful things they'll do. Their hopes, and their regrets, and their loves, and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then I introduce them to Harvey... and he's bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back; but that's envy, my dear. There's a little bit of envy in the best of us.
So the point is – the same people seldom come back, there is a knowledge we have that Elwood hasn’t realised, some of those people don’t come back because when they have sobered up they find that they think him crazy and dare not return. Would I be one who came back to talk to the man who sat in a booth with a large white rabbit that I was unable to see? I think I would! I think I do!
That is where I must end it because I am now going out to support our pubs, hang out in some bars and share big things, because nobody brings anything small into a bar.