3/5/12: Harvey

Pooka – From old Celtic mythology: “A fairy spirit in animal form, always very large, appears here & there, now & then, to this one & that, who is very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and how are you, Blog Reader?”

Harvey, one of the most beloved films of all time, was voted the #7 Fantasy in 2008 by the American Film Institute, and AFI’s #35 Funniest Movie in 2002. Josephine Hull won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1950 at the 23rd Academy Awards as Veta Louise Simmons, reprising her role on Broadway at the 48th Street Theatre when the play closed after 1775 performances. In addition, the great James Stewart was nominated for the Best Actor as the slightly askew alcoholic, Elwood P. Dowd, losing to José Ferrer as Cyrano de Bergerac. The film was directed by Henry Koster and is his most famous and finest piece. Amongst his other 48 directorial features: The Bishop’s Wife and The Singing Nun.

The story is of the happy-go-lucky Elwood Dodd, an alcoholic (though he’s only seen taking a sip off a drink once in the movie) who sees, converses with, and is best friends with an invisible 6’3.5″ tall pooka taking the form of a white rabbit. Elwood and his sister Veta are quite well to do – Elwood, 42 years old & much younger than his sister, doesn’t have to work at all. He gets to spend his time down at Charlie’s all day having cocktails with Harvey and the other patrons of the neighborhood bar. He passes out his card to everyone he encounters, “Happy to know” all of them, and inviting them all to dinner the next day. He’s so carefree & unconcerned with the business of the world that, in the opening scene, he’s given an envelope of supposed importance which he simply rips up and throws on the street.

Veta is on a mission to get her daughter Myrtle Mae, played by Victoria Horne, married off before she is too old in the post-World War II upper echelon society. Veta adores Elwood and seems to simultaneously believe in/perceive Harvey and think that Elwood is touched. Myrtle Mae simply dislikes her Uncle Elwood and finds him, at the very least, a nuisance who needs to be institutionalized. She eventually convinces her mom to have him taken to the sanatorium. Of course, as with all great comedies, complications ensue – there is confusion over who is really the patient: Should it be Veta or Elwood. And that’s the point of the film: Is Elwood crazy or does Harvey exist? And it’s not just Elwood and Veta who are influenced by invisible Harvey: All of the customers and employees at Charlie’s acknowledge the pooka; the head of the sanatorium himself, Dr. Chumley, believes in him; and Harvey even makes a visible appearance in the end scene as the film credit “Harvey as Himself” is shown.

Harvey is a classic motion picture – one of the best comedies ever, and not to be missed – a joyous movie. In this day and age, when politicians are arguing over gay marriage & medically insured contraception; where it’s in vogue to be prejudiced against Muslims; where our first African-American President must produce his birth certificate to validate his legitimacy to those that can’t accept the idea that the world and country is changing; a little comedy from post-WWII, Red scare, McCarthyism America can teach us all about tolerance.

Forrest would say that “Crazy is as crazy does”; Robert Hunter, “One man’s crazy is another man’s fun”. But I think Elwood himself said it best: “I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whomever I’m with.”. Me? I think I’ll just have myself a drink!


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