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Monday, August 08, 2005

Movies - HARVEY (1950)

Directed by Henry Koster
Written by Mary Chase and Oscar Brodney

HARVEY was one of my first favourite classic movies, ever since I saw it on TV as a kid (along with a few other James Stewart movies and some Marx Brothers), and every time I've seen it since. Used to have a copy of the original Mary Chase play as well, but I can't find it right now, unfortunately. It's a very faithful adaptation, of course (with several of the stars having done stage versions), mostly just re-staged to allow for the extra settings available on the screen version, but I remember a few things I wanted to re-check after re-watching the movie. Fortunately my library system does have a copy of it, so I'll have to check it out.

I heard this voice say "Good evening, Mr. Dowd". Well, I turned around and here was this big six-foot rabbit leaning up against a lamppost. I thought nothing of that because when you've lived in a town as long as I've lived in this one you get used to the fact that everybody knows your name.

A big part of the charm of the movie is Stewart's portrayal of Elwood P. Dowd, one of the great characters of movie history. Perfectly written, just a great storytelling character for the monologues and also nicely plays off the other characters with his disarmingly non-conventional style, Stewart catches all the little ticks perfectly. However, there are a lot of scenes without Stewart, and those are just as good, especially anything with Elwood's sister Veta (played by Josephine Hull, who deservingly won an Academy Award for it). The weakest part was probably anything dealing with the Doctor Sanderson / Nurse Kelly romance whenever Elwood wasn't directly involved, which always feels a lot to me like the romance sub-plots that populated (and dragged down) the Marx Brothers movies.

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, you must be oh-so-smart or oh-so-pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. And you may quote me.

One thing I always wondered about was the decision to make it explicit, in a few minor scenes, that Harvey really does exist. I'm not entirely certain it wouldn't have been a better movie without those scenes, although one of them ("How are you Mr. Wilson? Who in the encyclopedia wants to know?") is a favourite of mine. Interestingly in the production notes section of the DVD it mentions that Chase wanted to actually show Harvey in the final scene, but they decided against it. Good call.

I also always wondered about the fact that Elwood seems to be unaware that other people can't see Harvey. I can accept a giant magic rabbit, but if we're going to accept that Elwood is not insane then it brings up the question of why he's oblivious to the fact that Harvey is invisible to everyone else. Not that that really bugs me, and I do like that the script seems to be consistent in never giving even a hint that Elwood knows no-one else can see Harvey.

Anyway, always good to watch an old favourite that holds up even better than when I first saw it.

1 comment:

  1. Michael11:16 pm

    Regarding the question of why Dowd is unaware of Harvey's invisibility. It has all to do with Dowd's pleasantness. You'll notice he often speaks for Harvey. It would be utterly impolite of Dowd to ignore Harvey in the presence of those who don't see him. Because he speaks for Harvey, he demonstrates that he is aware of Harvey's position in the world and will communicate Harvey to those who don't see him and hope he will reveal himself to them in due time.

    One of my favorite movies.


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