“My mom told me‘in this world, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant', well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.” This bread of life is from Elwood P. Dowd (Stewart), an extremely courteous middle-aged bachelor inHenry Koster’s HARVEY, an economical but gleeful comedy pivots around a looney tunes idea, courtesy to the titular Harvey, a pooka only visible to Elwood in the form of a6' 3½”tall rabbit.
Living with his sister Veta Louise (Hull) and her spinster daughter Myrtle Mae (Horne) in their family residence,Elwood again unwittingly sabotages a social gathering arranged by Veta Louise to find a suitor for Myrtle Mae by introducing everyone present to the invisible rabbit friend. Enough is enough, Veta Louise finally decides to put Elwood in a sanatorium headed by Dr. Chumley (Kellaway, circumspectly vacillating between authoritative and ingenuous), and a series of comedy of errors crops up apace one after another, with the amiable Elwood blithely incognizant of the hullabaloo, staying in character, keeping dishing out his calling card to whomever he meets and inviting them to dinner, en passant, match-making the bickering Dr. Sanderson (Drake) and nurse Miss Kelly (Dow) and spreading wisdom in the disguise of fanciful notions, eventually, it is quite irrelevant whether or not he is anold soak who is off his trolley, everyone needs a pooka (or a spiritual animal) for guidance.
James Stewart is nominated for an Oscar for magnificently amplifying Elwood's honest-to-goodness geniality and it is a tremendously heart-warming performance because guilelessness, more often than not, inclines to be contrived or over-acted in the hands of seasoned players, but not Mr. Stewart, whose self-deprecating demeanor adds a rather charismatic affinity to the character, it only generates solace to be awash by his pleasantries, as it is the theme of the story, to remind us that altruistic kindness is not a given but an often neglected merit, especially in an increasingly restive, skeptical world as we reside today.
The film won an Oscar for the rara avisJosephine Hull, a stupendous stage actress whose film works is only handful, she is such a gas as the balmy and hapless Veta Louise, often kitted up with a whirlpool of line-delivery which she showers upon audience with a comical flourish without diminishing the effect of exigency, and safely secures the payoff when Veta Louise changes her mind in the nick of time to keep the status quo.
By and large, the film appears less organic in second-guessing, e.g. the pairing of Myrtle Mae with a boorish Marvin Wilson (White) is cavalier and slightly distasteful, but to honor the precious well-intention behind this shaggy-dog story and its minutely apt arrangement of the-rabbit-in-the-room (aka. Harvey’s apparitional presence), the film deserves its own place in the treasure trove of Hollywood’s finest, not least for its eccentric wrinkle and two extraordinarily pleasurable performances.
referential points: Koster’s MY COUSIN RACHEL (1952, 6.3/10); Frank Capra’s MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939, 8.7/10), ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944, 7.3/10).