Monday, July 25, 2011

Movies You Might Have Missed Monday - A Whimsical Edition

What a gem this week’s whimsical movie is!

A Pulitzer-winning play first, Harvey showed up on the silver screen in 1950 and stars one of my favorite classic actors, Jimmy Stewart, and a treat of an actress, Josephine Hull (who gave another unforgettable performance in the great Arsenic and Old Lace).

Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd. In his community, he’s well-known for being incredibly amicable as well as completely daft in the head for when he introduces himself to every Joe on the street, he also introduces his ‘imaginary friend’ Harvey, a pooka in the form of a 6 ft. 3 white rabbit. Though mostly harmless, he is a bane to his socially-sensitive sister Vita, played by Josephine Hull, and her old-maid daughter. After Elwood unintentionally crashes Vita’s ladies’ tea party, she decides to get him committed to the local sanitarium. But when she tries to describe the problem to the doctor and gets frantic about it, she’s mistaken as the one needing hospitalization and Elwood is allowed to go free.

Stewart sells the existence of Harvey brilliantly while endearing us all to his character. By the end, I get the feeling we should all be a little more like Elwood.

Josephine Hull, though, is the star of this show, which explains her Oscar win for best supporting actress for the role. She’s memorable, over the top, genius in her hysterics, genuine in her affections and concerns, and hysterical in her off-the-cuff remarks and observations.

The charm of this film is in its paradox.

Elwood is the crazy one… but is he really? His perspective of the world is actually more forgiving, kinder, and purer than any of his peers. He speaks to everyone with the utmost politeness no matter their station. He invites down-and-outers to dinner with genuine intent, not even for the sake of charity. He’s complimentary, loyal, and strangely observant. In fact, everyone else ends up seeming crazier than Elwood. In one scene, in fact, the psychiatrist ends up lying on the couch sharing his feelings while Elwood listens, the tables turned.

I also like this story because, to me, it whispers similar themes of the Gospel. Though Harvey is a mythological, supernatural being (perhaps unpleasant to consider for some), the way he’s described by Elwood demonstrates characteristics of unfailing love, acceptance, giving, and forgiveness. It takes a measure of faith to see Harvey, and as the story progresses, it’s obvious that Elwood is not the only one who can see him. And whether or not they can see Harvey, they all have opinions about him.

A quote from Elwood sums it up: 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.

If you’re willing to go a little crazy, try out this great, classic film, Harvey.

Happy Movie Watching, Dry Ground friends!

(photo by