This post is my entry in the Build-Your-Own Blogathon, in which 20 different bloggers write about films that are connected to each other. To see the complete rundown of connected films be sure to visit our host at Classic Film and TV Café. I will be picking things up here from the always delightful Silver Screenings‘ post on the 1957 musical film, “Bernardine”. Luckily for me, “Bernardine” was written for the stage by Mary Chase, who also happened to write the play as well as the screenplay for the deliciously entertaining James Stewart film, “Harvey” (1950). As it turns out, there is no better reason to talk about “Harvey” than to be connected by Mary Chase, because it is her writing that is the very heart and soul of this film.
For those who don’t know, or perhaps don’t remember, this enormously pleasurable movie is about the easy-going, free-spirited, and somewhat eccentric Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stewart). He is a middle-aged man living in his family home with his widowed older sister, Veta (Josephine Hull), and her coming of age daughter, Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne). Oh yes, he also lives with his best friend, Harvey, a six foot- three and a half inch invisible rabbit, or perhaps more appropriately, a pooka. In case you didn’t know, a pooka is a Celtic folklore creature, often large in size, that can bring good or bad fortune to those he visits. For Mr. Dowd, however, Harvey is more than a good luck charm or mythical hinderance. He is his best friend. They walk together, talk together, drink together, and entertain together. They are almost inseparable, and happy to be that way.
The conflict of the story comes when Veta has had enough of Harvey, and decides to have her “insane” brother committed. She takes him to a sanitarium where, through a series of adventures and misunderstandings, Mr. Dowd becomes friendly (and helpful) with much of the staff (Peggy Dow, Charles Drake, Cecil Kellaway & Jesse White). The only remaining question is whether Harvey and Elwood can help those around them before they do their very best to “help” Elwood become more “normal”- at least the way they think he should be.
“Harvey” is a film that is funny and touching, but very serious as well. The warmth and tenderness of the characters is the driving force of the picture, and here is where Mary Chase and her story and words get their chance to shine. She had already won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945 when the play became such a success, and the film translates her story so well.
Of course having Jimmy Stewart and Josephine Hull leading the way doesn’t hurt one bit. This film marked one of Stewart’s five Academy Award nominations, and Hull (in one of only six film appearances) won herself a well deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Together they are an unstoppable team, who almost effortlessly bring this extremely remarkable and usual story to life. Nobody could have been better in these roles, and time as well as other stage performances of the play, have only proven this point.
The popularity of “Harvey” has decreased somewhat over the years, but the acclaim has not. Everyone who takes the time to really put in effort and see this glorious movie the way it should be watched comes away better for it. After all, we could all use a little help from a pooka now and then.