Wednesday, July 11, 2012
(October 1950, U.S.)
You've previously read (more than once) that Al Pacino is my favorite actor of all time. However, I can safely say, without hesitation, that my favorite classic film actor of all time is Jimmy Stewart. Whether he's working with Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock or whomever, the man's blend of lighthearted humor and tense drama has held my enthusiasm ever since I first saw him in REAR WINDOW (1954) long ago. His character of Elwood P. Dowd in HARVEY is one of his most popular (and one of Stewart's own favorite) roles. And if it's innocent lightheartedness you're looking for in a story of man who believes he has a friendship with a six-foot tall invisible white rabbit named Harvey, there's no one better than Jimmy Stewart.
So if you've never seen this film (or even heard of it), then you heard me correctly! Elwood P. Dowd is a grown man who firmly believes that his best friend in life is a six-foot tall invisible white rabbit. To those around him, it seems clear enough that Elwood is a man just a few cans short of a six pack. The innocence of the story, however, attempts to convey the concept that his delusions are to be considered not only acceptable, but even refreshing in a world that, even at the start of the 1950s, is filled with hostility and cynicism. Elwood doesn't attempt to conceal his bogus friendship with Harvey. He freely introduces the invisible rabbit to nearly everyone he encounters and never fails to befriend those around him, from mailmen to taxi drivers to bartenders. He even has business cards ready for those moments and loves to invite much of the riff-raff he meets over to his house for dinner. He's a man with a realively simple philosophy of life that goes something like this: "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". Sounds very Jimmy Stewart, doesn't it!
Delusional as his friendship may be, the film takes the opportunity to induce a touch of magic into the story by tempting the viewer to open their mind and suggest the possibility of Harvey's reality, invisible or not. Simple, subtle hints like a hat with two holes cut out for rabbit ears and doors opening and closing by themselves are enough to tempt us and raise our eyebrows. Harvey may not just be a rabbit, but a symbol of something that can bring out the best in all of us as human beings. The idea seems to work for those who want to "let the rabbit in" because apparantly the flipside of the coin would be people who are impatient, unpleasant and arrogant. In other words, everyday normal people.
You know, I have to say it's a wonder that I really like HARVEY the way I do. Sure, it's Jimmy Stewart and sure, he's one of the greatest actors that ever lived, but his character of Elwood P. Dowd is probably one of the least types of people I could ever relate to. While I would personally consider myself a reasonably friendly and courteous person, I do NOT go out of my way to make friends with strangers the way Elwood does. In fact, if you're ever stuck sitting next to me on a long plane ride, you'd do very well NOT to engage me in any pointless conversation. It's simply not my style (to put it mildly!). What can I say? Some of us are people persons, some of us are not, and invisible white rabbits aren't going to change that.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Taxi Driver: "I've been driving this route for fifteem years. I've brought 'em out here to get that stuff, and I've drove 'em home after they had it. It changes them. On the way out here, they sit back and enjoy the ride. They talk to me; sometimes we stop and watch the sunsets, and look at the birds flyin'. Sometimes we stop and watch the birds when there ain't no birds, and look at the sunsets when its raining. We have a swell time. And I always get a big tip. But afterwards, oh oh..."
Veta Simmons: "Afterwards, oh oh"? What do you mean, "afterwards, oh oh"?"
Taxi Driver: "They crab, crab, crab. They yell at me. Watch the lights, watch the brakes, watch the intersections. They scream at me to hurry. They got no faith in me, or my buggy. Yet, it's the same cab, the same driver. and we're going back over the very same road. It's no fun. And no tips. After this he'll be a perfectly normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are!"