Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Harvey

Harvey; comedy, USA, 1950; D: Henry Koster, S: James Stewart, Josephine Hull, Peggy Dow, Charles Drake, Victoria Horne

Elwood Dowd is a normal, happy man who lives in a small town, except for one thing - he imagines that he is talking to an invisible, 6'3 rabbit all of the time. This is especially frowned upon by his sister Veta and niece Myrtle who is afraid that all her suitors are scared away by Elwood's peculiar behavior. Veta tries to commit Elwood into a mental asylum, but is committed there herself - until Dr. Chumley realizes the mistake and orders the staff to release Veta and search for Elwood. Dr. Sanderson and nurse Kelly get to know Elwood better, and realize he is a harmless man living in his own fantasy world. Veta finally changes her mind and decides to allow Elwood to live the way he likes.

One of the first examples of 'bizarre cinema', "Harvey" is an unusual ode to individuality, of people having the right to live in their very own fantasy world to escape from the grey-boring routine in life, as long as it is benign. James Stewart is excellent in the leading role, delivering another sympathetic, charming performance, whereas several jokes involving his imaginary invisible rabbit are very amusing (in the pub, the bartender politely asks a confused customer to pay for his drink, and he says that Elwood's friend should pay for it; Wilson asks the bartender if Elwood is sitting alone in the pub, and he replies with: "Well, there's two school's of thought, sir"; the protagonist's defining quote: "I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it."), but the storyline is rather chaotic and uneven, resulting in a 'patchwork': after the abrupt de-tour to a subplot involving a mental asylum in the first third - which is forcefully funny and misguided for almost half an hour - the film never truly recovers. Another detriment lies in the decision to not clearly state *why* Elwood is imagining his "friend" - is the rabbit his childhood friend caused by his loneliness? His trauma? Or does Elwood just like messing around with people? - as well as the pointless decision to imply that Harvey is actually real (scenes of doors opening by themselves), which leaves the overall theme rather vague and without a conclusion, though there is still room for speculation involving an allegory for religion or personal rights.

Grade;++

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