by Natasha Theobald
Watching this movie is like warm milk at bedtime. It's like sipping hot chocolate just as the marshmallows are beginning to melt. It's sitting in a hot bath with the scent of your favorite bubbles filling the air. It is warm and sweet and, ultimately, extraordinarily satisfying. Watching James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd is looking back for a time and place that probably have never been, an era when goodness and decency and kindness win the day. Turn off the TV tonight, and take a break from so-called reality shows. Sometimes it's so nice to be wrapped in the warm blanket of a story told with heart and grace.Elwood P. Dowd is a man in his early forties. Since his mother's death, he has played host to his sister, Veta (Josephine Hull, who won an Academy Award for this role), and his niece, Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne). They enjoy with him the comfort of his house and his life, with only one small problem - Harvey. Harvey is a white rabbit, six foot, three and a half inches tall, with whom Elwood spends his days. It wouldn't be so terrible, except that Elwood is such a kind and polite gentleman that he insists on introducing Harvey wherever he goes.
"Warm, sweet, and funny"
It is with hopes that Harvey and Elwood will stay out for the day that Veta and Myrtle plan a social event at the house. You see, Myrtle is hoping to marry soon, and she desires to make connections toward finding a good man. Things go awry, however, when Elwood and his friend come home. It is then the women decide that Elwood may do well with some rest at Chumley's, a home outside of town for the colorful or downright crazy. All is well with the plan, too, until, upon trying to admit her brother, Veta betrays some personal acquaintance with his invisible friend, Harvey. The doctor locks her up instead, leading to confusion, confrontation, confession, and, finally, conciliation.
Here is where I admit something horrible, and I hope you will keep my secret. I haven't seen very many James Stewart movies. My family never watched "It's a Wonderful Life" during the holidays. I've yet to see "Rear Window" or "The Philadelphia Story." I don't usually seek out Westerns. Basically, I suck. So, for all intents and purposes, James Stewart has been, to me, an unknown quantity. In fact, I am more familiar with imitations of the man than the work of the man himself, something which, I guarantee, I will soon remedy.
There is a moment in this film when Stewart, when Elwood, sits down to tell about when and how he first met Harvey. His master story telling is so natural, so mesmerizing, that I sat in awe of him. There was no acting that I could see, which is much the goal, I understand. He spoke with simplicity and sincerity, and I would have listened to anything he had to say for as long as he wanted to speak. The character of Elwood P. Dowd is so generous, so kind, so winning, that you truly begin to believe that any story could be true, that any love could be real, and that any six foot rabbit could find a home at his side. James Stewart resides at the center of this film, drawing all of the other characters to him, changing the richness of their lives and the openness of their minds. It is less that Elwood needs to live without Harvey than the world needs to learn to live with him.
The acting overall is quite good. There are many funny moments, though they aren't the kind of funny you could wet yourself over. Mary Chase wrote the screenplay based upon her Pulitzer Prize winning stage play. Director Henry Koster gives the cast and the story room to envelop the audience in a web of fantasy. The special effects, if that's even appropriate, are there to offer an opportunity into the fantasy for those who choose to embrace it. They are simple and subtle without distracting from the story. The result is a warm and wonderful film for kids of all ages who would rather believe than be right.Watch for wonderful performances and splendid storytelling. You will laugh, and you may even learn something about your own capacity for faith in fairy tales and/or other people.
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originally posted: 10/26/04 05:49:26