best films: #24: HARVEY (1950)
Ah, madcap. The source of so much enjoyment in films, in my humble opinion. And like Arsenic and Old Lace and Some Like it Hot before it, Harvey is a total gem of a film, jam-packed with pleasing comical performances, hilarious zingers, and a silly-but-meaningful moral – imaginary friends, or giant white rabbits as it were, may be invisible to the naked eye, but can be a person’s very dearest friend when the rest of the world takes your aww-shucks, contented nature as reason to be committed to the loony bin. James Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, the grinning, gawky younger brother to Vita Louise Simmons (played with impeccable comic gusto by the incomparable Josephine Hull), the twitchy, bumbling socialite who, along with her Olive-Oyl-esque daughter Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne), plot to throw their embarrassingly cheery and imaginative relation into an institution. And in the style of the screwball comedies that came before it, identity confusion, misunderstandings, and zany physical mayhem ensues. And all this for Harvey – the six-foot, three-inch “pooka” who by film’s end, you just maybe believe truly exists. The performances all around in this movie, loaded with generous laughter-inducing moments, are those of true comedians. Though Stewart became most known for his dramatic roles (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life), or even his roles in many Hitchcock pictures (Vertigo, Rear Window, etc.), for me, he’ll always be most beloved for this and his other humorous performances. As a long-limbed gangly chap, he seems well suited for physical comedy. And then there’s Hull who, though many believe she snatched away the Oscar from more deserving ladies and that she lacks a great deal of acting diversity, is in top form for this picture. Vita Louise is a bombastic dame in the vein of Lina Lamont and the work of Marie Dressler.