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The classic stage hit gets the Hollywood treatment in the story of Elwood P. Dowd who makes friends with a spirit taking the form of a human-sized rabbit named Harvey that only he sees (and a few privileged others on occasion also.) After his sister tries to commit him to a mental institution, a comedy of errors ensues. Elwood and Harvey become the catalysts for a family mending its wounds and for romance blossoming in unexpected places. Written by
I have read that James Stewart considered Elwood P. Dowd his most personally significant role. In a career that spanned decades and included such great works at It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, choosing Harvey's friend, Elwood, as his personal favorite says something about rather powerful about Mr. Stewart and Mr. Dowd.
James Stewart was a down to earth, decent man whose personal life was as honorable as the lives of George Bailey and Jefferson Smith - but he admired Elwood P. Dowd, an alcoholic dreamer with an invisible giant white rabbit as his best friend. Not what you would expect of a man who piloted B-17's and led giant raids over Germany in WWII.
Elwood's attraction for us is perhaps what attracted him so much to James Stewart. Elwood is happy with himself and his life and even more importantly, he makes others happy with their lives. That is the great magic of Elwood and Harvey: they make others happy and they bring peace and a measure of contentment to almost everyone who know them.
I have seen another version of Harvey with Art Carney and it was quite good, but lacked the sense of magic that is a benediction in this version of Harvey. In the Carney version, you can see Harvey - he is a giant white rabbit - and seeing Harvey takes much of the magic away. When you watch Jimmy Stewart, you never really know if Harvey is real or not. You know that Elwood thinks he is real and you know that Elwood's family thinks Elwood is crazy. After watching for a while, you don't really care if Harvey is real. Elwood is real and it is his belief in Harvey and what Harvey represents to him that endows him with such sweet and gentle charm. Harvey is his rejection of the harshness and materialism of the world.
Harvey is a charming, magical masterpiece of kindness and goodness that somehow never becomes maudlin. Elwood and Harvey do not feel sorry for themselves and they most certainly do not expect you to feel sorry for them either. If anything, Elwood feels sorry for the rest of the world and he does not understand how everyone can't see as clearly as he does. For in his world, we are all brothers who should love as generously and kindly as Mr. Stewart's Elwood P. Dowd.
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