Yes, it’s National Novel Writing Month. Yes, I’m participating. Yes, I’m about a full day’s worth behind in my word count.
Yesterday I tossed up a quick post about a video I’d discovered, and in doing so used the phrase “here and there, now and then”. Which continued in my head “to this one and that one”, concluding (not correctly, but it’s been years so cut me some slack) “And how are you, Mr. Wilson?” I knew what it was from, but not the whole quote, which led me to Wikiquotes, which led to my happily reading some of the lines aloud, which led to Mom saying she’s never seen the movie (which is impossible, but effectively true), which led to me discovering that Netflix has Harvey (based on Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, directed by Henry Koster) available for instant viewing. Well. Even Glee couldn’t stand in the way of watching James Stewart (yes, called Uncle James in this house) amble through life at the side of a six-foot white rabbit. Sorry – Six foot three and a half inches, to be exact. Before the ears, I assume, though they never specify.
The story is, deceptively, simple. Josephine Hull (ah, yes – this was why she was so familiar when we watched Arsenic and Old Lace!) plays Veta Louis Simmons, who, with her daughter Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne), lives with her brother in the house in which they grew up, their mother having left it to the brother. This is a rather awkward situation, for the brother, Elwood P. Dowd, played by James Stewart, has a friend. A very good friend – his best friend … and he lives there too, which is what makes for the awkwardness. No, it’s not *that* kind of awkward – Harvey’s not that kind of friend. He’s a pooka.
“P-O-O-K-A. Pooka. From old Celtic mythology, a fairy spirit in animal form, always very large. The pooka appears here and there, now and then, to this one and that one. A benign but mischievous creature. Very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and how are you, Mr. Wilson?” [Inverts and shakes the dictionary] “How are you, Mr. Wilson?” Who in the encyclopedia wants to know?
The trouble is, no one except Elwood – more or less – can see Harvey, so when he in his deep courtesy introduces his friend to others there it tends to induce … amazement. And flight. And this has happened once too often to Veta Louise and Myrtle Mae – how will Myrtle Mae ever find a man – er, enter into society if all of the society matrons they invite over either come and run away holding their hats – or refuse to come at all, all because of Harvey?
Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet: Does Elwood see anybody these days?
Veta Louise: Oh, yes, Aunt Ethel, Elwood sees somebody.
And so Veta Louise makes the oft-postponed decision to have Elwood committed to Chumley’s Rest, the local nuthouse. Hm. I’ve credited watching M*A*S*H during my formative years with shaping my political views; I wonder if watching Harvey; several times around the same period has anything to do with my distrust of psychiatry. Because while Chumley’s Rest is very scientific and looks like a lovely place to be mad in – and probably was, by the standards of 1950 – by current standards the attitudes and practices are a little scary. Anyway. Elwood acquiesces happily – as he does everything – to accompanying his sister to the home … And in short order it is Veta Louise who is locked away, and Elwood let out to go with Harvey to Charlie’s Place for drinks. Hijinks ensue as the tangle of who should actually be interred in the Home is straightened out, Myrtle Mae falls desperately in love with Marvin Wilson, the orderly (or white slaver, depending on whom you ask – – played by Jesse White), the head nurse (Miss Kelly, played by Peggy Dow) tries to work out her romance with Dr. Sanderson (Charles Drake), and Dr. Chumley (Cecil Kellaway – love him), the head of the institution, has his world tipped sideways.
It’s Golden Age madcap comedy at its very best. It’s comedy at its very best. It’s film at its very best. It’s sweet, and smart, and so well-written it makes me want to turn in my pens. I love this movie – it’s not going to be another fifteen or whatever years before I see it again.
Harvey and I have things to do… we sit in the bars… have a drink or two… play the juke box. Very soon the faces of all the other people turn towards me and they smile. They say: “We don’t know your name, mister, but you’re a very nice fellow.” Harvey and I warm ourselves in these golden moments. We came as strangers — soon we have friends. They come over. They sit with us. They drink with us. They talk to us. They tell us about the great big terrible things they’ve done and the great big wonderful things they’re going to do. Their hopes, their regrets. Their loves, their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. Then I introduce them to Harvey, and he’s bigger and grander than anything they can offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back, but that’s — that’s envy, my dear. There’s a little bit of envy in the best of us. That’s too bad, isn’t it?