Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Elwood P. Dowd


Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.


Sometimes a character from a book or film puts an arm around you and offers a long friendship. There's something about him with which you deeply identify. Something about that character that moves you and brings a smile to the face. That's how I feel about Dowd. Elwood P. Dowd. If you haven't seen the film "Harvey", released in 1950, give it a quick rental. Or if you haven't seen it in many years and forget much of it, take a second look.

"Harvey" for those who don't know, is the story of an eccentric middle age man (possibly an alcoholic) who has made a break from reality...maybe. He would disagree, of course. A delightful, friendly man, he stumbles through the world in the company of a six foot white rabbit named Harvey. Of course, Dowd would be quick to tell you Harvey isn't really a rabbit, he's a pooka.
Unfortunately, Harvey is an embarassment to Elwood's sister and so she trying to do that which she feels she should have done years ago---have Elwood committed.

A gentle film, with a big smile and a bigger heart. Maybe Elwood can explain it better himself:

"I'd just put Ed Hickey into a taxi. Ed had been mixing his rye with his gin, and I just felt that he needed conveying. Well, anyway, I was walking down along the street and I heard this voice saying, "Good evening, Mr. Dowd." Well, I turned around and here was this big six-foot rabbit leaning up against a lamp-post. Well, I thought nothing of that because when you've lived in a town as long as I've lived in this one, you get used to the fact that everybody knows your name. And naturally I went over to chat with him. And he said to me... he said, "Ed Hickey was a little spiffed this evening, or could I be mistaken?" Well, of course, he was not mistaken. I think the world and all of Ed, but he was spiffed. Well, we talked like that for awhile and then I said to him, I said, "You have the advantage on me. You know my name and I don't know yours." And, and right back at me he said, "What name do you like?" Well, I didn't even have to think twice about that. Harvey's always been my favorite name. So I said to him, I said, "Harvey." And, uh, this is the interesting thing about the whole thing: He said, "What a coincidence. My name happens to be Harvey."

And then there's Elwood's philosophy of life: "Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be" - she always called me Elwood - "In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.

And then there's Elwood's explanation of how he spends his afternoons:

Harvey and I sit in the bars... have a drink or two... play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people they turn toward mine and they smile. And they're saying, "We don't know your name, mister, but you're a very nice fella." Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We've entered as strangers - soon we have friends. And they come over... and they sit with us... and they drink with us... and they talk to us. They tell about the big terrible things they've done and the big wonderful things they'll do. Their hopes, and their regrets, and their loves, and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then I introduce them to Harvey... and he's bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back; but that's envy, my dear. There's a little bit of envy in the best of us.

9 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

Never seen it. I saw another movie that had the same idea much later. I'm sure they borrowed it from this earlier movie. Of course, the rabbit was rather psychotic.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Well, there you have it. Never seen it either, though I love Stewart in VERTIGO and ANATOMY OF A MURDER. Something else I can rent while I wallow in my middle-aged self-pity...

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

And I wonder if Charles is refering to DONNIE DARKO...

Zoe Winters said...

Jimmy Stewart was Kickass. I loved "Harvey"

Donnie Darko sort of ripped this idea off later, it's a cool movie too though.

There's a lot of different characters and stories I identify with. I can't really single out just one.

Lana Gramlich said...

That movie is a classic. Ironically I was just talking with a coworker about it the other day...

L.A. Mitchell said...

I do think of Donnie Darko immediately when I read this, but the tone of this rabbit as a character is entirely different. I love that you gave us his dialogue, it's so patterned and unique, what I always try for but never quite find without it sounding weird.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Charles, Wayne, this is a must see. You will thank me later.

Zoe and Lana, I agree. Jimmy Stewart was the best. I look back at his performances and am in awe. He took the everyman and gave us a characters that were astonishing in their simplicity and depth. "It's A Wonderful Life" "Vertigo" "Rear Window", "Harvey" "Philadelphia Story"...and Philadelphia Story is one of the most astonishing films you've ever seen. Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart. Crisp direction, brilliant screenplay.

l.a. I thought about Donnie Darko, an astonishing film for a small independent production. I don't think I've ever thought of it and Harvey together. But I can see how some would considering you don't know who or what the rabbit is until the end of the film.

Zoe Winters said...

Hahaha yeah, Stewart, it was really just that whole "giant rabbit not everybody can see" thing that made me link them. :P

Mark Rainey said...

I've seen a stage production of HARVEY, though never the Jimmy Stewart movie. I'm a huge Stewart fan through and through, and how this one has eluded me over the years, I'm not quite sure.

Although PHILADELPHIA STORY seems to be considered less than a masterpiece by some, it's one of my favorite comedies in the world, and it's one of Stewart's best roles.