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Theatre / Harvey

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"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."

A classic, Pulitzer Prize-winning 1944 play by Mary Chase which has been adapted to the screen several times, including a 1950 film starring Jimmy Stewart and a 1996 Made-for-TV Movie starring Harry Anderson. Jim Parsons has starred in it on stage as well.

Harvey himself is a giant rabbit who is also a Pooka and who is Invisible to Normals. (To those who can see him, he is white.) He is quite friendly. He may or may not have superpowers...

Of course, since Harvey is invisible and usually unobtrusive, his existence is frequently doubted.

His best friend is Elwood P. Dowd, who is the local useless eccentric who is living off his inheritance. He spends his days in bars, drinking and introducing people to Harvey. He wants everyone to meet Harvey, including the local socialites whom his sister wants to impress so her daughter can get married. His attempts to get everyone to meet Harvey tend to disturb the socialites, though.

After one garden party too many is wrecked this way, his sister calls an insane asylum so that she can cure Elwood of seeing and recognizing Harvey. This is made difficult because Elwood is a nice man who charms most of the hospital staff and who doesn't understand that there might be a problem. It also doesn't help that she herself also isn't quite sure whether Harvey is real or not — she just wants Harvey gone.

The questions: Does Harvey exist? Can Elwood be cured of believing in him? And is it worth it?

While the 1950 version is the most popular, five other film or TV versions have been made and a sixth was abandoned in 2009/2010.

Harvey contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Chumley still wants to get Harvey to himself in the movie, but he doesn't offer to lock up Veta nor does he make the conscious decision to get Elwood out of the picture to take the pooka away from Elwood, instead just going along with the plan. As a byproduct of this, he gets a straightforward happy ending where Elwood lets Harvey go with him until he's lived out his dream at which point he returns.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Myrtle Mae becomes romantically attached to Wilson, a rather Jerkass caretaker at the asylum, who uses necessary force when dealing with patients, and who appalls her mother because of this.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Attempted by Sanderson, but perhaps one of the only times where it completely fails.
    Dr.Sanderson: Mr. Elwood... what was your father's name?
    Elwood: John.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...
    Dr. Sanderson: How did you come to call him Harvey?
    Elwood: Well, Harvey's his name.
  • Basement-Dweller: Subverted. Early on, Myrtle Mae complains that Elwood is this, as he lives with his sister and won't move out or get a job. Veta at once reminds her that, since Elwood got the entire family fortune, they're the ones living with him.
  • Catchphrase: Elwood is always introducing himself:
    Elwood P. Dowd. Let me give you one of my cards. Now, use this number, not that one. That's the old one.
    • He's also delighted to meet new people, even if they aren't as nice as he is (or even nice to him).
    I want you to know that I'm glad to have met you.
  • Character as Himself: Harvey. At the very end of the credits, Harvey opens a door and the words at the bottom of the screen say "Harvey as Himself."
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Elwood, much to Veta and Myrtle Mae's dismay. Even if Harvey is real, it doesn't change the fact that Elwood's demeanor is odd.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Elwood does this several times throughout the story. Most notably:
    I started to walk down the street when I heard a voice saying: "Good evening, Mr. Dowd." I turned, and there was this big white rabbit leaning 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.
  • Critical Psychoanalysis Failure: Here you can see how the boundaries between patient and therapist gradually merge. Poor, poor thing. The movie’s ending seems to suggest that the therapist went insane with a nonexistent Harvey, and if you believe that Harvey is Real After All, Elwood ends with the real Harvey... or... something.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "...And Uncle Elwood is my Uncle."
  • Dumb Is Good: Discussed by Elwood.
    Elwood P. Dowd: 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.
  • Deuteragonist: Elwood is the central character, but Veta gets the next most focus and is the one who ultimately changes for the better, as Elwood already starts the show with no desire to change a life he deems perfect.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Dr. Chumley is just doing his job at first, but when he realizes the potential benefits of having Harvey, he then decides to get the rabbit for himself, even if he has to "cure" Harvey or lock up Veta. Nobody else is aware of this though, and he ultimately doesn't get to treat Elwood, which he ultimately accepts, with his amoral stint seemingly over.
  • The Fair Folk: Harvey is a pooka, a type of Celtic fairy/spirit that take the form of various animals.
  • The Film of the Play: The original Broadway production of the play ran for almost five years and was directed by Antoinette Perry, the namesake of the Tony Awards. Former Vaudeville star Frank Faynote  originated the role of Elwood P. Dowd, but Jimmy Stewart was one of the replacements as Dowd later in the Broadway run. Also reprising their Broadway roles in the 1950 film were Josephine Hull as Veta (who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) and Jesse White as Wilson. And there have been many other made-for-TV adaptations over the years, including one with Stewart as Dowd once again. Plans for a modern-day remake have fallen into Development Hell, with Netflix announcing in late 2018 that they were going to take a shot at remaking it.
  • Freudian Couch: Dr. Chumley ends up on his own couch.
  • For Happiness: Elwood makes friends with everyone he can, and believes in being pleasant to all; he wins over a lot of people by being sweet to them, most everyone by the end of the movie is happier.
  • Guardian Angel: Harvey, if you believe him to be a bona fide spirit, appears to function as one of these to Elwood. Every time others are conspiring against him, however good-heartedly, a series of contrived coincidences occur to just let Elwood wander around as free as a daisy, such as Judge Gaffney's assistant immediately incapacitating himself when sent out to bring Elwood in or Dr. Sanderson completely misunderstanding Veta and committing her instead of her brother.
  • Half Empty Two Shot: To keep Harvey in-frame.
  • Hair-Raising Hare: Harvey, to Dr. Chumley.
  • Hesitation Equals Dishonesty: Dr. Sanderson quizzes Elwood on his extended family in the hopes of getting him to admit that Harvey was based on and named after one of them as a sort of coping mechanism; Elwood noticeably hesitates before he replies each time. But Harvey turns out to be real anyway.
    • It could also be interpreted as simply being bemused at the sudden and (to him) inexplicable change of topic.
  • Hospital Hottie: Miss Kelly.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Discussed by the cab driver when Elwood is about to receive his injection, and how said injection "transforms" pleasant, amiable human beings into irritable things who cannot be satisfied.
    "After this he'll be a perfectly normal human being. And you know what bastards/stinkers they are!"
  • Jerkass:
    • Mr. Wilson is absolutely terrible towards his would be patients, barely hiding his desire to beat up Elwood which he comes close to trying several times and being apparently being extremely inappropriate whilst handling Veta.
    • Myrtle Mae is quite the whiney brat, and unlike her mother who actually does love Elwood despite the suffering he's inadvertently caused her, Myrtle Mae is so embarrassed by him that she wishes he'd die.
  • Insane Equals Violent: The Sanitarium staff certainly seems to think so. They are absolutely terrified when they realize that they may have let a 'psycho' (the unfailingly pleasant Dowd) walk out, and automatically presume that he Dr. Chumley's continued absence meant that Dowd got violent and left him in a ditch somewhere.
    • The cab driver disagrees based on his experience driving patients before and after their treatment. See Humans Are Bastards.
  • Large Ham:
    • Veta can be quite hysterical on account of Harvey and all the drama that occurs because of him.
    • Chumley also can be pretty hammy in the last act on account of both being both terrified of Harvey and becoming determined to have the rabbit for himself.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: If you don’t count some things like the Ghost Butler or The Tape Knew You Would Say That, all the things that happens in the movie can be explained by mundane means and by believing Elwood is crazy, as Veta show us here, but the thought that Harvey is a real supernatural pooka makes it more… logical?
    Wilson: Is he alone?
    Mr. Cracker, the Bartender: Well, there's two schools of thought, sir.
  • My Beloved Smother: We are told Elwood had a close relationship with his mother and they lived together until she died.
  • My Card: Anyone, anyone, Elwood meets, he gives them his card, telling them which number to call him at.
  • Nice Guy: Elwood is pretty much the nicest, friendliest guy in the world.
  • No Antagonist: The conflict is people's misguided attempts to "cure" Elwood. Since Elwood is such a nice guy to everyone he meets, not once does he object.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Harvey.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Well, at least if you're a perfectly normal human being.
    The Taxi Driver: ...I've been driving this route for 15 years. I've brought 'em out here to get that stuff, and I've drove 'em home after they had it. It changes them... On the way out here, they sit back and enjoy the ride. They talk to me; sometimes we stop and watch the sunsets, and look at the birds flyin'. Sometimes we stop and watch the birds when there ain't no birds. And look at the sunsets when its raining. We have a swell time. And I always get a big tip. But afterwards, oh oh...
    Veta Louise Simmons: "Afterwards, oh oh"? What do you mean, "Afterwards, oh oh"?
    The Taxi Driver: They crab, crab, crab. They yell at me. Watch the lights. Watch the brakes, Watch the intersections. They scream at me to hurry. They got no faith in me, or my buggy. Yet, it's the same cab, the same driver. and we're going back over the very same road. It's no fun. And no tips... After this he'll be a perfectly normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are!
  • Repeating So the Audience Can Hear: In his first scene at his local pub, Elwood repeats what Harvey says so we can follow their conversation more easily.
  • Running Gag: Elwood offering his "Card" to people who simply ignore it.
  • Sanity Slippage: Veta progressively becomes more unbalanced as the story goes on, as if she's losing contact with reality and cannot make up her mind if Harvey is real or not. She gets better at the end, in that she can accept Harvey so long as Elwood stays as nice as he always is.
    Dr. Chumley: I want to observe his face as he talks to the rabbit. He does talk to it, doesn't he?
    Veta: Yes, they discuss all things together.
    Dr. Chumley: What?
    Veta: (without changing her expression or tone from her last line) I said yes, he does talk to it.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The reason Harvey stayed with Elwood instead of the Asylum Director at the end. It seems to be implied that he was turned off by the Director's fetish wish.
  • Secondary Character Title: Harvey.
  • Seemingly Profound Fool: Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey describes this as essentially his job. He goes to a bar, people sit down and tell him their worries, and he introduces them to Harvey. By the time they're done talking, the people walk away feeling better and never talk to him again.
  • Shipper on Deck: Elwood is so completely on board the Dr. Sanderson/Ms. Kelly train that he even believes they're together when he's first meeting them while they insist they're just coworkers. Once Wilson and Myrtle Mae are seen together, he's endorsing their pairing, too.
  • Shown Their Work: The pooka (or púca, to use the more formal spelling) is indeed a mischievous Shapeshifter in Celtic mythology, often taking the form of a rabbit. Mary Chase grew up well-versed in Irish folklore by her parents.
  • A Simple Plan: Early on it's established Elwood sees a 6 foot rabbit no one else can see and his sister and niece decide to send him to the insane asylum. Given Elwood's behaviour and accepting demeanor you'd think nothing could go wrong with that strategy... and you'd be mistaken. Minor subversion is that there's an indication that Harvey himself might have something to do with things not quite going to plan.
    • The rabbit's 6'3" in the play. In a 1990 audio introduction to the video release Jimmy Stewart points out that he was too tall to look up to a 6'3" bunny the way he needed to, so he always imagined Harvey as being 6'8". However, the dialogue remained unchanged, and few of the film's viewers seemed to spot the discrepancy.
  • Spooky Painting: Played for Laughs in this case. Somehow, the painter who did Elwood's portrait also saw Harvey and included him in the picture, too. It's used as a joke when Veta gives Dr. Chumley a lecture about paintings showing the reality of life, her being unaware Harvey's painting is standing where her mother's painting was.
    Veta: (points at painting of Harvey) Doctor, that is NOT my mother!
    Dr. Chumley: Yes, well, I'm very glad to hear that.
    • It could be a self-portrait, the movie never mentioned if Elwood could in fact paint, he may be very good and painted himself and Harvey. After all the movie outright admitted Elwood has a lot of free time on his hands.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: The movie shows an example with a book. Justified if you want to believe Harvey is real:
    Wilson: [reading from an encyclopedia] "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?" Beat. 'How are you, Mr. Wilson?' Who in the encyclopedia wants to know?
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Spelled out in the scene between Elwood and Dr. Chumley.
    • Also Veta throughout the play, as she learns to stop fussing about her social status and being "respectable" and try to make people happy.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Wilson really wants a dang egg and onion sandwich!
  • Uncle Pennybags: Elwood is kind to all people including the poor and he constantly invites strangers to his home for dinner.
  • Urban Fantasy: If you think Harvey is real, then this is a story where pookas that can make happy places real can be found leaning on lampposts.
  • Video Credits: In the closing credits all major characters are shown along with the actor's names.
  • Visible Invisibility: Harvey is present only through his action on the environment, such as opening doors.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back!: Veta wants her brother as he is, even if she had to tolerate Harvey.
  • White Bunny: Harvey. If you can see him, that is.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Mr. Dowd.

"You don't believe that story about the doctor sitting here, talking to a big white rabbit, do ya?"