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.
I don’t know why the play version of Harvey won a Pulitzer Prize. It’s a pretty good play with a really good message. And I guess it goes down pretty easily, so maybe that’s what puts it over the edge.
Elwood comes from a well-to-do family, but they don’t care for his drinking or for his best friend. Eventually they try to get him locked up in a mental institution that likes to give people “baths”.
The movie is a little hard on the mental health profession. Maybe in 1950 that was a novelty. It starts to make fun of all “normal” society, but comes off just taking empty potshots. I guess if I have any real complaint about the movie it’s that it takes easy shots instead of more incisive ones. Oh well.
What really makes the movie, for me, is Jimmy Stewart. I love Jimmy Stewart. I’ve seen him do comedy and westerns and disaster movies. He’s always fun to watch. His performance in Harvey is unlike any other of his career. He sounds tipsy the whole time — not drunk, but a little sloshy.
The other famous line from the movie comes from a cab driver, explaining what happens to folks treated at the institution. On the drive there, they’re friendly and enjoying themselves. After treatment, they start complaining about everything. “After this he’ll be a perfectly normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are!”
So there it is: a Jimmy Stewart movie telling you not to be normal. If this movie had been made 15 years later it would have had sympathetic hippie characters. Jimmy Stewart did a TV movie remake in 1972, but by then the hippies didn’t want it. It’s odd to think that the play was written in 1944, while WWII still raged. Of course, during wartime it’s difficult to tell the crazy people from the sane. But that’s another movie… (King of Hearts)