Faerie

Fiona hadn’t seen HARVEY since she was a child, when it frightened her. As an adult, she made the perfect viewing companion. “He’s REAL? I’d forgotten he was REAL!”

Stewart and the title character.

It’s a very enjoyable, beautifully cast and very well directed production (Henry Koster always includes space in his compositions for the unseen H), using some of the Broadway actors but not star Frank Fay. Jimmy Stewart is arguably too young but it hardly matters. There’s an interesting and perhaps unanswerable question about how aware Ellwood P. Dowd is about what’s going on around him and how much his answers flummox his interrogators. I think the role COULD be played with Dowd totally UNaware that his responses to questions derail the minds of those around him. Stewart plays it as if some of these lines are deliberate jokes or deflections. Ellwood has chosen to be pleasant rather than smart but maybe he’s still a little smart too?

I don’t much care for remakes but remaking this with David Lynch would make a lot of sense. Stewart felt he was too young and could have done a better job later in life. There are a lot of possible choices in every line, including how drunk Ellwood is — Stewart plays him at the same undefined level of inebriation throughout.

Interesting to ponder what Frank Fay must have been like in the stage version. Fay is a weird, unsettling presence onscreen — maybe partly because of his sexuality — there always seem to be whole herds of elephants in the room, let alone bunnies — also he’s not photogenic, his smile beams unease — you can’t be sure if he’s uneasy or you are — I presume he worked in the role on stage because the audience had the benefit of being further away from him. His timing is excellent and his way of dithering about a line while still, eventually, nailing it, makes for an obvious point of connection with Stewart.

Harvey the Pooka is a creature of Celtic myth and Fay’s name, as well as the creature’s affinity for “crackpots and rumpots” suggests he’d be the right type to meet one.

HARVEY stars ‘Buttons’ a clown; Abby Brewster; Eva Muir; Coach Trout; Prof. Thurgood Elson; Prof. Norman Holsworth; Emory Wages; Ann McKnight; Capt. Cobb: Aramis; Daniel Boone; Mrs Sabatini; Cueball; and Phroso the Clown.

6 Responses to “Faerie”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Mot interesting you should bring up Fay’ sexuality. About a year and a half ago “Harvey” was revived on Broadway with Jim Parsons of “Big Bang Theory” fame. Parsons is an eminently skilled eccentric actor and quite openly gay. I suspect that “Elwood P. Dowd” is also gay, and his creation was Mary Chase’s way of writing about it in a deeply closeted era. And this in turn brings up the quite straight James Stewart working with gay material as he did in Hitchcock’s “Rope.”

  2. Stewart actually did play Elwood P. Dowd again in 1972, for a TV version. There’s a crappy-looking version on YouTube.

  3. Hmm, I’m actually curious…

    Oh no, not that curious (I just looked).

    The other gay Stewart film I think is Bell, Book and Candle, where there seems to me little doubt what witchcraft is standing in for.

  4. David Ehrenstein Says:

    True. The gayest character in it is played by Jack Lemmon who likes to turn off street-lamps “for his love life”

    “The Zodiac Club” is my favorite movie gay bar.

  5. Some trivia:
    — There’s a brief appearance by a pooka in “Darby O’Gill and the Little People”. It’s a shapeshifter who assumes the form of Darby’s horse, luring him into danger.
    — The producer of the original “Harvey” insisted that the audience wanted to see the title character, and over everybody’s objections inserted a brief cross by a guy in a costume. The audience booed and Harvey thereafter remained invisible.
    — Years ago saw a production with an older black actor as Dowd. He was sweetly obliging most of the way, but at a few precise moments he’d turn somber and a press a minor point of deportment. The sense I got was that he was humoring the other characters as if they were children, but had to put his adult foot down once in a while.
    — There was a Daffy Duck cartoon where a drunken Daffy insisted to a roommate his invisible kangaroo pal Harvey was present. To prove it, he climbed into Harvey’s pouch (?) so his disembodied head would hop around the room.

  6. I had a false memory of a visible Harvey showing up to take a curtain call at the end, whereas it’s just a door that opens and closes by itself.

    Harvey’s interference with the dictionary is one of the great moments of screen uncanny (another favourite is HAL’s “Look behind you” in the otherwise very minor 2010: The Year We Make Contact.)

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