In this 1950 comedy, James Stewart plays the middle-aged and misunderstood Elwood.P Dowd; a man who claims his best friend is a six-foot rabbit called Harvey. The fact that this rabbit, or to be more precise, this pooka (a shape-shifting creature from Irish folklore) is invisible to others is largely attributed to Dowd's alcoholism. Spending most of his life at a bar, many of his drinking buddies have accustomed themselves to greeting (though never meeting) Harvey - and the bartender readily prepares two Martinis upon Dowd's arrival. And while the uncomfortable truth of this affliction is batted away for the sake of light-hearted comedy, the film does take a more foreboding turn when his sister and niece conspire to have him committed. Yet this only complicates matters further; as the more his sister (played by Josephine Hull) insists he needs help, the more the psychiatrists, who find Dowd a charming, mild-mannered fellow, believe it is she who is need of treatment. Dowd strolls through life with a blissful, almost blithe sigh, all thanks to Harvey. Erasing him, as the doctors initially threaten to do, would remove not only Dowd's bright disposition, but, in the words of the cab driver who's forever driving patients to the hospital, ''turn him into just a normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are.'' Clearly, Harvey is a benevolent spirit, a guardian angel- although the painting of the pair together has more than a touch of Edgar Allen Poe about it. Yet while a modern audience, raised on cynicism and cliché might expect this permanent smile to mask a slasher-film psychosis, the film's message is that Dowd, for all his apparent delusions, is the most sensible and satisfied of all. As he proudly declares to his psychiatrist, ''Well, I've wrestled with reality for thirty-five years, doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.''
Yorkshireman (hence the surname). Often spotted sacrificing sleep and sanity for the annual Leeds International Film Festival. For a sample of (fairly) recent film reviews, please visit whatsnottoblog.wordpress.com.