News that Steven Spielberg plans to remake “Harvey,” the classic 1950 comedy starring Jimmy Stewart as a loveable eccentric whose best pal is an invisible, six-foot-three-and-a-half-inch white rabbit, brings two questions to mind – one with a seemingly obvious answer, the other, not as evident.
Question One is an apparent no-brainer: Who will play Stewart’s character, Elmer P. Dowd? The smart money is on Tom Hanks. He’s a frequent Spielberg collaborator (“Saving Private Ryan,” “Terminal”) who has been compared to Stewart even more than Spielberg has been compared to Alfred Hitchcock (who gave Stewart plenty of employment).
The answer to the second question is anybody’s guess: Will Spielberg show us the bunny?
In 1975’s “Jaws,” which established Spielberg as a superstar director, the shark didn’t get much screen time, heightening the suspense and bouncing moviegoers out of their seats whenever the great white reared its pointed snout.
Some 18 years later, the dinosaurs of Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” made frequent frightening romps, a product of advances in special effects and a different approach to storytelling for a very different movie.
We’re not giving too much away by noting that in the original “Harvey” the rabbit is never seen, but makes his presence known. The invisible “pooka” is as a much a star of the movie as Stewart, who has you believing Harvey is real.
The film, ostensibly a comedy, deftly touches on themes of alcoholism, mental illness and the nature of conformity and reality – all while never missing a laugh, thanks by Stewart’s make-it-look-easy, nuanced performance. Hanks, who combines a likeable Everyman quality with a deceiving depth of character – much like Stewart – would seem a good fit.
“Harvey,” at least at first blush, appears an odd choice for Spielberg, who is best known for a different kind of fantasy film. It’s also unclear how the rabbit tale will play to modern audiences. There’s certainly a temptation to use latest in digital effects to bring Harvey to life.
But to say Spielberg is a clever filmmaker would be a vast understatement, and his ability to inject humor into his movies, as Hitchcock often did, is underrated. Spielberg made us care about a homely, homesick alien – an invisible rabbit should be a cinch.
So what do you think: Who should play Elmer P. Dowd? Should Harvey finally appear, some 65 years after Mary Chase’s play introduced us to the iconic rabbit of the imagination? Use the comments section below to weigh in – and hop to it.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.