Movie Review – Harvey (1950)
by NIR SHALEV
We see them all the time walking down the street and talking to themselves, arguing with themselves, and only sometimes is there a Bluetooth piece in their ear. We think that they’re crazy but we know they’re harmless to others; we’re used to them. Watching Harvey, I was wondering how audience members from 59 years ago had reacted originally. Well I can assure everyone that audience members had a ball with this film because it’s so utterly wonderful and warm that anyone would enjoy it in any decade.
Harvey is Elwood P. Dowd’s (James Stewart) imaginary 6 foot, 3 and a half inch tall bunny. Known as a Pooka, from Celtic Mythology, Harvey follows Elwood everywhere he goes. Elwood likes to drink and Harvey’s at the pub with him all the time. Elwood is the nicest man in the world; he even invites strangers to the pub for a drink. Elwood’s sister Veta (Josephine Hull) and niece Myrtle (Victoria Horne) live with him in his large abode but make sure that he’s not around when they have guests because of his giant bunny problem.
One day Veta decides to place Elwood in a sanatorium once and for all. While he goes for a stroll around the institution grounds, Veta mentions to the doctors that she’s heard of Harvey so much in her life that she had even begun to see him herself a few times. The doctors immediately lock Veta up, thinking that Elwood had brought her to the sanatorium and not the other way around, and Elwood frequents the pub yet again. One thing leads to another, the doctors figure out their mistake, and now everybody’s looking for Elwood. Like a lost child, he could be anywhere but as an adult with a giant bunny next to him he’s perfectly safe.
Harvey is a comedy, a family film, and an intellectual character study of schizophrenia, high society, and simply, good manners. Elwood is a wonderful person and Veta wonders what he would be like if the doctors are able to return him to normal? He’s so peaceful and wonderful that maybe he deserves to remain in his current state for everybody’s benefit, let alone for his own sake. Then again, after he had a short conversation with Elwood in a pub the head of the sanatorium claims to have had a giant bunny follow him around town. Once again, the magic of Harvey kicks in as we understand that not everything should be taken at face value.
Harvey won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945, in its original form as a stage play. The playwright, Mary Chase also wrote the screenplay for this film version and kept a comedic touch to it throughout. James Stewart was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Elwood and Josephine Hull won an Oscar that year for playing Veta. I am reminded of Edith Evans and Margaret Rutherford in The Importance of Being Earnest (1952), where their performances were human through their hilarity.
And to go back to James Stewart for another minute, I have to say that this is one of his most endearing performances. We’ve all met people like Elwood, they speak slowly but they always talk and Elwood is always frank. When being asked if anything can be done for him he replies with, “What do yah got in mind?” And when he speaks he uses his entire body; he paces about the place, points here and there and his eyes convey a distinct frankness and his tone is always convincing. People in the film like to listen to Elwood talk and I loved hearing him talk endlessly.
Stewart’s Elwood is a memorable character, this is a very memorable and likable film, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go to the pub with Harvey for a drink. After all, he wins and warms everyone’s hearts and is a very good listener; ideal for Elwood.