Harvey (1950)
Harvey (1950)

Genre: Comedy and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.

Release Date: December 21st, 1950 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Henry Koster Actors: James Stewart, Cecil Kellaway, Victoria Horne, Josephine Hull, Peggy Dow, Charles Drake, Jesse White

 


 

A

fter strolling out of a massive estate to head for the local watering hole, Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) opens the front gate for someone else, pauses a beat, then moves through it himself. There’s something instantly off about the peculiar fellow, but at least he seems unshakably jolly. “Every day’s a beautiful day.”

As frazzled relatives Veta Louise (Josephine Hull) and Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne) bustle about the house, preparing for a party, timed to coincide with Elwood’s departure, the hired server departs in a huff – perturbed by Elwood’s previous interaction with her, which involved the introduction of an unseen entity. Veta and Myrtle are equally distraught, chatting about Uncle Elwood’s imaginary friend – Harvey, whose name is never supposed to be spoken aloud – whose nonexistent existence is the source of all of their social woes. But Elwood is actually the owner of the property, and Veta and Myrtle merely live there with him, presenting quite the conundrum for Myrtle’s chances at becoming a respectable member of society. “Why can’t we live like other people?”

As it turns out, a rather large number of people are well aware of Dowd’s behavior. And they’re somewhat accommodating to Harvey, who is eventually revealed to be a 6-foot-3-and-a-half inch (or 6′ 8″ as Stewart himself suggested, since he looks up to make eye contact), anthropomorphic white rabbit (a mythical pooka) with an odd stare and a bowtie. But, of course, only Elwood can see him. Unfortunately, Dowd returns home early, anxious to introduce his unobserved pal to all of the esteemed guests at the secret gathering, resulting in a tremendous amount of embarrassment as the various partygoers dash out hastily, in shock at the uncomfortable nature of a seemingly insane man conversing with an unperceived creature. This latest disaster is the last straw; Veta and Myrtle have no other choice but to commit Elwood to a sanitarium.

Although Elwood is an excessive drinker (as sister Veta describes), the whole family has some issues with communicating effectively. In the vein of fast-paced screwball comedies from a decade before, the characters are continually swept up in misunderstandings, repetitiously prattling on about different subjects while thinking they’re speaking of the same things. It’s a brilliant collection of obvious yet circuitous wordplay, smartly utilizing the audience’s awareness against a fictional role’s obliviousness, ramping up the madcap mayhem. Hull is particularly triumphant as the mentally frayed (and ultimately fickle) matriarch, crying her way through her rapid-fire dialogue.

“We’ve got to humor him.” Despite minimal sets and few characters, this delightful adaptation of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play doesn’t betray its stage origins; the script works incredibly well zigzagging between the hospital and the bar as psychiatrist Sanderson (Charles Drake), orderly Wilson (Jesse White), and receptionist Kelly (Peggy Dow) dart across town trying to get to the bottom of Elwood’s whereabouts, an institutional commitment mixup, and the disappearance of sanitarium head Dr. Chumley (Cecil Kellaway). The actors here do wonders with the material, routinely finding new ways to maintain the simple premise of a hallucinatory being’s impact on wackos and professionals alike.

“Don’t worry. I can handle him.” Also inspiring are the genial themes that come along with a mischievous yet helpful spirit, regarding the nature of friendships, normalcy and expectations, exhibiting perpetual pleasantness over indignation (and its infectious components), therapeutic talks about humanity, the envious quality of seeing only the good in people, and being appreciative of every little aspect of life. And though the film carries on a touch too long (a few sequences serve only to reiterate), the flurry of shouting matches and the matchmaking romances keep the humor consistent. Of special note are a scene of misdirection about Harvey’s name (an unexpected riot) and the heartwarming conclusion – offering a fitting compromise, affirming that crazy just might be completely fine.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10