Harvey

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Harvey (1950)

Oct 9, 1999 (Updated Oct 9, 1999)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:story, charm

Cons:characters, direction

"Harvey" began as a long-running Broadway play, winning a Pulitzer Prize for author Mary Chase. Universal Studios paid a whopping $750,000 for the film rights, but had no trouble casting the lead. James Stewart was perfect for the part.

Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, an obliging and pleasant man who has inherited a wealthy estate. Much to the aggravation of his socialite sister Veta (Josephine Hull), Dowd prefers the company of commonplace men. He also sees a six-foot-three invisible rabbit named Harvey, whom he insists on introducing to everyone he meets.

Veta lives with her daughter Myrtle (Victoria Horne) in Dowd's mansion. Dowd's eccentric behavior makes it difficult for Veta to entertain guests and marry off her spinster daughter. She decides to have him put away in a mental hospital. The asylum is run by unpleasant Dr. Chumley (Cecil Kellaway). Universal Studios regular Charles Drake plays a comically conceited psychiatrist, with Peggy Dow as his lovestruck nurse. Future Maytag repairman Jesse White is an asylum guard who begins an unlikely romance with Myrtle.

"Harvey" is a whimsical film that has been beloved for generations. For the more cynical among us, however, it is a one-joke film filled with simplistic characters and many slow moments. Dowd's character is charming but impossible: he's eternally pleasant, even upon his commitment to an asylum. He takes no notice that no one else can see Harvey. Socialites are afraid of him when in reality they would simply have a good laugh at his expense.

Dowd's character is the most complex and interesting. Drake and Dow play their bland characters straight. Veta is a familiar stereotype of a confused Aunt. No attempt is made to give Myrtle any personality beyond a desperation to get married. Perhaps because Stewart's genial on-screen personality so closely matches the endearing Elwood P. Dowd, he was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor. Hull won Best Supporting Actress. But for a superior James Stewart film from 1950, I highly recommend "Winchester '73" instead. (56/100)


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