Harvey (1950), starring James Stewart, Josephine Hull
Synopsis of Harvey
James Stewart gives one of his finest performances in this lighthearted film as the good-natured Elwood P. Dowd. His constant companion is Harvey, a six-foot tall rabbit that only he can see. To his sister, Veta Louise, Elwood’s obsession with Harvey has been a thorn in the side of her plans to marry off her daughter. But when Veta Louise decides to put Elwood in a mental hospital, a hilarious mix-up occurs and she finds herself committed instead. It’s up to Elwood to straighten out the mess with his kindly philosophy, and his “imaginary” friend, in this popular classic.
Review of Harvey
Harvey, starring Jimmy Stewart, is a great many things. It’s a classic film, a comedy, a statement on material society. But most of all, it’s a portrayal of a sweet man, who’s not quite at home in this world, who only interacts with it for the benefit of his family and friends. His name is Elwood P. Dowd. And one of his friends is a Pooka named Harvey. This particular Pooka is a six-foot-tall rabbit. What is a “Pooka”, you ask?
“P O O K A – Pooka – from old Celtic mythology – a fairy spirit in animal form – always very large. The pooka appears here and there – now and then – to this one and that one – a benign but mischievous creature – very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and how are you, Mr. Wilson?” “How are you, Mr. Wilson?” Who in the encyclopedia wants to know?
— Mr. Wilson, reading from the encyclopedia at the asylum
Some time ago, Elwood met this Pooka who named himself Harvey, and the two became fast friends. But only Elwood can see him. Which makes it hard on his loving, oddball, sister and niece, who want to lead a “normal” life. And eventually, they want to put him in an asylum. Which is when the fun begins.
I won’t give away more of the movie — you really need to see it for yourselves. I will say that the ending is funny and sweet, with the sister having to make a very important decision. And I’m grateful for the decision that she makes.
Cast of characters in Harvey
- Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). A likable man, who spends his time in bars, conversing with his friend Harvey. And making new friends there. Someone who is clearly intelligent, but has decided it’s better to be nice than smart. He either doesn’t know that most people can’t see Harvey, or just doesn’t care.
- Veta Louise Simmons (Josephine Hull, Arsenic and Old Lace). Elwood’s sister, who is at her wit’s end dealing with her brother’s “delusion”. Because she loves him so, it breaks her heart to commit him to an asylum.
- Dr. Chumley (Cecil Kellaway, I Married a Witch). The man who runs the asylum, although he doesn’t become a major character until the second half of the film. And he meets Harvey for himself.
- Dr. Sanderson (Charles Drake, It Came from Outer Space). The doctor in charge of admitting Elwood, who accidentally admits Veta instead! A nice enough fellow, who can’t see that Miss Kelly is in love with him. Or that he loves her …
- Miss Kelly (Peggy Dow, Woman in Hiding). The attractive young lady at the asylum, who clearly has a crush on Dr. Sanderson. And who nearly turns her affection to Elwood.
- Wilson (Jesse White, Pajama Party, The Reluctant Astronaut). The orderly at the asylum, who unwittingly lets Elwood escape. And has anger issues. And develops a crush on Elwood’s niece.
- Myrtle Mae Simmons (Victoria Horne, Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer Boris Karloff). Elwood’s niece, who’s despairing of ever meeting a nice young man and getting married. Due to her uncle’s eccentricity scaring away suitors. Until she meets Wilson …
- The Taxi Driver (Wallace Ford, The Mummy’s Hand). A minor, but very important, character. Played for comedy at first, he tells Veta something that leads to a life-changing decision.
Editorial review of Harvey courtesy of Amazon.com
Elwood P. Dowd is happy to share a drink with anybody he meets, and he likes to give them his card and invite them to have dinner at his home. His charm is disarming. People will tell their troubles over a drink, he says. Then he introduces them to his friend, Harvey, and Harvey is sooo much bigger than anything they’ve got… Harvey is an invisible (usually), six-foot tall white rabbit. Harvey is also too big for Elwood’s society-conscious sister, Veta, and her unattached daughter, Myrtle Mae, to cope with. Veta makes a mistake, however, when she tries to get Elwood committed to a sanatorium.
Jimmy Stewart is superb as Elwood P. Dowd, but Josephine Hull steals the show as his totally flustered sister. She is, quite simply, at her wits’ end. This is one of only two movies that I know of that feature Hull (the other is “Arsenic and Old Lace”). Both are personal favorites, and Hull is excellent in both. The rest of the cast is also outstanding in this adaptation from a classic Broadway play. Many moments are hilarious, some are touching, and it all adds up to a terrific movie. This witty romp will be welcome in almost anyone’s video library.