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HARVEY (1950)
Article #1528 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-21-2005
Posting Date: 10-18-2005
Directed by Henry Koster
Featuring James Stewart, Josephine Hull, Peggy Dow

 

When a woman is frustrated in her attempts to find a match for her lonely daughter by her mild-mannered brother (who claims to be friends with a giant invisible rabbit), she decides to have the brother committed.

I'd seen this comedy when I was a child, but I haven't seen it again till now. Over the years since my initial viewing, I was left with two impressions. One was that Harvey (the invisible rabbit) was a figment of Elwood P. Dowd's imagination, and the other was that I found it curious that the movie had such a high reputation. I had enjoyed it well enough as a kid, but there didn't seem anything about it at the time that was special enough to merit its reputation.

Watching it now, I have revised both of these impressions. First of all, I now lean towards the belief that, within the context of this film, Harvey is very real indeed. I had originally chosen to ignore or forget the evidence in this regard, but I can no longer do so. I found no other acceptable explanation for the hat found by Dr. Chumley or the definition of a "pooka" as read by Mr. Wilson, and the various openings of doors towards the end of the movie further confirms this belief. In fact, I find it more satisfying to believe in his existence; somehow, it says a lot about Dowd's character that Harvey chooses to be his companion for as long as he does.

I also now fully understand the film's reputation. Within this rather silly and whimsical premise, writer Mary Chase found an enormous amount of emotional resonance. We end up caring deeply for Elwood P. Dowd and the other characters in the movie, and we find his philosophy of "being pleasant" rather than "being smart" rather touching, especially when this philosophy is delivered by one of the most likeable actors ever produced by Hollywood, James Stewart. This emotional resonance transcends the premise; it becomes greater and deeper than its comic premise would indicate in a way that ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (a movie which in some ways resembles this one) does not. It is also filled with other fine actors and actresses; Josephine Hull won an Oscar for her role as Elwood's sister, Victoria Horne does a fine job as Elwood's awkward niece, and it's always nice to see such familiar faces as Cecil Kellaway and Jesse White. And one-time star of many an 'old dark house' movie Wallace Ford has a great cameo here as a taxi driver, whose observations at the end of the movie manage to turn the tide of the story. In short, this one fully deserves its classic status.

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