Wednesday, May 19, 2010

189. Harvey

Harvey (1950)

Director: Henry Koster

Starring: James Stewart
Josephine Hull
Victoria Horne

IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 9

"Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world Elwood, you must be" - she always called me Elwood- "In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant." Well for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant."

Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) is one of the most genuine and polite people you will ever meet. If you pass him walking down the street you will be acknowledged with at the very least a smile and tip of the hat. At first everything seems completely normal about Elwood, well that is until you meet his best friend Harvey (Himself), an imaginary six foot rabbit. Elwood's sister Veta (Josephine Hull) and niece Myrtle (Victoria Horne) have grown tired of his antics and decide to take him to a mental institution. When Veta arrives with her brother, the doctor makes a mistake and believes that Veta is the one that is insane and they commit her instead of Elwood. With Elwood on the loose, it's up to the hospital's staff to find him and get him back to the clinic.

Harvey is one of those films that just leaves you feeling genuinely happy. The film was adapted from the stage by it's original writer Mary Chase. It's story is one of tolerance and acceptance. The people surrounding Elwood constantly question his sanity, but it is these people who act like they are insane. Each character is very well developed. The few side stories that are present, are just as interesting as the focus on Elwood. There are of course the laughs as well. Josephine Hull's neurotic sister character is a source of many of them. You would be hard pressed to not find something in this film that you could enjoy.

Elwood P. Dowd serves as one of my all-time favorite role for James Stewart. He plays the role with perfect timing, especially in his scenes where he is miming that Harvey is there with him. There is one particular scene that resonates with me every time I see the film. In a dark alley Elwood tells one of the hospital's doctors how Harvey and he first met. The way he tells the story captures the entire heart and imagination of the film in one brief moment. There are a dozen films of Stewart's that you could say have his greatest performance, Harvey just so happens to be right near the top of my list.

Harvey was my grandfather's all-time favorite film. I remember as a kid him showing it to me, and always being upset that I never got to see the rabbit. Watching the film now, the physical absence of Harvey only adds to the film. Was he really there, or was it all in his mind? Either way, this film holds up just as well today as it did when it first came out. With James Stewart leading the pack, Harvey is a classic comedy with all the heart you could ever ask for in a film.

Just for fun: If you have seen Harvey and happen to be looking for a similar film, check out 2007's Lars and the Real Girl.

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