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HARVEY(director: Henry Koster; screenwriters: from the play by Mary Chase/Mary Chase/Oscar Brodney; cinematographer: William Daniels; editor: Ralph Dawson; music: Frank Skinner; cast: James Stewart (Elwood P. Dowd), Josephine Hull (Veta Louise Simmons), Peggy Dow (Miss Kelly), Charles Drake (Dr. Sanderson), Cecil Kellaway (Dr. Chumley), Victoria Horne (Myrtle Mae Simmons), Jesse White (Wilson); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Beck; Universal-International; 1950)
“Its one-note shtick wears thin.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Whimsical fantasy feelgood comedy about a 42-year-old wealthy bachelor, Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart), living in a small town who is batty and an amiable drunk, who claims that a 6′ 3 1/2″ imaginary white rabbit pal, named Harvey, is following him around. It’s based on the Pulitizer Prize play by Mary Chase, and written by Ms. Chase and Oscar Brodney. The play opened on Broadway in 1944 and ran for five years. Director Henry Koster (“Dear Brigitte”/”The Bishop’s Wife”/”It Started With Eve”) stretches the slight comedy as far as it can be stretched until its one-note shtick wears thin despite Stewart’s pleasant take on his character.

Elwood, the good-natured eccentric, disturbs his high-strung long-suffering sister Veta Louise Simmons (Josephine Hull) and her marriage-minded daughter Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne), who are fed up with all the social embarrassment he causes the family, even blaming him for why Myrtle hasn’t met an eligible bachelor. Veta tries to get Elwood committed to a psychiatric institution run by Dr. Chumley (Cecil Kellaway). Even though Elwood is harmless, he’s undoubtedly loony. But a mixup occurs during the initial interview and Elwood is released while Veta gets committed, as Dr. Sanderson (Charles Drake) after listening to Veta believes she’s the screwball. Things move into the cornball range when Veta and several of the psychiatric workers begin to suspect that Harvey might indeed be real. Things are not helped when the film wishes to also drop hints that Harvey might really exist. All this nonsense runs its course until we are led to understand that Elwood wishes to escape reality and lead a simple life by hanging out at bars and socializing with strangers, and that not facing reality has its rewards if it keeps you as happy as Elwood appears to be.

If you’re in the mood for lightweight escapist entertainment and find such an otherworldly comedy charming, this harmless tale wouldn’t harm a hair on your head and, to the bargain, offers words of wisdom about being tolerant to lonely people even if they seem strange. Hull recreated her stage role and walked off with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The young Stewart was also in the stage version.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”