Starring: James Stewart, Josephine Hull, Peggy Dow and Charles Drake
Directed by: Henry Koster
Released by: Universal Pictures
Synopsis: Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) is a seemingly nice man living with his sister and niece in a quiet little town. He is very calm, a gentleman above all and never one to act violently towards anybody. There is, however, one problem. He is friends with a 6 foot tall rabbit which he named Harvey, and only he can see this creature. This alarms Elwood's friends and family as they struggle to figure out what is wrong with him. Is this creature for real or is there madness brewing inside Elwood's mind?
Review: As I kept watching these classic films I noticed something peculiar in them. Many of them have one thing in common: they deal with the sanity of the every day man and woman. As crazy as that sounds (no pun intended) there truly were many movies that featured a very nice person who was so eccentric they wanted to put him or her in a psychiatric hospital, but when they get to know him or her they realized that he or she is not as bad as they appeared to be and thus gain important life changing lessons during the process. Harvey is perhaps the most popular out of all these stories, with many movies referencing this classic tale of a man and invisible rabbit friend.
Harvey first started life as a stage played written by Mary Chase in 1944. The play became a great success thanks to a mix of silly acting mixed with some genuine heart, and lucky for us the film follows this tradition very well. The film version honors the original play in many ways, most notably in how it is presented. The story is developed through dialog rather than elaborate events in the story, creating the illusion of a play that was filmed and presented in theaters. The performances are key in bringing the story to life, and I am very happy to say that they are, indeed, very solid. James Stewart may have been type casted as Elwood, but definitely gets the job done. You quickly warm up to him and even enjoy some of his eccentricity. But as is common with many of James Stewart's roles there's a depth to the character that is unseen during the first minutes of the film. When he explains the nature of his friend Harvey he does it in a very honest, sincere manner. At this point you will begin to believe that Harvey may be indeed a real creature that is locked directly onto Elwood's psyche, proving that a great performance can even make the most dysfunctional character into one we can easily root for.
The rest of the characters do well in their respective roles, but most of them are mainly reactive characters that exist to interact with the main character and offer their perspective on the situation. In other words, this is Elwood and Harvey's show. Regardless, the acting in quite solid overall, just slightly shadowed by the presence of an actor as legendary as James Stewart.
Going back to the story, for all its talk about perception of reality Harvey manages to be a very fun flick. It does explore a bit how a man's life can lead him to create a reality different from everyone else's, but doesn't forget that this is mainly a comedy, and thus we get many great scenes with mayhem or just plain old misunderstandings. And yet, it was the serious talk that impressed me the most. It told me a truth that I simply can't help but agree with, and that is that just because a man acts out of the norm it doesn't mean that he is crazy. Insanity is a term that is often loosely used to describe someone that is mainly eccentric or weird, and Harvey talks a lot about that. Elwood isn't a violent, aggressive or even dangerous man. Yet, people judge him hardly because of his actions towards Harvey rather than him as a person. It doesn't get very pretentious, but certainly has a mind regarding the situation.
There is, however, one flaw that bugged me a bit and that is the nature of Harvey himself. Throughout the movie, we are given hints that Harvey is indeed a real creature, and yet it goes back to saying that it is likely the product of Elwood's overactive imagination. It doesn't help that later in the story another character begins to see Harvey and the confusion just gets worse. The film switches back and forth with this train of thought and often makes it hard to follow. It certainly made me wish to just pick one rather than to play with both of them. It doesn't ruin the overall film as there have been other movies, both in the past and present, that try very hard to create a confusing storyline that just flies over most people's head and thus is neither fun or engaging. Still, the movie isn't quite clear what it wants to say about this issue.
In conclusion, if you are a fan of James Stewart or just want an overall fun film then Harvey is it. It has a lot of heart and provide an enlightening point of view about how we view reality while being very fun. It could have been a tad more clear about Harvey's real nature, but it's a rather small thing that doesn't stain what is at heart a great movie.
Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5