James Stewart stars as Elwood P. Dowd, whose constant companion is Harvey, a six-foot tall invisible rabbit. To his sister, his obsession with Harvey has been a thorn in her plans to marry ... See full summary »
The classic stage hit gets the Hollywood treatment in the story of Elwood P. Dowd who makes friends with a spirit taking the form of a human-sized rabbit named Harvey that only he sees (and a few privileged others on occasion also.) After his sister tries to commit him to a mental institution, a comedy of errors ensues. Elwood and Harvey become the catalysts for a family mending its wounds and for romance blossoming in unexpected places. Written by
James Stewart became so identified with the role of Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey that few today are aware that he did not introduce the part. It was originally done on Broadway by Frank Fay. Whereas Stewart emphasized the whimsical in Dowd, Fay purportedly leaned towards the alcoholic of which he had enough personal experience.
Fay left the play and Stewart was brought in and it literally rejuvenated the play. I'm sure it helped to have a big movie name go on Broadway to help sales, but when word of mouth and the rave reviews of the critics got out, the play turned from a hit to a classic.
Only two players from the original Broadway cast made it to the big screen version, Josephine Hull as Elvetia Simmons, Stewart's sister and Jesse White as Wilson the attendant from the mental sanitarium with the 'dynamic personality'. Jesse White was in Hollywood to stay after that and entertained us for decades.
Josephine Hull got to do two of her stage roles for the screen, this one and one of the Brewster sisters in Arsenic and Old Lace. Diametrically opposite parts too. She's a crazy Brewster who poisons lonely old men in one film. And in the other she's the normal sister with an eccentric brother who sees and talks to a six foot white rabbit. Is she losing her marbles also? Well she does confess that at times Elwood makes Harvey so real to her that she's seen him herself.
But it's a big burden on Ms. Hull having Stewart around. She's a widow with a young daughter. Victoria Horne, who she'd like to get into society and meet some eligible and propertied young men. Not likely to happen if she has a crazy uncle around. It's time to take Elwood off to the Mental Institution for a little reality shock.
Of course in his own way and with each of them differently Stewart deceptively works his charm on the staff. He intrigues Cecil Kellaway the head of the institution, he baffles Charles Drake another psychiatrist, and he totally charms Nurse Peggy Dow.
After a while you start to wonder just who is the crazy one in this film. But then again that's what author Mary Chase was trying to convey. Stewart even brings Jesse White somewhat around, no easy task as you will find out in viewing the film.
Stewart revived Harvey in the early seventies with Helen Hayes playing his sister. The revival was a great success. In the post sixties age of the hippies, Stewart was the original drop out from society. And he did it without any cannabis or other narcotic.
Of course it's nice to be somewhat financially secure to be able to do this. We'd all like to though and that is the secret of Harvey's enduring appeal.
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