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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
For about the first thirty minutes, I was thinking of some way to politely inform those who recommended this film that it wasn't my cup of tea, but the more I stayed, the more captivated I became. Based on a stage play that opened six years earlier, Harvey, the 1950 film directed by Henry Koster, is a delight. If this Jimmy Stewart classic doesn't make you feel good, you must be related to Mr. Henry F. Potter of Bedford Falls. Harvey is a 6' 3'' Pooka who has befriended a certain Mr. Elwood P. Dowd and this causes all sorts of complications for those around him. In case you didn't know, in Celtic mythology a Pooka is a fearsome spirit that usually takes the form of a sleek dark horse that roams the countryside at night, creating harm and mischief. Well, Harvey is not like that at all.
In fact, Harvey is a very gentle spirit who is always helping people out and can make everybody around him feel relaxed and in a good mood. Now Dowd needs all the help he can get. He likes to take a nip once in a while and is always talking to that danged rabbit to the chagrin of his sister Veta Louise (Josephine Hull) whose social life takes a nosedive when brother Elwood is around. Elwood's shenanigans also interfere with her plans to marry off her daughter Myrtle Mae (Victoria Home). When Veta decides that she has had enough and tries to commit Elwood to a psychiatric institution, the tables are turned and she ends up being committed in a hilarious case of mistaken identity. When Elwood leaves the hospital after being released, the medical staff in the hospital (a bit eccentric themselves) realize their mistake and all try to find him.
The madcap beginning soon turns into a gentle and moving drama. Jimmy Stewart is flawless as the decent man who never loses his temper and always has a smile on his face, giving everyone his card and inviting strangers home for dinner. The supporting cast is top notch as well including the unpleasant Dr. Chumley (Cecil Kellaway), the egotistical psychiatrist Dr. Sanderson (Charles Drake), his love struck assistant Miss Kelley (Peggy Dow) and the overwrought orderly (Jesse White, later known as the Maytag repairman).
Eventually some that ridiculed Elwood and his rabbit privately admit that they could see Harvey themselves and by the end we are gradually convinced that the so-called normal people may be stranger than Mr. Dowd. Harvey is considered a classic and with good reason. It works because of its good-natured humor and its gentle slap at those who automatically condemn ideas that are outside socially acceptable norms without thinking for themselves.
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