Monday, August 21, 2023

Harvey: A Review (Review #1745)



This review is for the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Today's star is James Stewart. 

You can always rely on your friends, even if they are invisible rabbits. Harvey is amusing if not laugh-out loud funny, but with some strong performances the film can be amusing if in the right spirit.

Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) is a wealthy, pleasant enough man who has one apparent eccentricity. He insists that an invisible six foot rabbit named Harvey is with him at all times. He and his bestie Harvey will walk around town, where Elwood will introduce people to Harvey. Some accept the reality of Harvey, some merely stare in puzzlement to downright terror.

Two women who are not amused by Harvey's presence, real or not, are Elwood's sister Veta (Josephine Hull) and her daughter Myrtle (Victoria Horne). They are not in much position to argue, being the poor relations to the wealthy Elwood. Veta, however, is frustrated because Elwood's insistence on Harvey continuously puts a damper on marriage prospects for Myrtle.

After an effort to get Elwood out of the house so they can entertain a group of women fails disastrously when Elwood and Harvey return unexpectedly, Veta finally decides it's time for both her brother and his bunny to be in the booby hatch. However, due to wild circumstances it is Veta that ends up locked up. From there, Elwood and Harvey cause both chaos and comfort for the asylum staff. Could Harvey be real? Will Veta see the error of her ways? Where and with whom will Harvey end up with?

Harvey is one of James Stewart's most defining roles, the affable man with a six foot invisible rabbit as his BFF. Stewart exceled in two types of diametrically opposing roles: the nice, clean-cut young man and the darker, morally complex older man. Here, he is meant to be the former but looks like the latter.  

One of my difficulties with Harvey is with regards age. Stewart was 42 when the film was released, and to my mind, he looks a bit too old to be Elwood. How someone that old could be at the least, naïve and at most, bonkers is unclear. It does not help that Hull was 73. How someone visibly old enough to be Stewart's mother could be his sister is loonier than either of them seeing invisible rabbits. 

That is not to say that Harvey is a bad film. Far from it, as both Stewart and Hull do quite well despite allegedly being related. Of particular note is Hull, who won Best Supporting Actress in recreating her Broadway performance. She is delightful as the forever flustered Veta. Hull has a long monologue where she attempts to explain the situation to junior Chumley's Rest Asylum Dr. Sanderson (Charles Drake). In turns tearful and flummoxed, her ultimate confession that she too on occasion sees Harvey leads Dr. Sanderson to conclude that she is the patient. As she is forcefully sent to her room, Hull's growing desperation and horror make for a wonderful comedic performance. It is not every day that a woman manhandled so awfully could make it amusing.

Stewart does well in quieter moments, such as when he tells Sanderson of how Harvey came into his life. Here, he is plausible as someone who can genuinely believe Harvey is real. Other times though, he does not quite pull off the aw-shucks manner that Elwood would have. It is not that James Stewart did a bad job as Elwood. It is that his face looks a bit too weathered to be believed. I simply could not shake the idea that Elwood should have been at least a decade younger to make things plausible. Given he's already middle-aged, Stewart's Elwood did not look like someone who was certain Harvey was his pal.

I found Harvey not a roll on the aisle laughing film, but a nice, pleasant film. A bit too forced at times from many of the cast save Stewart and Hull, you will like Harvey even if you literally can't see him.


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