Throwback Thursday: Harvey (1950)


One of my most favourite films of all time, Harvey is magical through and through.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Mary Chase, James Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, a gentle soul who spends most of his days drinking in local taverns with his best friend Harvey, a 6′ 3.5″ tall rabbit who is invisible to everybody but Dowd. When his eccentricity begins to affect the social lives of his sister and niece, they attempt to have him committed to a sanitarium, and what ensues is a wonderful comedy of errors.

An under appreciated gem (it’s not even in the IMDB top 250 list?!), the reason I love Harvey is its good natured and uplifting story. We live in a time of cynicism and a look-after-yourself-type attitude, which of course is reflected in the films that are made today with an increasing demand for darkness in cinema, even in our superhero films.

Harvey harks back to a time where attitudes and values were different and things were somewhat simpler. Of course they weren’t really, and racism was still rife at this point, but what Harvey does is covertly deal with issues such as mental illness and alcoholism, all the while preaching kindness on a basic human level.

You even get the impression that the attempts by Elwood’s family to have him committed are made with his own best interests at heart, with the writing choosing to focus on the good in people, much like Elwood himself.

You can’t talk about this without mentioning the lead performance from James Stewart, one of the best everyman actors to have ever graced our screens. Josephine Hull may have won an oscar for her supporting role as Elwood’s sister but it’s Stewart who holds the film together.

My personal favourite performance of his, he went on to state time and time again his fondness for this role and that completely shows when you watch the film. With his charisma, childlike glint in his eye, and physicality, he brings his giant rabbit friend to life despite us never seeing him, and it is truly wonderful to behold.

All this may sound extremely saccharine and the truth is it is unapologetically so. Harvey isn’t about whether or not Elwood P. Dowd is crazy or not, it’s about how it shouldn’t really matter as long as you’re kind to people. An uplifting treat for whenever life may get me down, it’s a film about family, friendship and love that is summed up best with this line in the film;

‘Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be-“, she always called me Elwood; “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.’

Truly outstanding and if you’ve yet to see it, seek it out.

Trivia Tidbit: In 2010, Steven Spielberg was lined up to direct a remake of Harvey with Tom Hanks supposedly playing Dowd. Unfortunately this fell through and talk of a remake has since been muted.

Next Week: The Orphanage (2007)

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