Actor James Stewart cultivated into a household name for playing loveable characters. Harvey is a classic in every sense of the word: it's an emotional, uplifting and comical romp that illustrates life as being all about perspective. Initially, the story found success in the manifestation of a stage production composed by Mary Chase. It's prudent to assume that a cinematic rendering of the treasured Mary Chase stage production would be a daunting and intriguing undertaking, as Chase secured a Pulitzer Prize for her writing. However the indications during pre-production were promising, with James Stewart and Josephine Hull agreeing to appear. Little did the filmmakers realise that in the decades to follow, Harvey would become a tremendously successful film: one that would frequently be regarded as superior to its source material. Although the production is somewhat dated, and there are countless flaws present in its hyperbolically pretentious screenplay, the eccentric performances elevate the screenplay and production to satisfying margins.
The timeless story of Harvey is summed up by a simple premise that sounds boring and preposterous: a man befriends an imaginary 6-foot rabbit (6 feet, three inches to be exact). Granted, if the filmmakers did not proficiently fulfil their duties then it would have been a disaster. Due to the film's nature of never actually seeing Harvey the 6-foot rabbit, choosing an actor to fill the title role would be difficult. Thankfully, though, with veteran actor James Stewart in place, the film's proceedings are far more absorbing. It's also worth noting that one short line of dialogue delivered by the main character sums up the film's underlying morals and messages: "Nobody ever brings anything small into a bar".
The protagonist of Harvey is a moralistic, caring man named Elwood P. Dowd (Stewart). Elwood no longer needs to work as he inherited an estate and loads of money when his mother died. Now Elwood is a semi-alcoholic who frequently warms up to everyone he meets: providing them with his card, and commonly inviting them to dinner as well. People constantly take advantage of Elwood's generosity and caring persona. Many people think he's crazy because Elwood is always accompanied by an imaginary friend named Harvey. Harvey is a "pooka": a large, invisible rabbit. In ancient Celtic mythology a pooka is a fairy spirit in animal form, a benevolent albeit mischievous creature fond of oddballs and rum pots. Elwood lives with sister Vita (Hull) and niece Myrtle Mae (Horne) who tolerate him merely for his fortune. However, they are increasingly annoyed at their social situation. Thanks to Elwood's insane nature of introducing people to Harvey, friends are quick to leave social events. Eventually they become so fed up that the mutually acquiescent decision is settled upon to have Elwood committed to a sanitarium. Trouble and comedic mayhem follows...
James Stewart is impeccable in his portrayal of Elwood. The actor is charming and charismatic like always. Josephine Hull is frequently over-the-top, but she at least has the ability to overshadow the script. Hull earned an Oscar for her portrayal. Needless to say, this Oscar is well earned! It's impossible not to be enthralled with the rest of the cast. They are all eccentric and frequently funny. In spite of this, the script is conceited and disappointing. Age has not been kind to the script. It's frequently stilted, and as a result it's sometimes very hard to follow. We are looking at some fine, charming acting but nothing further. Even with a poor screenplay, the film is still atmospheric and appealing. The messages shine through perfectly. The pace is also brisk as the film runs at about 100 minutes.
Overall, Harvey isn't perfect but no film is. Considering the potentially disastrous outcome as this is an interpretation of a stage play, the filmmakers have done a stellar job in bringing the beloved source material to life with fantastic results. It's sweet, delightful, alluring and entertaining. Although flawed in its script, this is a quality classic that's of a standard rarely exhibited in this modern age.
"Harvey and I sit in the bars... have a drink or two... play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people they turn toward mine and they smile. And they're saying, "We don't know your name, mister, but you're a very nice fella." Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We've entered as strangers - soon we have friends. And they come over... and they sit with us... and they drink with us... and they talk to us. They tell about the big terrible things they've done and the big wonderful things they'll do. Their hopes, and their regrets, and their loves, and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then I introduce them to Harvey... and he's bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back; but that's envy, my dear. There's a little bit of envy in the best of us."