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Harvey

The much-loved 1950 film version of Mary Chase's Pulitzer Prize-winning stage production, Harvey is one truly disturbing little nugget of cinema. James Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, a loopy alcoholic who is obsessively attached to the imaginary, six-foot rabbit from which the play and film takes its name. Dowd's sister Veta (Josephine Hull) and niece Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horn) have reached their wit's end dealing with Elwood's psychotic behavior — their social life has come to a standstill, and Myrtle Mae can't get a date because Uncle Elwood is nuttier than a fruitcake, insisting that everyone he meet converse with his invisible bunny pal. So they plan an intervention of sorts, attempting to commit Elwood to Chumley's Rest Sanitarium. But through the machinations of an egotistical and borderline-incompetant psychiatrist, Veta is kidnapped and assaulted by the asylum's orderly (Jesse White). The sanitarium's owner attempts to head off a lawsuit by retrieving Elwood himself, but instead he gets sucked into Elwood's delusion as well. What fun! Stewart plays Elwood as a smiling, ever-pleasant, tipsy sociopath, a man who spent his entire life living with his mother in Norman Bates-like seclusion, and who then retreats from the trauma of her death into alcoholism and delusion. There are hints in the film that Harvey truly does exist; Elwood says that Harvey is a "pooka" — in Celtic mythology, a shapechanging trickster which embodies the daydreams of humans and usually takes the form of an animal. If one views Harvey from the perspective that Elwood's companion is, indeed, a pooka, then the film's theme becomes even more sinister — pookas are notoriously untrustworthy and tend to play pranks. So we're asked to believe that this supernatural entity has attached itself to Elwood while he was grieving his mother, and is now not only abetting Elwood's disease but deliberately destroying his credibility with his friends and community. As a basis for a light, wacky comedy, Harvey is just too creepy for words, and the final message of the film — that it's better to be a pleasant nutcase than cranky and "normal" — comes far too quickly and doesn't ring true. But Stewart has some lovely speeches and is always a joy to watch, even in this bizarre role. Hull was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Veta, and Stewart was nominated for Best Actor (he lost to José Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac). In the 1960s, director Henry Koster worked with Stewart again, albeit on three of Stewart's least-impressive films, Take Her, She's Mine, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, and Dear Brigitte (which most notably co-starred Fabian and Billy Mumy). Universal's "Award Winners" DVD edition of Harvey offers a clean and bright transfer (even if it has a bit too much contrast,) presented full-screen (1.33:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The disc includes a rather charming special introduction to Harvey recorded by Stewart in 1990, presented over a photo montage, plus production and cast notes, and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor



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