Elwood P. Dowd, a genial, wealthy, semi-alcoholic dreamer is always accompanied by his best friend, an invisible six-foot-three white rabbit called Harvey. Veta, Elwoods older sister, feels ostracised because of his obvious lunacy and considers having h
Though this adaptation of Mary Chase’s play has become such a pop culture icon that audiences get the joke about it in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (set years before the play was written), Harvey is of interest mainly for preserving the stage performances of James Stewart and the Oscar-winning Josephine Hull.
It’s an ‘eccentric family’ comedy of escape into madness, with a melancholy streak, along the lines of such stage-to-film efforts as You Can’t Take It With You and Arsenic and Old Lace, in which Stewart and Hull respectively had appeared, but director Henry Koster is no Frank Capra and the whimsy here too often turns leaden or hectic. The script relies on the creaking mechanics of the original, and the supporting players seem to have been doing their roles for too long and settled into complacency. Nevertheless, the premise remains memorable and perpetually intriguing, with just enough hints that the ‘pooka’ (animal spirit) who pals around with Stewart’s wide-eyed tippler might be more than his imagination to lend the farce a fantastical, even sometimes sinister, edge.
The twist, of course, is that the outright loon seems not only happier but saner than the supposedly normal folks who dither about putting him away. In the finale, a psychiatrist (Cecil Kellaway) who has come to share Elwood’s vision of the world almost persuades Harvey to leave Elwood and move in with him and Veta is prompted by an anecdote about the character-sapping effects of anti-psychotics not to put her brother on a medication which will ‘kill’ his friend.
Great performances lifts this movie above its stilted script and production