Cast: James Stewart, Josephine Hull, Peggy Dow, Charles Drake
The classic stage hit gets the Hollywood treatment in the story of Elwood P. Dowd who makes friends with a spirit taking the form of a human-sized rabbit named Harvey that only he sees (and a few privileged others on occasion also.) After his sister tries to commit him to a mental institution, a comedy of errors ensues. Elwood and Harvey become the catalysts for a family mending its wounds and for romance blossoming in unexpected places.
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James Stewart is the quintessential everyday man. Like Richard Dreyfus after him, Stewart during his career found his niche in playing characters that people can easily relate to. There were so many films during that era in which the actors were playing high society characters and the only way anyone could really relate to them were through their troubled marriage or family.
However, Stewart played people who suffered not only family issues but also work related problems. But here he plays a likable eccentric who believes he can see a tall invisible rabbit. In the hands of any other actor this may play a bit ridiculous, but Stewart’s sincerity in every role he does translate well into the character.
Based on a popular play of the same name, Elwood (Stewart) is a level headed man whose best friend is a tall rabbit that no one can see except for him. The name of the rabbit is Harvey. However, there’s more to Harvey than you think.
While not exactly a rabbit, Harvey is more of a spirit taking the form of a human-sized rabbit that only Elwood sees (and a few privileged others on occasion also.) After his sister tries to commit him to a mental institution, a comedy of errors ensues. Elwood clearly prefers his tall friend over his own wealthy family, but his friendship becomes a catalyst for mending issues among the family.
An interesting note is that at the suggestion of James Stewart, director Henry Koster shot many scenes at a wide angle so that Harvey would be included. If the film believes in Harvey, then the audience will as well. This was a smart decision on the director’s part because it treats the story with sincerity rather than poking fun at its character.
In exasperation, Veta (Hull) his sister, admits to the attending psychiatrist that, after so many years of putting up with the invisible rabbit, she sees Harvey every once in a while. Over time, many of the characters start to see Harvey and respect his existence. At the end Harvey is given the choice of remaining with Dr. Chumley or continuing his life with Elwood. The rabbit catches up with Elwood at the exit to the sanatorium; the gate is seen opening as Harvey follows the others out.
James Stewart has always said that Elwood was his favorite character to play. He continued to play the role on stage with Hull at times revising her role as his sister. In 1972, some of the originals such as Stewart and Hull reprised their role in a TV version. However, if you’re ever interested in seeing the original, you should. It’s a classic.