"Harvey" DVD Movie Review (1950)

12/16/2009 Posted by Admin

DVD Review

"Harvey" (1950)

Directed by Henry Kostner, written by Mary Chase and Oscar Brodney, not rated.

By our guest blogger, Lauren Bull

It recently was reported that Steven Spielberg walked away from directing a remake of “Harvey,” the 1950 film starring James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd, a man whose best friend is an invisible rabbit over six feet tall. Whether the rumor is true that Spielberg backed off because of difficulty finding the perfect leading man is irrelevant.  I’m more interested in whether he would have found the right tone.

“Harvey” has that screwball comedy element where characters constantly are cutting each other off because if they were able to complete their sentences, everything would be resolved in minutes. Early on in the film, when Dowd’s concerned sister, Veta (the brilliantly manic Josephine Hull), tries to bring him to the sanitarium, a series of miscommunications leads to her being committed. This kind of zany mishap has to happen in order to maintain the film’s inner struggle--Dowd is a serious alcoholic who talks to an invisible rabbit, all of which comes across as sweet and enviable. He’s a popular guy in town, the one who gives genuine compliments and invites strangers to dinner.

The word “charm” often is assigned to films such as this, which sometimes feels as though it’s being used as a synonym for “simple.” How many would really entertain Dowd’s relationship with Harvey? And for how long? Spielberg probably was the best choice to make a film that would be a fraternal twin of the original, not an identical one, but the challenge is still great in the wake of the original. What’s so wonderful about “Harvey” is that while the film might make light of the situation, the rabbit definitely is not treated as a joke. Notice how few close-ups there are; so much of it is extended master shots. Though not visible, Harvey rarely is out of frame.

When we get to the gorgeous and melancholy scene outside the local bar, where Dowd admits some people have been alienated by Harvey, the filmmakers refuse to let science resolve things. Dr. Sanderson asks Dowd if he ever has known anyone else named Harvey (his father, a childhood friend, etc.). Dowd says, “No, not one, doctor. Maybe that’s why I always had such hopes for it.” Modern, practical psychology won’t get the best of him, but it might have gotten the best of Spielberg.

The “Harvey” DVD doesn’t offer much in the way of extras (no director’s commentary or deleted scenes on this one), but my favorite bit of production trivia was playwright Mary Chase’s request to have the rabbit visible to the audience in the closing shot, a quick glance that would have changed everything tonally. Director Henry Koster turned her down. Maybe he thought it was the kind of mistake you save for someone else to make.

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