Harvey (1950)

No prizes for guessing whom this prize post is dedicated to.

(For those who’re not in the know: I hosted a Classic Bollywood Quiz last year on this blog, and the prizes for that—one for each participant—was a post dedicated to that participant. My friend and fellow blogger Harvey got the Quick Worker Award for the quiz—he had to perforce submit his answers within a couple of days of the quiz being posted, and still managed to get 7 out of 10 right. Impressive).

So: the all-important question. Why am I dedicating this post (about a sweet man whose best friend is an invisible giant rabbit) to Harvey? No, not because I think my pal is nuts. But because Harvey was the one who recommended Harvey to me, and because I found this such an unusual film. And with such an endearing moral to it. Thank you, Harvey. That warmed my soul.

We first meet see Harvey figure out something’s not quite as it should be when the film opens to show Elwood P Dowd (James Stewart, in a role for which he got an Oscar nomination) stepping out of his home and gently ushering forward a taller (but conspicuously invisible) friend. Elwood is a sweet, but perhaps somewhat unusual person—he offers his visiting card to the postman (in fact, in the course of the film, he offers a card to just about every stranger he meets).

After having torn up—without reading—the letter he’s just received, Elwood goes off, with a comradely arm around his unseen friend. (Who, we discover, is exactly 6’3 ½” tall).

…and we move into the Dowd household, where we are introduced to the two other members of Elwood’s family. These are his sister Veta Louise Simmons (Josephine Hull, in an Oscar-winning role), and her daughter Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne).
Veta and Myrtle Mae don’t have a home of their own, and since Veta and Elwood’s mother willed everything to Elwood, these two have no choice but to stay with him.

As soon as Elwood is gone, Veta and Myrtle Mae rush about, getting things ready for a party. It turns out their social life has come to a standstill thanks to Harvey—Elwood insists on introducing his ‘friend’ to all of Veta and Myrtle Mae’s acquaintances, with the result that people have stopped visiting them. That has also lessened Myrtle Mae’s chances of meeting any eligible young men (or any of their female relatives who might like her enough to put in a word for her).

…so today, because Elwood is out, Veta and Myrtle Mae are hosting a party for a bunch of very well-connected ladies. Among them is one whose grandson may be just the person for Myrtle Mae.

Just to make sure Elwood doesn’t burst in on them and spoil their party, Veta phones her old friend Judge Gaffney (William H Lynn) and begs him to depute a man to keep an eye on Elwood, and prevent him—at any cost—from coming home over the next couple of hours.
The man put on the job unfortunately suffers a minor accident, and Judge Gaffney comes to know only much later.

Meanwhile, Elwood has entered (along with the invisible Harvey) the local bar that he frequents. The people here—bartender and other patrons—seem to take Harvey in their stride. Most of them don’t even look surprised or amused when Elwood tells Harvey to sit down, and then proceeds (after courteously asking Harvey what he’d like to drink) to order two martinis.

Elwood and Harvey are apparently regulars here. Elwood meets some old friends and makes some new ones (strangers whom he gives his card to, and whom he invites for dinner). All this before he suddenly realises that Veta and Myrtle Mae must be wondering where he’s gone. “Let’s drink up,” he tells Harvey. They must be getting home.

—which they do, just in time to say hello to the lady whom Veta has been eyeing as Myrtle Mae’s prospective grandmother-in-law. The lady hasn’t met Elwood for a long time, and is very gracious and even exuberant when she meets him—until he introduces Harvey, after which the party swiftly begins to break up.

Veta is, by now, at the end of her tether. She can’t take this any more, so she phones Judge Gaffney and takes his advice on what to do with Elwood:

Chumley’s Rest is a grand and wonderful sanatorium run by the highly qualified Dr Chumley (Cecil Kellaway). Veta instructs Elwood (and Harvey, who of course has come along with Elwood) to sit in the car, while she goes in.
Inside the sanatorium, Veta breaks down as she pours out her woes to the nurse, Miss Kelly (Peggy Dow).

Miss Kelly quickly makes a note about Elwood, and sends the sanatorium orderly, Wilson (Jesse White) to fetch Elwood in from the car. She tells Wilson to take Elwood upstairs to one of the rooms while she takes Veta to discuss her brother’s distressing condition with one of the doctors.

Dr Chumley doesn’t personally handle the patients any longer, so his assistant Dr Sanderson (Charles Drake) interviews Veta. She tells him all—in her overwrought, somewhat incoherent style (punctuated by much meandering, sharing of inconsequential information, and the news that Harvey will ring the death-knell for Myrtle Mae’s chances of marriage). To convince Dr Sanderson, she even describes Harvey: “I see this big white rabbit myself…and he’s every bit as big as Elwood says he is!”

And the awful truth dawns on Dr Sanderson: they’ve committed the wrong person to Chumley’s Rest.
Leaving Veta in his room, he rushes out and tells Miss Kelly (with whom he shares some sort of—if unspoken—chemistry) that this happens sometimes. A psychopath realises that he or she is going to be committed to the sanatorium by a relative, and tries to convince the medical authorities that it should be the other way round.
That’s what Veta’s done. She is the one to be committed, not Elwood.

So Veta is bunged into a padded cell. Elwood is released, with many apologies, which he takes sweetly in his stride, never once questioning why they’d been getting ready to give him some unsettling hydro treatment. Dr Sanderson personally apologises to Elwood, explains that they’ll be keeping Veta at Chumley’s Rest, and lets Elwood go.

Elwood wanders out into the gardens of Chumley’s Rest, picks a flower for his buttonhole (even though his coat collar doesn’t have a buttonhole) and is heading happily towards the gate when a car drives in.
The passenger here is Mrs Chumley (Nana Bryant), and seeing a stranger ambling through the grounds, she gets the chauffeur to pull up.

Within moments, Elwood has handed her his card and informed her that he’s looking for his friend Harvey, who’s a “pooka” (even though Elwood doesn’t supply an explanation of what a pooka is, we soon get to hear a dictionary definition of a pooka: “From old Celtic mythology. A varied spirit and animal form, always very large. The pooka appears here and there, now and then… a benign but mischievous creature.”)
Anyway, Elwood—having charmed Mrs Chumley with his affability (and made friends with the gateman, whom he invites for dinner)—goes off out the gate.

And Mrs Chumley, going into the sanatorium and telling her husband, Dr Sanderson, Miss Kelly and Wilson all about this sweet man she’s just met—brings home to them the horrid realisation that by locking up Veta, they have committed the wrong person. Oh, blast!

Much more will happen over the course of the evening. Myrtle Mae will meet a man she falls for (Wilson), and she will make him an egg and onion sandwich… more on that later.

There will be fireworks between Dr Sanderson and Miss Kelly, Dr Sanderson and Dr Chumley. There will be high emotion and slow, soothing moments. There will be drama and romance and comedy. There will be things that are unexplained. And it’ll all centre, ultimately, around Elwood and the unseen Harvey.

What I liked about this film:

If you think this film sounds like a completely whacked-out comedy, you’re right. It is. But it is more, much more.

I must confess the first half hour or so had me wondering what Harvey had inflicted on me. Okay, this was funny, but only in a somewhat low-brow, ‘poking-fun-at-the-simple’ way. I know enough to realise that today’s politically incorrect was yesterday’s perfectly acceptable, but this didn’t appeal me to even with that caveat.

But, by the time Harvey had reached the midway mark, I was fascinated—because this is more than just that. It is, eventually, about how affection, friendliness, sweetness, and an innocent simplicity can be vastly more important than being always the sharpest pencil in the pack. Elwood (and Harvey) go about life making friends with everybody. They (or, if I have to be precise, Elwood) make people feel wanted. Elwood offers his friendship, with no strings attached, to strangers—and they accept it gratefully. People are intrinsically friendly, Harvey seems to say.

Mary Chase, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning play this film is based on (she also co-wrote the screenplay for it) found an unusual way to bring across her message. It’s subtle, gentle, and very endearing. And that, when you’ve cleared away the surface comedy, is what Harvey is all about. Being pleasant is more important than being smart (not my line; I’m paraphrasing from the film).

And I found one particular scene a very ironic, interesting one: Dr Chumley, confiding in Elwood, tells him about his hopes and dreams. And while doing so, he lies down on the couch in his room. Elwood sits beside him on the chair, listening with rapt attention.

A telling inversion of the standard psychiatrist-patient scene? Here, it’s the psychiatrist on the couch, and the patient in the chair. But is that really it? Or is it the other way round? Is Elwood, in fact, the one who can listen and give advice and help? And is Dr Chumley (who perhaps represents all of us, who think we’re so sane, so normal) the one who actually needs help?

What I didn’t like:

Just one thing: the very sudden romance between Wilson and Myrtle Mae. It’s forgivable in a film that’s to some extent a comedy, though, so I’m not going to harp about it.

Some trivia:

Remember the egg and onion sandwich I mentioned above? Well, it sometimes happens that when I’m watching a film, I come across something so intriguing that I actually pause the film and go off to find out what I can about that something. This was one of them. I had to find out, without waiting, what an egg and onion sandwich would be like.

I came across some recipes. Here is one of them, and here is another.

You’ll notice that I’m not the only one who seems to have been intrigued by that particular sandwich in Harvey.

Another bit of trivia. When James Stewart died in 1997, some of his fans left mementoes on his  star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Among them was a tall (not 6’3 ½”) rabbit wearing overalls.


70 thoughts on “Harvey (1950)

  1. Oh I saw this film ages ago and loved it! Thanks for reviving happy memories of watching “something different”.
    Anyway, I think James Stewart always comes across as such a dear in his movies, which shows he must be a good actor, one of my favourites.


    • You’re welcome, bawa – and both of us have harvey (our pal, not Elwood’s pooka!) to thank for making this review happen.

      I like James Stewart a lot too. And I think he’s very versatile as well (Rear Window and the other Hitchcock movies he’s starred in, and on the other hand, films like this). Two other really heart-warming films in which I like him are The Shop Around the Corner and It’s a Wonderful Life.


  2. You must be a truly compassionate person to enjoy this movie and then write such a heart warming post about it! It brings a smile to my face and lifts my spirits to read this post as I sip my coffee, while I am getting ready for my day. Thank you, Madhu!
    I haven’t seen this movie in all these years of AMC and TCM, but now I will watch out for this one and let you know when I do watch it.


    • Thank you so much, Lalitha! I’m glad this post lifted your spirits – all of us need that now and then. (Coincidentally, so did I, just about when I was watching the film – I received some bad news, and Harvey really helped lift me out of the blues).

      I like the fact that here James Stewart’s character, far from being depicted as a drooling idiot suffering from hallucinations, is actually pretty sane, until you realise that his best friend is Harvey… and by the end of the film you’re wondering if perhaps Elwood is actually saner than the rest of the people around.

      Don’t miss it if it appears. It’s a lovely little film.


  3. Madhu, thank you for reviewing one of my favourite movies. I saw this for the first time in a ratty old theatre in Bangalore (yes, along with my father); I think I was around 13 or 14 then. Maybe I hadn’t ‘grown up’ enough at the time (I’m not very sure I’m ‘grown-up’ now either) but I took the invisible friend in my stride and with a lump in my throat. I adore Jimmy Stewart, and this was a particularly gentle film – just made for him. I cannot think of anyone else in this role!

    It is good to read this review at this very moment; I was feeling rather down, and your review (and Elwood and Harvey) made me smile. So thank you, and thank you, Harvey for introducing Madhu to this film. :)


    • I’m not sure I’d have been able to see the nuances of Harvey when I was 13 or 14, but I guess I should be grateful that I finally watched this film at an age when I am (hopefully!) emotionally mature enough to appreciate it.

      And I so completely agree with you about James Stewart being just perfect for this role. There’s something so gentle and gentlemanly about him, he seems absolutely right for it. I can’t imagine any other leading man of that period being believable as Elwood.


      • I’m not sure I got all the nuances then either, Madhu. But I certainly found it easier to accept Elwood for what he was than if I had seen it when I’d become more cynical.

        But irrespective of how life’s changed my perceptions, this is one of my go-to movies when I want to be reminded that the world is a good place.


        • this is one of my go-to movies when I want to be reminded that the world is a good place.”

          I think most of us need that, now and then… I know I need it every few months, when my faith in the integrity and goodness of the world around me has suffered yet another blow.


  4. I am moved to tears, Madhu! I am really!
    First of all because you chose this very movie for me. It is one of my favourite movies.
    Secondly (though not necessarily in this order) because you have been able to transport the spirit of the film in your writings.
    I had forgotten so many details about the film. Thanks for refreshing my memories and it tells me I HAVE to watch this heartwarming film again.
    Harvey’s Friday evening is reserved for Harvey!

    I would take a pleasant person to a smart one any time!
    We have too many smart people in this world and very few intelligent ones.
    I just realised this today, while talking to the cleaning man from the office today. He had such a nice philosophy for life, without being overbearing about it. He said, that he liked to help others, because he likes to do it and not because it is the good thing to do.

    BTW, the second link for the recipe is not working.
    Thank you for the post, Madhu! *hugs*


    • Harvey, first of all: thank you for recommending this film – I’d never heard of it before you told me about it, and somehow the idea of a man whose best friend is a giant invisible rabbit – well, that would have been enough to keep me away if I hadn’t trusted the person who told me this movie was good. Thank you.

      And I’m glad you think I did justice to the film. It’s hard sometimes to be able to express sufficiently how a film affects you – especially when the message it carries is such a subtle one.

      He said, that he liked to help others, because he likes to do it and not because it is the good thing to do.”

      I wish there were more people like that. When I was a child I came across this lovely little Bible verse which has stayed ever since with me:

      “Let us not be weary in welldoing” – Gal 6:9, KJV.

      Every time I feel too lazy or too crabby to help someone or to lend them a shoulder to cry on, I remind myself of that. :-)

      P.S. The link for the second recipe’s working – I just checked.


      • I am so glad that I recommended it to you, because I got a such a good review in return. So we are quits! I think i recommended it to you some two years back and then I didn’t hear anything about it and I thought you must have watched it and didn’t find it good enough, though I couldn’t really believe it.
        I have told it to you quite often and I am telling it to you again. You have a way with towards and know exactly how to put your feelings and emotions in words. I admire and envy you for that!
        “Let us not be weary in welldoing” – Gal 6:9, KJV. that is a good one. I will follow your path and remind me of it as well. I was just going the other day through the bible to be precise through St. John’s Evangelium. Loved his aphorisms.

        The two recipes are so quite different. Wonder which one Wilson got to eat. I knew the second one. Chives go good with it, though I think one will have to reduce the onions then. The first one is new for me.

        This is a double treat, Review of Harvey and two recipes. Won’t that be a good idea to couple film reviews with recipes. I was talking about this to Ava some weeks back. That’s the way how it works, I think, you act! :-)


        • It’s uncanny that you should mention the bit about coupling recipes with reviews, Harvey, because just yesterday, I finally watched a film that Anu had reviewed on her blog sometime back. It’s Babette’s Feast:


          Even though I’m a non-vegetarian, I found parts of the ‘feast’ a little yucky, but still – it’s a fantastic movie, and I’d certainly love to lay my hands on some of those recipes! I actually had a look through the IMDB message boards after I’d watched the film, and a number of people mentioned that in various theatres where the movie was screened (for instance, in San Francisco), there was an option for viewers to have the same meal at a neighbouring restaurant – for a hefty sum, of course, considering it’s a very posh banquet – after the film.

          In fact, I’ve been watching rather a lot of these food-based films recently. Harvey, of course, was the odd one out: not food-based, but with a tangential and fleeting connection to food.


  5. I had heard of this film before but not seen it.
    Now, thanks to the youtube link above, I’ve just finished it.

    Loved it! What a sweet movie – with a lovely message.

    I agree with Harvey (I mean OUR Harvey! :-)) – the world is full of smart people, we need more pleasant people. Everybody’s trying to rip off everybody else – just like in this 62-year old movie. We could do with more Elwoods.

    Thanks, Madhu, for this post. And thanks, Harvey (our Harvey) for recommending this to Madhu. And thanks to the person who put up that youtube link so that I could see this. Wonderful movie!

    I like Jimmy Stewart a lot. Some of his movies have been mentioned here – another one I liked and that’s not been mentioned is “Mr. Smith goes to Washington”. I saw it years ago and liked it a lot. It’s serious but a hard-hitting movie. I think it’s on youtube too.


    • Thank you, raja – glad you liked it! And I’m so glad you were able to watch the fim. It’s such a wonderful little movie, it deserves to be better known. (And, equally importantly, to have a greater impact on how people behave).

      I’ve heard of Mr Smith Goes to Washington, but haven’t seen it. I’ll certainly look out for it now that you’ve recommended it.


  6. Watched it last night, and found it a very pleasant experience.
    There was some symbolism too.
    Elwood was so likeable. How couldn’t he be when he shows such delicacy of taste by picking out Sense ans Sensibility to read :-)
    I thought this was symbolic of something. Something about Elwood since the scene was at the beginning.
    My interpretation is he shows a lot more sense and sensibility than an average person (sensibility here having the old meaning sensitivity).

    I too was struck with the same thought regarding the couch and the psychiatrist.
    The gatekeeper was so kind to him. Showing him the mechanics of how the gate opened and closed.
    Loved the expressions on the faces of the nurse Kelly and Dr Sanderson when Elwood describes his first meeting wirh Harvey. It is so understanding and gentle in contrast to earlier when he was being the Dr and asking questions like;
    -what was your close friends name
    -what was your father’s name

    I burst out laughing when Elwood gave a different name rather than Harvey, dashing all hopes the doctor had of finding the root cause of his ‘problems’.

    I was curious how the film would end.
    I was happy the way it did.

    Thankyou Harvey (our harvey :) and DO for introducing us to this film and character.


    • I’m happy you enjoyed the film, pacifist! (And yes, a man who chooses Sense and Sensibility as a book to read from has to be likeable!). :-)

      I think one major aspect of Elwood’s likeability is that he doesn’t judge people, and he listens to them. That is why complete strangers – the man at the bar table, the cab driver(s), the gateman, Mrs Chumley – all like him immediately.

      That bit about Dr Sanderson trying desperately to get some sort of ‘psychologically logical’ explanation for Harvey’s name amused me too. And Elwood was answering all the doctor’s questions so innocently and sweetly – being the epitome of a co-operative patient! :-D


  7. Everybody is so nice and thanking me for recommending it to Madhu. I am touched.
    Like many good things which come in our lives, this also came as a recommendation to me from a very dear friend, who though not near to me geographically and also in other parameters, will always remain close to me.
    I am moved by the fact that how a small action (in this case a passing comment) can make a difference.
    Thank you, Madhu for writing this review and lighting up moments in many people’s lives.


    • Harvey, you are too sweet. Thank you! I have my friends – most of whom I’ve not even met, only encountered in cyberspace – to thank for recommendations of a lot of films that have gone on to become favourites of mine.


  8. Just finished watching it. And I am all smiles and grins!
    Furthermore I realised that I didn’t understand half the puns, when I first saw it!
    Thank you, Madhu for bringing this up!


  9. I am late to comment, but great to see a dedication to Harvey. I did not know about a movie with the same name, but thanks for the link, I will try and see it.
    BTW, loved the egg & onion sandwiches, one of them sounds like standard NY deli comfort food. Will try them out.
    Following the link to an Anu post, saw that you liked J&J; great movie, one of my favorites. Can we expect a review ?
    (I even tried making the Beef bourguignon, mine did not come out that well. Should have cut down on the amount of wine added:)


    • I liked that little remark about “cutting down on the amount of wine added”. :-D Always hard to do, right?

      Apparently one of those egg and onion sandwiches is typical of Jewish delis – so you’ve hit the nail on the head.
      Yes, I did like Julie & Julia a lot, though I must admit the Julia Child scenes appealed to me far more than the Julie ones. Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci are among my favourite modern actors, and Julia Child seemed like such a very likeable person (Julie, in contrast, seems more childish and immature than anything else). I won’t review it, though, because that’s too new a film for me.

      By the way, have you watched Babette’s Feast? Quite a feast, that – and a sweet message underlying it all.


  10. Which Harvey is the movie dedicated to? Harvey Keitel? Hehehe.

    Harv… I am very very bad at math, so please let me know what your height is. Anyways I am glad you are not that tall, I find tall people really dumb (I hope that remark is not – heightist- ?) We have a saying in Punjabi – You have grown taller, but left your brains in your knees.

    I received a piece of wisdom recently from a relative – Retain your simplicity and trusting nature at all costs – I liked this, because I am trusting and often get conned, and wonder if I should be a little less trusting.


    • No, no, NOT Harvey Keitel! Let’s say it’s dedicated to our pal Harvey and to the pooka – if Harvey is willing to share this post’s dedication with a giant invisible bunny.

      I like your relative’s advice. I have the same problem – I’m invariably too trusting and ready to help people, and sometimes (uncomfortably often) find that it leads to me being taken advantage of. Still, I don’t know how much I’d be able to change that, even if I wanted to – it’s a part of how I am.


  11. I watched it again – needed the comfort today. Thank you, harvey, for making a playlist of all the parts. And thank you, Madhu, for writing up this film just at this very moment.


  12. Thanks Harvey and Madhu for this review. I am a sucker for old films particularly starring stalwarts like James Stewart, Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Richard Burton and so on, you get the message don’t you the handsome heroes. All these films had some real good stories I really miss them today. I will definitely watch it on you tube and please more such reviews.
    Oh yes Madhu I have a request if you can please put up an index of all the Hindi and English films that you have reviewed like Greta has done it would make searching your blog that much easier.


    • Thank you, Shilpi. Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Cary Grant and Richard Burton are among my favourite actors too. I haven’t seen enough of Burt Lancaster to be able to decide whether I’d put him in that list (though I’ve liked him in both The Train and Judgement at Nuremberg).

      Anu is right: the films I’ve reviewed are already listed. On the home page of my blog, scroll down and keep your eye on right side panel – the ‘Films I’ve Reviewed’ appear after ‘Cinema blogs’. There are three separate links to pages, in alphabetical order, of Hindi/English/Other Language films that I’ve reviewed.


      • Ok I got the list now how about waving your wand and saying abracadabra and splitting me into 2 and oh and do not forget to provide the money, remember you said you need more money to maintain the 2 of us.
        HA! HA! Thanking you in anticipation.


        • Hehe! Yes, Shilpi – I know. Don’t all of us wish we had plenty of more time, and of course all the money needed, to buy all the films we’d so like to see? And we’ve barely scratched the surface yet…


  13. We saw Harvey, the Broadway show, the other evening. We just now watched the 1950 movie it was based on. It’s SO good. I highly recommend it!

    You can download the movie here: http://kat.ph/james-stewart-harvey-1950-dvdrip-sirius-share-t511202.html ( downloading instructions: http://freetvez.wordpress.com )

    For AFTER you’ve watched the movie the first time, see…

    Harvey (1950) – Memorable quotes http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042546/quotes

    Also, this page… http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Harvey


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