This month’s Genre Grandeur is one I have been anticipating! That’s because of the film I selected for the event! January’s theme is ‘Comedies that feature characters who are either Stoners or Drunk’. After doing some research on the internet, I discovered the 1950 movie, Harvey, would be eligible! Harvey is a film I have been wanting to see for several years. Led by the beloved James “Jimmy” Stewart, so many good things have been said about this film. I was also interested in seeing Harvey because of its release date. Recently, I read an editorial by Jillian Atchley titled ‘It’s A Wonderful Life, James Stewart, and George Bailey’. In the article, Jillian explains there are two kinds of James Stewart films; pre-war and post-war. The post-war films, such as It’s A Wonderful Life, contain depth. I’d also add the post-war films feature higher stakes. Since Harvey was released four years after It’s A Wonderful Life, I was curious to see how deep this story would go. I also wanted to see how James would approach a character who is friends with an imaginary rabbit.
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: I have seen some of James Stewart’s movies prior to watching Harvey. What I’ve noticed about his roles in films like The Philadelphia Story, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s A Wonderful Life, and Rear Window is how there is a certain amount of charm included in his character’s personality. While portraying Elwood P. Dowd, James’ on-screen personality was different from what I’d seen before. In Harvey, Elwood is more laid-back. He also has a gentler persona, not having a care in the world. But there was one point in the movie where Elwood became somewhat philosophical. When asked by Dr. Lyman Sanderson and Miss Kelly how he first met Harvey, Elwood gives a thorough answer that is thoughtful and reminiscent. His answers to Lyman’s and Kelly’s questions not only captivate them, but the audience as well. This conversation shows there is more to Elwood when you look past the drinking and fascination with Harvey.
There were other performances in Harvey I enjoyed seeing. One of them came from Josephine Hull. Portraying Elwood’s sister, Veta, Josephine’s performance reminded me, to an extent, of Frances Bavier’s portrayal of Aunt Bee Taylor from The Andy Griffith Show. Let me explain myself; like Aunt Bee, Veta has her concerns and worries. You can hear the tension in her voice and see the fear in her eyes, illustrating how much Veta had on her plate. But, like Aunt Bee, Veta had her heart in the right place. All she wanted was for her brother to be a functioning and contributing member of society. Even if her actions weren’t always agreeable, Veta put her brother’s needs before her own. Because of her performance’s consistency, Josephine became an actress I looked forward to seeing on screen!
The set design: When I thought of Harvey, impressive set design was not what came to mind. So, when I first saw the set design in this movie, I was pleasantly surprised! A great location is the Dowd family home, which I wish was given more screen-time. While the house boasts a classic Victorian exterior, its interior was shown the most. In the house’s foyer, the stone staircase immediately caught my eye. Bearing a carved design, this staircase felt like it belonged in a castle! Another part of the home that features carved designs are the door frames. Marble fireplaces and stained-glass windows added exquisite details that highlighted the elegance and charm of the house! Another location I loved was Charlie’s! From some character’s descriptions, the bar sounded like a cheap or sleazy place. But when its interior was shown, it actually looked kind of cozy! The wood paneled walls were covered in framed photos. As a viewer, this gave me the impression the establishment is proud of their history. The booth Elwood sits at also gives off a cozy feel! The dark wood, tall backed seats surround a smaller, dark wood table. Above this seating arrangement was a small Tiffany style ceiling light.
What I didn’t like about the film:
Lack of comedy: According to IMDB, Harvey is partially classified as a comedy. As I’ve said before, comedy is a subjective genre. But personally, I didn’t find this movie very funny. In fact, I only chuckled once during this hour and forty-four-minute film. I could see the jokes the screenwriters were trying to deliver. Unfortunately, none of these jokes stuck the landing. On IMDB, Harvey is also partially classified as a drama. While watching this movie, it felt like the creative team involved leaned too much into the drama genre. There’s typically nothing wrong with having comedic and dramatic elements in a singular story. In the case of Harvey, the balance between these two elements was not there.
Medical negligence: In real life or fiction, members of the medical profession are human. They are not only capable of helping others, but also capable of making mistakes. However, there is a very fine line between making mistakes and committing medical negligence. In an effort to help Elwood, Veta takes him to a mental hospital called Chumley’s Rest. But due to a registration mix-up, Veta gets admitted into the hospital instead. The idea of mistaken identity and being forced to do something against your will sounds terrifying. Paired with the fact this situation is supposed to be played for laughs makes it worse. Because of this and because of how avoidable the situation was, it didn’t sit well with me.
No explanations for Harvey: As the title suggests, a portion of this story revolves around Elwood’s friendship with Harvey, a 6 foot 3 ½ inch, invisible white rabbit. Throughout the movie, I was waiting for an explanation of what Harvey was. I even waited to see if Harvey would show up on screen. Sadly, none of these things happened. Even though suggestions about Harvey’s purpose were given, no definitive answers were presented. Was Harvey truly an imaginary friend? Was he a mythical creature only Elwood could see? Was Harvey used as a tactic by Elwood to test people’s trust? As I continue to write this review, I still don’t know what Harvey is.
Decisions being flip-flopped: There’s nothing wrong with showing a character changing their mind about something. After all, that prevents them from being static. If a character is going to change their mind on something, you need to show the process of that viewpoint being changed. In the case of Harvey, that process was, sometimes, omitted. When visiting the Dowd family home in search of Elwood, Marvin Wilson, an employee from Chumley’s Rest, takes a romantic fancy to Myrtle Mae, Elwood’s niece. During Marvin’s visit, Myrtle expresses no interest in his romantic advances. But when they meet up again, later in the film, Myrtle suddenly wants to pursue a relationship with Marvin. Her change of opinion feels abrupt, with no lead-up to that decision. The omission of decision transitions sometimes left me frustrated.
My overall impression:
“What is the point of this movie”? I’m not asking this to be disrespectful or mean-spirited. I’m asking this because I’m genuinely curious to figure out what that point is. Sometimes, a film’s purpose or intended message is either obvious or easier to figure out. But with Harvey, I don’t know what the creative team was trying to say. Was this movie meant to be a cinematic PSA about how those with mental health related issues should be treated with dignity and respect? Is the film supposed to be an exploration of how some adults lose their sense of imagination the older they become? How am I expected to care about the filmmakers’ message when I don’t have a clear idea what it is? Besides being confusing, Harvey was, for me, disappointing. Because of James Stewart’s involvement in this project and because of the inclusion of a 6 foot 3 ½ inch, invisible white rabbit, I thought the movie was going to be whimsical and charming, with a sense of ‘magical realism’. Unfortunately, the 1950 film was none of those things. The lack of comedy and medical negligence did not help either. In all my years of watching movies, I never thought I’d see a James Stewart film I didn’t like. But, as of January 23rd, 2022, here I am.
Overall score: 5 out of 10
Have you seen Harvey? Which film from James Stewart’s filmography would you recommend I review next? Let me know in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!
If you’re interested in reading Jillian’s editorial, here is the link: