Take 3: Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Harvey (1972) Review

One of the first movies I reviewed this year was the 1950 film, Harvey. Since publishing my review back in January, that movie has become the most disappointing one I’ve seen this year, so far. Jillian, from The Classic Film Connection, recommended I give this story a second chance by checking out the 1972 Hallmark Hall of Fame production. Since this title is a remake and since I’m participating in The “Take Two!” Blogathon (which focuses on remakes), I found the perfect opportunity to watch this movie! When I reviewed 1950’s Harvey, I questioned what the point of the story was. This is because I was confused by what the movie’s creative team was trying to say through their project. Will I be less confused by the 1972 adaptation? Keep reading if you want to find out!

Harvey (1972) poster created by Foote, Cone and Belding Productions, Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions, Talent Associates-Norton Simon, and National Broadcasting Company (NBC)

Things I liked about the film:

Changes from the original film: As I said in my review of the 1950 film, there were things about Harvey I didn’t like. One of them was the medical negligence Veta experiences at Chumley’s Rest. In the 1972 version, that specific scene plays out differently. When Veta is being interviewed by Dr. Lyman Sanderson, he notices how distressed Veta appears. Her body language, tone of voice, and tears are noted by the doctor as he listens to what Veta has to say. This leads Dr. Lyman to admit Veta into the hospital for her well-being. The mix-up is presented as an example of good intentions leading to bad results. The film’s dramatic tone also helps elaborate how terrifying Veta’s experience would be.

A sense of magical realism: An element I thought was lacking in the 1950 version of Harvey was a sense of ‘magical realism’. Because the story featured a 6 foot 3 ½ inch, invisible white rabbit, I thought that aforementioned element would be automatically included in the film. In the 1972 adaptation, there was a stronger sense of ‘magical realism’ within the overall story. At the hospital, a hat with two holes on top is found in Dr. Lyman Sanderson’s office. The staff question who this hat could possibly belong to. Since the holes on the hat would allow rabbit ears to stick out, the hat itself implies Harvey does exist. This along with other strange occurrences in the story show how the film’s creative team put more effort into including ‘magical realism’.

The acting: When I reviewed the 1950 version of Harvey, I talked about James Stewart’s portrayal of Elwood P. Dowd, saying it was “laid-back” and “somewhat philosophical”. Reprising this role in the 1972 version of the story, James brought these same elements to his performance. But this time, his portrayal of Elwood reminded me of Mister Rogers from Mister Rogers Neighborhood. What I mean by this is Elwood came across as the type of man you’d want to spend hours having a conversation with. Elwood’s approachable and pleasant persona make him such a fascinating individual. If Elwood P. Dowd existed in the real world, I’d like to think he’d come up with an interesting TED Talk!

Despite appearing in the film for a limited period of time, I liked Madeline Kahn’s portrayal of Nurse Ruth Kelly! Her pleasant on-screen personality allowed her to stand out and give a memorable performance! Her interactions with the other characters also came across as realistic. After Veta was admitted to the hospital, Dr. Lyman has difficulty finding her. In a state of panic, he thinks Veta escaped. Sensing Dr. Lyman’s panic, Ruth becomes concerned. Her face has fallen from the smile she usually carries and her tone of voice contains a sense of dread. There’s even an ounce of timidness to her overall demeanor. Scenes like this one make me wish Madeline was given more on-screen appearances.

The “Take Two!” Blogathon banner created by Annette from Hometowns to Hollywood

What I didn’t like about the film:

Most of the story being rehashed: When creating a remake of a pre-established story, it’s important to do two things: respect the source material that came before your project and bring your own voice to the table. In the case of Hallmark Hall of Fame’s version of Harvey, more emphasis was placed on respecting the original film. While this idea isn’t a bad one, the 1972 movie’s creative team didn’t allow themselves to create a unique identity for their project. The sets in this film looked almost exactly like they did in the 1950 film. The story, more often than not, followed the 1950 movie’s narrative, making very few deviations. While watching the 1972 version of Harvey, I wondered, at times, why this remake exists?

A televised version of a play: In my review of Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Foxfire, I talked about how that title felt more like a televised play. This is because the 1987 film contained a smaller cast and a condensed story. The 1972 adaptation of Harvey also felt like a televised version of a play. Fewer locations are a reason why. In the 1950 version, Elwood is shown taking Harvey to Charlie’s Pub. Elwood simply recalls this experience in the 1972 version. What’s also important to note is how the 1972 story takes place in either the hospital or the Dowd family home.

The underutilization of Betty Chumley: At one point in the 1972 story, Elwood makes plans with Dr. Chumley’s wife, Betty, to meet at Charlie’s Pub and share drinks. But because this trip was never shown on-screen, Betty received one less on-screen appearance. Within the story, she only appeared in two scenes. Personally, I think Betty should have had a stronger significance in the film.

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My overall impression:

After publishing my review of the 1950 version of Harvey, Jillian, from The Classic Film Connection, explained how the story’s point was “about the right to be uniquely yourself and live life on your own terms”. Now that I’ve seen the 1972 version of this story, I think the Hallmark Hall of Fame film did a better job at executing this idea. What worked in the movie’s favor was how the story was just a drama instead of trying to be both a drama and comedy. Scenes like Veta’s hospital admittance elaborated how terrifying her situation would be. There was also a sense of ‘magical realism’, something I thought was lacking in the 1950 film. However, the majority of the 1972 movie was a copy of the 1950 movie. In 1993, Hallmark Hall of Fame released the film, To Dance With the White Dog. Based on what I know about the story, it sounds like a version of Harvey. But this time, a man sees a white dog only he can see. Maybe I’ll write about that movie in a future review.

Overall score: 6.1 out of 10

Have you seen any version of Harvey? Are there any Hallmark Hall of Fame movies you’d like to see me review? Let me know in the comment section below!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Harvey (1950) Review

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.

Harvey (1950) poster created by Universal Pictures

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.

Collection of white rabbit images created by freepik at freepik.com Hand drawn vector created by freepik – www.freepik.com

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.

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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!

Sally Silverscreen

If you’re interested in reading Jillian’s editorial, here is the link: