Jimmy Stewart: Harvey (1950)

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In 1945 Jimmy Stewart returned to the stage, this time for Mary Chase’s Harvey where he took on the role of Elwood P. Dowd. He would remain in the London-based production for nearly three years. Then in 1950 he was cast as Elwood for the film version of this unique story. This is one of four films he would complete in 1950. Incredibly he was the second choice for the role of Elwood when filmmakers initially went after Bing Crosby. The film version of Harvey would earn Stewart another Oscar nomination for Best Actor as well as a Golden Globe nomination for the same category. It would also earn co-star Josephine Hull a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The film also starred Charles Drake, who would later appear with Stewart in The Glenn Miller Story (1954) and Winchester ’73 (1950).

The film was directed by Henry Koster who would later work with Stewart on No Highway in the Sky (1951) and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962).

This is the story of Elwood P. Dowd (Stewart) and his good friend Harvey, a white rabbit that stands 6 feet 3 inches tall. Elwood lives in the family home with his sister Veta and her daughter Myrtle. Elwood is a bit of a wanderer and spends much of his time meeting new people at bars and restaurants around town. All the while he’s followed around by his friend Harvey. The problem is that no one sees Harvey, except Elwood. After having lived with Elwood and Harvey for a time, Elwood’s family decide that it’s best to have him committed. Elwood remains carefree and oblivious to the plans of the people around him. In the end Elwood and Harvey might be the one’s to heal the family and prove that nothing is as it seems.

This is a fun movie with a great message. The story doesn’t have a clear direction from the start but builds into a great movie by the conclusion. The story makes each character have an importance which isn’t immediately evident.

Stewart often said that Josephine Hull had the toughest part in the movie since she had to play a woman who believed and disbelieved in Harvey all at once. Stewart himself brought a warmth and charm to the character of Elwood. The message of the film comes through Stewart and sounds loud and clear in the end. The rest of the cast work well, adding to the overall goodness of the movie.

Jimmy Stewart would often say that this was one of his favorite roles. He would later revive this role for the stage in New York in 1970 and again in London in 1975. In addition to the play and film he would often sign drawings he had done of Harvey for fans. When the movie was released for home video Stewart even recorded the introduction which plays over production stills. This introduction shows the affection he had for this wonderful role.

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