• Matt Miller

Movies you might have missed


IMAGE COURTESY IMDB.COM

Title: Harvey (1950)

Directed by: Henry Koster

Genre: Comedy

Available: On Netflix

Brief Synopsis: Elwood Dowd, a local drunk, has many friends. However, none are better than Harvey, a 6'3 1/2" invisible rabbit.

Aggregate Scores: 8.0 IMDb 84% Rotten Tomatoes

Review: You never know when you are going to make a new friend. It may be at work, a party, or, like Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart), walking home. Certainly, we all need and want friends, but usually the more you try to make it happen, the harder it becomes. While many struggle with this act, Dowd is a natural. He makes friends with everyone, whether they are rich or poor, young or old, male or female. It is so easy for Dowd that he can even make friends with a 6'3 1/2" invisible rabbit named Harvey that only Dowd can see.

Dowd's friendship causes a major strain on his only surviving family; his young, unwed niece Myrtle Mae and his widowed sister Veta Louise (Josephine Hull, who won an Academy Award for her brilliant role). They blame Dowd's antics on their non-existent social life, and make the (reluctant) decision to commit him to a mental institution. Of course, this being a comedy, everything does not go to plan. Dowd (and Harvey) slip out of the asylum, with everyone else in hot pursuit.

Classical Hollywood star James Stewart gives his most underrated performance as Elwood Dowd, a man everyone else thinks is insane, but ends up imparting profound wisdom on all he meets. His affable personality and unwavering kindness allow for a reversal of one of Hollywood's earliest and most damaging stereotypes. Throughout cinema, characters with mental illness are often portrayed as cold, violent, and dangerous. Harvey acts as one of the first attempts by film to correct this image. Instead of Dowd being vilified, Veta Louise is shown as heartless for putting her brother in an asylum. The doctors and hospital workers are portrayed as hasty and authoritarian, showing little interest in the wellbeing of their patients. Harvey gives a much needed and welcomed change to this negative cliché.

Harvey is a classic comedy of errors, filled with misunderstanding, incompetence, and absurdity. This over-the-top ‘zaniness’ is typical for 1940s/1950s comedies, which can make certain films drag or feel dated by today's modern audience. Harvey is able to avoid this common trap by balancing the hijinks with emotional pathos, making the movie feel classic and timeless. This movie succeeds because it prioritizes humanity over everything else. It is best summarized by Dowd's genial mantra: "My mother used to say to me... In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant."

In a time where everyone seems to be arguing over who is right and wrong, it is a great reminder that being pleasant is sometimes much more important.

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