Oscar Movies: Harvey (1950)–Starring Jimmy Stewart

In an Oscar-nominate role, Jimmy Stewart returns to the part he had admirably created on Broadway in Henry Koster’s popular screen adaptation of Mary Cross’s 1944 Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name. It’s impossible to imagine any other actor embodying the central figure of the genial drunk Elwood P. Dowd.
Though Koster may not have been the right director for this kind of whimsical tale, the movie is charming and in moments even delightful.  The story centers on an eccentric man named Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stewart), who turns to drinking and other excesses and non-conforming behavior as an escape from the dull and stultifying conformist society around him.  Early on, he tells the doctor: “I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, and I’m happy. I finally won out over it.” 
At the time, “Harvey” was criticized for its loose (irresponsible) portrait of drinking.  The movie also divided reviewers whom felt there was not enough fantasy.  However, all agreed about the high caliber acting, particularly James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd, a gentle, unworldly inebriate who ambles through life in the company of Harvey, a 6-4 foot white rabbit, which is a creature of his imagination.   When Stewart’s Elwood says, “Every day’s a beautiful day,” you believe him.
The character actress Josephine Hull plays Dowd’ eccentric, long-suffering sister, Veta Louise Simmons, who wants to have him committed for good.   Hull gives an excellent performance as a distraught woman, defined by her rotund frame, scattered hair, and fussing and fluttering.  Hoping to keep her daughter sheltered, Hull tells her: “Myrtle Mae, you have a lot to learn, and I hope you never learn it.”  But, in a moment of weakness, she admits: “Doctor, I’m going to tell  you something I’ve never told anyone before–not even Myrtle Mae.  Sometimes, I see that big rabbit myself.”
Despite the light, comedic tone and the casual treatment of insanity and alcoholism, the film offers some poignant observations about the American way of life, just as it was changing, specifically about the important value of tolerance.
Oscar Alert
Oscar Nominations: 2
Actor: Jimmy Stewart
Supporting Actress: Josephine Hull
Oscar Awards: 1
Supporting Actress
Oscar Context
The winner of the 1950 Best Actor was Jose Ferrer for “Cyrano de Bergerac.”
Produced by John Beck
Directed by Henry Koster
Screenplay: Mary Chase and Oscar Brodney, based on the play by Chase
Camera: William Daniels
Editor: Ralph Dawson
Music: Frank Skinner
Art direction: Nathan Juran, Bernard Herzbrun
Running time: 104 Minutes