Harvey (1950): Jimmy Stewart Stars In Role Created on Broadway

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 light, whimsical tale, the movie is charming and in moments even delightful, due to the performances.

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.”

 

Credits

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

Black-and-white

Running time: 104 Minutes