Dusty is an avid classic movie fan who wants to share movie stories and evoke conversation about them.
1 hr. 44 mins Comedy, Drama, Fantasy 1950 7.9 stars
Director: Henry Koster
Cast: James Stewart - Elwood P. Dowd
Josephine Hull - Veta Louise Dowd Simmons
Victoria Horne - Myrtle Mae Simmons
Charles Drake - Dr. Raymond Sanderson
Peggy Dow - Miss Kelly (nurse)
Jesse White - Martin Wilson
Cecil Kellaway - Dr. William Chumley
Clem Bevans - Mr. Shimelplatzer
Grayce Mills - Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet
Minerva Urecal - Nurse Dunphy
Harvey - Harvey
Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie
Elwood Tries to Introduce Harvey to His Elite Friends
Synopsis Part I
The start of the movie has an unusual scene of a gate opening in front of the home of Elwood P. Dowd. Elwood opens the gate to venture out onto the sidewalk, but first motions as if to let someone precede him through that gate. He then follows after. What’s unusual is that there’s no one there. Elwood has an invisible friend or so it seems. His invisible friend is a 6 foot plus rabbit named Harvey. Elwood is pleasantly and slightly out of touch with reality. The question persists, well into the movie: Is Harvey real or is he a figment of Elwood’s imagination visible only to Elwood. Elwood’s personality is a dominant factor in the movie. He is a very nice man who has no temper whatsoever; no matter how he is treated he is always pleasant, always sees the silver lining. He loves people. He also loves to drink. He spends his afternoons at a bar called Charlie’s where they accept him and his invisible friend.
Elwood’s peculiarities however present significant problems for his sister and niece who live with him. Elwood has inherited the family fortune and it is substantial. His sister, Veta and niece Myrtle Mae wish to climb the social ladder and Veta would like Myrtle Mae to meet a nice suitable bachelor. However they are both terrified of being ostracized from the community because of the strangeness of Elwood and his invisible friend.
Veta comes up with a plan; she knows that Elwood routinely goes to “Charlie’s” with Harvey and drinks the afternoon away so she plans a high society party for all the elite ladies of the city. Everything looks to be successful until Elwood, down at the bar, learns of the party and concludes that he ought to be there to welcome the guest and introduce them to Harvey. This he does to the utter horror of Veta and Myrtle Mae.
In response Veta decides to have Elwood committed and takes him to an asylum named Chumley’s Rest. When they arrive the orderly takes Elwood upstairs for a bath as they prepare to institutionalize him. While that is happening Veta goes to be interviewed by the doctor on duty, Dr. Sanderson. During the interview Veta gets frantic in describing the goings on at the household. She gets particularly excited when talking about Harvey.
This conversation convinces Dr. Sanderson that it is Veta who should be in their facility and not Elwood. In a panic Dr. Sanderson gets his nurse, Miss Kelly to go upstairs and stop the whole process with Elwood. Dr. Sanderson then gets the orderly, Martin Wilson, who is more like a bouncer, to apprehend Veta and take her upstairs to begin treatment. Miss Kelly then brings Elwood downstairs where Dr. Sanderson apologizes profusely as he fears a lawsuit.
But Elwood is nothing but gracious and invites both Dr. Sanderson and Miss Kelly out that evening for drinks at “Charlie’s”. Elwood then departs.
Out on the grounds he runs into Mrs. Chumley, Dr. Chumley’s wife. Though Dr. Chumley is there he no longer sees patients, but dedicates his time to research. Elwood explains who Harvey is and that he’s looking for him. He explains that Harvey is a pooka. He then invites Mrs. Chumley and Dr. Chumley out for drinks at “Charlie’s”. The conversation concludes and Elwood walks to the gate of the property and starts a conversation with the gate keeper, Mr. Shimelplatzer and invites him out for drinks too.
Meanwhile Mrs. Chumley tells her husband about the delightful but strange man she encountered out on the grounds. She asks, “What’s a pooka?” Dr. Chumley and his wife are in a hurry to leave to go to a luncheon and Dr. Chumley picks up a hat to wear, but it’s not his hat. This hat has holes cut out where a rabbit’s ears would fit and he realizes that indeed it was Elwood who should have been committed not Veta. He immediately releases her and fires Dr. Sanderson.
While this is happening Martin looks up “pooka” in a dictionary. He reads the definition that it is a mischievous being from folklore. The definition concludes with a personal greeting addressed to Martin himself. Flustered, Martin puts the dictionary down right away and he rushes off.
Veta is returned back to the Dowd home still in a lather over being mistaken for a patient and for being manhandled by Martin. She resolves to sue Dr. Chumley. While this is going on Martin comes to the house looking for Elwood to take him to the asylum. Instead he meets Myrtle Mae and the two fall in love with each other. At the same time Elwood returns to the house unseen and places a portrait of himself and Harvey above the fireplace and in front of another portrait, one of his mother.
Dr. Chumely is trying to dissuade Veta from suing him. He follows her into the room and sees the portrait of Elwood and Harvey. The portrait perplexes Dr. Chumley and horrifies Veta.
Back at the asylum Dr. Sanderson is readying to leave, but Miss Kelly is annoyed that he has shown no romantic interest in her and they bicker. Nevertheless they go to “Charlie’s” together for look for Elwood. Elwood is there and invites them to join him for a drink. They are looking for Dr. Chumley and are hoping that Elwood knows where he is. Elwood admits to having been with Dr. Chumley earlier, but insists that Dr. Chumley left with Harvey! Elwood talks Miss Kelly and Dr. Sanderson into dancing together which they do while Elwood quietly slips out of the bar. Dr. Sanderson and Miss Kelly see him leave and rush out catching up with him outside.
Elwood tells them the story of how he and Harvey met. He speaks in such a pleasant way and with words full of wisdom that Miss Kelly and Dr. Sanderson are nearly mesmerized.
Elwood tries to introduce Harvey to Dr. Sanderson and Miss Kelly
Synopsis Part II
The scene shifts back to the asylum where Dr. Chumley has returned but is uncomfortably glancing over his shoulder as if he were being followed. He was being followed and he was reluctant to admit if for he was being followed by Harvey!
Elwood agrees to return to the asylum to help Dr. Sanderson and Miss Kelly look for Dr. Chumley. They find him and when they do Dr. Chumley has a private talk with Elwood about Harvey. It seems Dr. Chumley has also met Harvey and likes him.
But just about that time Veta, Myrtle Mae and Judge Gaffney arrived at the asylum to commit Elwood. Dr. Sanderson proposed a treatment for Elwood that would cure him completely. The treatment is in the form of an injection and Dr. Sanderson, Miss Kelly and Elwood go into the office for this remedy.
While they were in there the cabbie who had delivered them came in asking for his fare. He commented about all the passengers he had brought to the asylum and how they were very pleasant on the ride in but after that injection they were mean and bitter. Upon hearing that Veda rushes into Dr. Sanderson’s office and stops the injection. She no longer wants Elwood to change. She even admits to having seen Harvey herself.
Meanwhile down in Dr. Chumley’s office Harvey elects to stay with Dr. Chumley. Veta, Myrtle Mae and Judge Gaffney all decide to leave. Elwood realizing that Harvey will stay with Dr. Chumley, then decides to walk home, but as he departs Harvey comes out to join him. Harvey decided that he would prefer the company of Elwood to the company of Dr. Chumley. So off down the road they go, Elwood and Harvey who you’ll recall is invisible. It is a ‘walk off into the sunset’ type of scene though it’s really a walk off into the moonlight.
Elwood is Hoping for a Bath
What is a pooka? One dictionary defines it as, “an Irish spirit mischievous, but not malevolent”. It is also spelled ‘puca’. It comes from folklore just like fairies, goblins and leprechauns. Pookas have been known to take the shape of animals. So the concept for ‘Harvey’ comes from far back in time and did not originate in the imagination of the writers.
The question arises, is Harvey real in the movie? I contend that he is. At first the viewer might be forgiven for assuming that Elwood is just a few cards short of a full deck, but is he really? If he is merely having a delusion about an approximately 6 foot rabbit then it is important to note that Veta has seen Harvey. And if that’s not convincing then note that Dr. Chumley also meets Harvey. In the movie Dr. Chumley is an esteemed psychiatrist. We see doors open and we even watch as Martin Wilson reads the definition in the dictionary and it concludes by asking, “and how are you today Mr. Wilson?” This vexes Wilson.
The fact that no one in the movie (or in our world) has ever seen a six foot invisible rabbit doesn’t mean Harvey is non-existent, but does cause people to question Elwood’s sanity. Of course you don’t see that which is invisible, but the issue is more than that. Elwood actually saw and conversed with Harvey as did Dr. Chumley (which means they not only saw him but heard him as well)
The presumption that Elwood was mentally deficient is therefore actually turned on its head because they could not perceive what he could. In fact that perspective has the average person being the one who is deficient! They only ‘know in part’ since they are limited by what they perceive by seeing.
Veta, though having seen Harvey at times fights within herself to admit to such a thing, because she is concerned with what others in her aristocratic crowd might think (and do think). She ends up living a life of denial. Elwood admits what is obvious to him – his best friend is an invisible six foot tall rabbit. He has no qualms about that. The men who hang out in his favorite bar, “Charlie’s”, all accept him and Harvey whether they can perceive Harvey or not, because it makes no difference to them. All they know is that Elwood is a nice guy, very nice (as well as naïve). Elwood is wealthy and spends his money freely on his friends and everyone is Elwood’s friend.
In the movie we never see Harvey, but we see the effect of Harvey like a door opening as if there were a ghost. We do see a portrait of Harvey which Elwood places above the mantel even covering his own mother’s portrait. Harvey also gets his name in the credits, a nice touch. In the curtain call scene the door opens mysteriously to present Harvey.
In the end the family opted to not have Elwood get the injection which would ‘normalize’ him. When the cabbie told of all the negative consequences he saw as a result of this injection they understood that Elwood as his delightful self was better than his being miserable all the time. Elwood’s eccentricities were wonderfully normal and, probably better stated, ideal. He made friends with all from the elites to the outcasts.
A humorous side story is the budding romance of Myrtle Mae and Martin Wilson. Veta tried desperately to introduce her to elite bachelors, but she fell in love with the asylum’s bouncer instead.
Humor is found in the stating of what is appears to be random; when Dr. Chumley starts seeing and talking with Harvey he dreams of a two week vacation in Akron. Akron is not known as a vacation spot so Dr. Chumley shows his own eccentricities here.