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'Harvey': A Warm, Fuzzy Reminder of What's Important

October 11, 1990|MIKE FLAGG

Since the first colonists arrived in America and found they could buy beachfront property with a handful of glass beads, Americans have congratulated themselves on being a hard-nosed, practical lot.

"Harvey" gently reminds us that there's nothing wrong with holding onto our sense of wonder, that grace and courtesy count more than trendiness and cheap, shallow wit, that we miss so much as we barrel through life, our eyes fixed only on career and mortgage and credit cards.

Elwood P. Dowd is a charming small-town boulevardier who may or may not be a few bricks shy of a load. His best friend is a 6-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey that no one else can see. When Elwood insists on introducing Harvey to the guests at his sister's tea party, she decides reluctantly to have him committed.

The rest of this 40-year-old movie--based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play--is ostensibly about how providence, or perhaps the magical Harvey, contrive to keep Elwood out of the asylum. But it's really about the people who can't see or don't have time for Harvey or, for that matter, any of the other marvelous things the world contains, things as mundane as a cold, crisp, clear martini--"Nobody brings anything small into a bar," says Elwood in one of the movie's best throwaway lines--or as magical as an invisible rabbit.

Despite some silliness and Jimmy Stewart's occasional tendency to cross the line between sweet and cloying, the movie still holds up. It is one of Stewart's best, as it was also for Henry Koster, who directed "The Robe" but is mostly known for his light, sentimental comedies. Josephine Hull won an Academy Award as Elwood's harried sister, and Stewart was nominated.

Younger children may like it, but the movie's ironies are definitely aimed at adults.

"Harvey" (1950), directed by Henry Koster. 104 minutes. No rating.

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