Harvey (1950)

(On Cable TV, January 2018) It took a surprisingly long time for me to warm up to Harvey, especially considering that it stars James Stewart and remains a minor classic of film fantasy. I think that much of this initial reluctance has to do with not quite knowing which way the movie was leaning at first—is Stewart’s protagonist delusional or simple-minded? What are we watching here—gentle fantasy or sad realism? Mental illness is no joking matter, and yet Harvey does spend quite a bit of time in a Todorovian twilight zone where this may be the solution. Fortunately, Harvey never quits and soon become passable, then acceptable, then quite charming right in time for the end. The first big breakthrough happens when Stewart blandly states, “Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.”  Then there’s the romance between Charles Drake and the superb Peggy Dow, or again a bland statement “Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”  Finally, there’s the confirmation that the film is whimsical fantasy. Harvey hinges on a few very delicate strings, and it’s almost an achievement to find them so finely balanced. Stewart being Stewart, it’s difficult not to like the film, but it does earn its likability along the way.

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