Harvey (1950)


They don't make 'em like this anymore.

They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

(1950) Comedy (Universal) Jimmy Stewart, Josephine Hull, Peggy Dow, Charles Drake, Cecil Kellaway, Victoria Home, Jesse White, William Lynn, Wallace Ford, Nana Bryant, Grayce Mills, Clem Bevans, Polly Bailey, Fess Parker (voice), Aileen Carlyle, Norman Leavitt, Anne O’Neal, Pat Flaherty, Maude Prickett,  Ruthelma Stevens, Almira Sessions. Directed by Henry Koster

What constitutes normal is really up to debate. There are those who think playing an online videogame for 48 hours straight is simply typical behavior; others may find it excessive. Some feel that obsessively collecting every piece of memorabilia from Gone With the Wind is just the way it’s supposed to be; others are less sure. Others still hear voices and see people and things that aren’t there; for them that’s life. For others, that’s psychosis.

Elwood P. Dowd (Stewart) lives a quiet life in a small town. A bachelor, he lives with his sister Veta Louise Simmons (Hull) and niece Myrtle Mae (Home) in the home he grew up in, which he inherited when his mother passed away. Charming and pleasant, he is an engaging sort, apt to invite anyone he meets to his home for dinner, someone you’d be immediately drawn to…until he introduces you to his very dear friend, Harvey.

Harvey, you see, is a six foot three and a quarter inch rabbit, or a pooka as he likes to be known. Nobody else can see Harvey except Elwood, and his sister and niece live in a constant state of mortification. Myrtle Mae despairs that she will ever meet a man who won’t hightail it as fast as he can in the opposite direction once he gets to know crazy Uncle Elwood, and Veta Louise can’t invite the society friends she would love to spend time with because one word about Harvey from Elwood and they suddenly remember other appointments or develop headaches.

At last, Veta Louise is moved to action and she enlists the family lawyer, Judge Gaffney (Lynn) to have her brother committed. He is driven out to Chumley Rest, a pretty sanitarium outside of town. The highly emotional Veta Louise begins the paperwork process with Nurse Kelly (Dow) who has the orderly Wilson (White) escort Elwood upstairs. Then, Veta Louise meets with Dr. Sanderson (Drake) who mistakes the overwrought histrionics of the guilty Veta Louise for psychosis and so Veta Louise winds up being committed and Elwood strolls off the grounds contentedly, smiling gently.

It doesn’t take too long before Dr. Sanderson realizes his error. He brings it to the attention of Dr. Chumley (Kellaway) who is forced out of his ivory tower to go retrieve Elwood, but not before firing Dr. Sanderson. A mad chase ensues with Wilson going to the Dowd home to retrieve Elwood but instead discovers Myrtle Mae, who falls instantly for the guy. Veta Louise informs Dr. Chumley that she intends to sue, but discovers where Elwood is and Dr. Chumley goes to retrieve Elwood personally.

Four hours pass with no sign of either Dr. Chumley or Elwood and a worried Dr. Sanderson, Kelly and Wilson go to Charley’s bar to find Elwood. As everyone else is, they are captivated by the sweetness of Elwood and at last convince him to go to the sanitarium. In the meantime, a highly agitated Dr. Chumley returns to his sanitarium and at last confesses the awful truth – he has also seen Harvey.

At last Veta Louise with lawyer in tow, arrives at the Sanitarium. Dr. Sanderson announces he has a formula that can help rid Elwood of his delusions. Elwood is reluctant to take the shot, but when he sees how miserable his sister is, he knows he has to do the right thing. But will the cost be worth it?

Josephine Hull won an Oscar for her performance as the high-strung Veta Louise, but you won’t remember her as much as you will Jimmy Stewart. This would be one of his signature roles, and in many ways is the distillation of his work as an actor. You can’t help but like the guy, delusions and all. Most of the rest of the cast is serviceable and to modern audiences who aren’t classic film buffs unknown but most of a certain age group will remember Jesse White as the Maytag Repair Man from the ‘70s and Fess Parker, who famously played Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett for Disney, can be heard as the voice of the chauffer. Very nice images too; those pre-color cinematographers knew how to make the most of light and shadow.  There are colorized versions of the film but the black and white version is certainly preferable to my mind.

This is a sweet-natured movie with just a light touch of the fantastic. Never laugh-out-loud funny, nonetheless you will be charmed into remembering this movie long after the credits roll. This is one of those classics that stands up after repeated viewings. Although like many stage plays that made the leap to the movie screen it seems stage-y at times and doesn’t have the grand vistas that you would expect from a movie, it still captivates regardless.

This is an absolute classic. It’s a movie you can’t help watching with a quiet grin on your face, or leave without feeling all warm inside. It’s an excellent choice when you need a dose of the warm fuzzies. Harvey has become a part of popular culture, and he is often referenced in asides by the very hip. This is one of those movies they’re talking about when they say “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” But then again, they don’t really need to because it’s already been made.

WHY RENT THIS: Sweet and charming. One of Stewart’s signature roles. Beautifully shot. A true classic.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little stage-y in places.
FAMILY MATTERS: As with most movies of the era, this is perfectly fine for any family audience.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The Broadway play would win the Pulitzer Prize in 1945; Hull originated the role of Veta Simmons on Broadway.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The Blu-Ray version, released in 2012 as part of Universal’s 100th anniversary celebration, includes a 1990 introduction to the film by James Stewart (shot for the VHS version) and two small featurettes on Universal studios – one on the Carl Laemmle era, the other on the Lew Wasserman era and neither having anything to do with the film. The Blu-Ray also has as an addition the 2001 DVD version in which there is a marked difference in quality between the two discs.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon (buy/rent), Vudu (buy/rent),  iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (stream only), Target Ticket (buy/rent)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Big Fish
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT: Jupiter Ascending

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What Happens in Vegas


Ashton Kutcher doesn't quite believe Cameron Diaz got a bigger paycheck than he did.

Ashton Kutcher doesn’t quite believe Cameron Diaz got a bigger paycheck than he did.

(2008) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Cameron Diaz, Ashton Kutcher, Rob Corddry, Treat Williams, Dennis Farina, Jason Sudeikis, Lake Bell, Queen Latifah, Deirdre O’Connell, Michelle Krusiec, Zach Galifianakis, Krysten Ritter, Ricky Garcia, Andrew Daly, Benita Robledo, Dennis Miller, Amanda Setton, Toni Busker, Jessica McKee, Anna Kendrick. Directed by Tom Vaughan

Some slogans are associated with cities pretty much forever. Chicago will always be my kind of town. You will always love New York. And what happens in Vegas…well, you know the rest.

Jack Fuller (Kutcher) has been fired from his job. What hurts the most is that it’s his dad who fired him. Jack is one of those young 20-somethings who is still trying to find himself but doesn’t mind taking his time about it. He’s not boyfriend material by any means. To help him get through his blues, his best friend Hater (Corddry), the most aptly named lawyer in history, decides to take him to Vegas.

Joy McNally (Diaz) is an ambitious floor trader on the New York Mercantile Exchange. She is engaged to Mason (Sudeikis) and has her perfect life already lined up ahead of them. Unfortunately, Mason isn’t quite on board – he dumps her in front of the door to their apartment, not realizing that Joy has invited all of their friends over for a surprise birthday party for him. Awk-ward! Her acerbic best friend Tipper (Bell), who longs to loosen the stick that has been up her tush for some time, decides to help her get over her depression by taking her to Sin City.

As always happens in Vegas – all right it never does but we’ll humor the writers – the two are booked into the same room. Instead of getting another room they decide to share and drown their sorrows in alcohol and baby, there’s plenty of alcohol in Vegas. Jack and Joy get themselves good and sloshed and wake up with rings on their fingers – the wedding kind.

As sobriety sets in the morning after, they make plans to get an annulment and head down to the brunch buffet to show there are no hard feelings. Joy even lends Jack a quarter to put in a slot machine. But when the machine pays out three million dollars, all bets are off.

And so is the annulment. Jack and Joy want it all – the money and the freedom. A fed-up Judge (Miller) tells them that he is freezing the winnings for six months while the couple makes a real effort with a marriage counselor (Latifah) guiding them. Joy moves into Jack’s apartment and of course both of them do the best they can to make the other want to give up the cash and get out. Hilarity technically ensues.

If this sounds like a plot you’ve heard before, you pretty much have. Typical of romantic comedies, it’s “I hate you I hate you no I love you” and there is nothing here that is going to catch any regular moviegoer off-guard. Well, maybe the chemistry between Kutcher and Diaz – two actors who have never really floated my boat much. Diaz can be a gifted comic actress (see There’s Something About Mary and The Mask) and Kutcher is more of a gut actor, but they make sparks pretty nicely together. They are actually better together than they are separately, although lots of critics disagree with me on that one.

It’s actually the second bananas who are the most fun to watch. Corddry has always been an underrated actor who when he gets a great role as in Hot Tub Time Machine can be absolutely scene-stealing. Lake Bell, who I think finally showed how great she can be in this year’s In a World showed glimmers of that talent here in a very different role.

The comedy here is mostly of the physical kind and the jokes are a bit tired and there are more groaners than not. Those who love lowbrow humor will be in hog heaven – there’s plenty of it here. It’s raunchy in places but not overly so, at least not like the Apatow comedies have set the standard for. As romantic comedies go this is pretty middle of the road and makes for decent entertainment for those moments when you want a few laughs but don’t want to put too much effort into the plot.

WHY RENT THIS: Nice chemistry with Kutcher and Diaz. Corddry and Bell nearly steal the show.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Been there done that premise. Too much lowbrow comedy.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s plenty of sexual innuendo and crude remarks, some foul language and a scene of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The party trick performed by Joy was the same one that Cameron Diaz also performed in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and a faux commercial for Corddry’s law firm. The Extended Jackpot edition includes an unrated version of the film that is (get this) two minutes longer than the original. Not. Worth. It.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $219.4M on a $35M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Green Card

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: So I Married an Ax Murderer