Harvey (film)

Harvey is a 1950 American comedy-drama film based on Mary Chase's play of the same name, directed by Henry Koster, and starring James Stewart and Josephine Hull. The story is about a man whose best friend is a pooka named Harvey – in the form of a six-foot-3.5 in. invisible rabbit.

Original poster
Directed byHenry Koster
Produced byJohn Beck
Written byMary Chase
Oscar Brodney
Myles Connolly (Uncredited)[1]
StarringJames Stewart
Josephine Hull
Peggy Dow
Charles Drake
Music byFrank Skinner
CinematographyWilliam H. Daniels
Edited byRalph Dawson
Universal Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
December 4, 1950 (Brazil)[2]
December 21, 1950 (USA)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.6 million (US rentals)[3]


Elwood P. Dowd (Stewart) is a middle-aged, amiable though somewhat eccentric man whose best friend is an invisible 6 foot 3.5 inch tall rabbit named Harvey. As described by Dowd, Harvey is a pooka, a benign but mischievous creature from Celtic mythology who is especially fond of social outcasts (like Elwood). Elwood has driven his sister and niece (who live with him and crave normality and a place in society) to distraction by introducing everyone he meets to his friend, Harvey. His family seems to be unsure whether Dowd's obsession with Harvey is a product of his (admitted) propensity to drink or perhaps mental illness.

Elwood spends most of his time in the local bar, and throughout the film invites new acquaintances to join him for a drink (or to his house for dinner). The barman and regulars accept the existence of Harvey, and the barman asks how they both are and unflinchingly accepts an order from Elwood for two martinis.

Elwood's sister, Veta Louise Simmons (Hull), tries to have him committed to a sanatorium. In exasperation, she admits to the attending psychiatrist Dr. Lyman Sanderson (Charles Drake) that, after so many years of putting up with the invisible rabbit, she sees Harvey every once in a while herself. This causes Dr. Sanderson to let Elwood out and lock Veta up. After sorting out the mistake, Dr. Chumley (Cecil Kellaway), head of the sanatorium, decides that to save the reputation of the sanatorium he must bring Elwood back. At one point, when her daughter asks how someone possibly could imagine a rabbit, Veta says to her "Myrtle Mae, you have a lot to learn and I hope you never learn it."

When tracked down, Elwood goes through several ordeals, although he remains largely oblivious to the plans put in place for him by Dr. Chumley, Judge Gaffney (William Lynn), and Veta Louise. In a scene where Dr. Sanderson and his nurse Miss Kelly (Peggy Dow) follow Elwood into an alley at the back of his and Harvey's favorite bar, Charlie's, Elwood tells the incredible story of how he came to meet Harvey, and explains the way in which people react when they meet them. In a later scene, he gives Dr. Chumley an insight into his philosophy of life:

Elwood also explains that Harvey has the power to stop time: "Did I tell you he could stop clocks? Well, you've heard the expression 'His face would stop a clock'? Well, Harvey can look at your clock and stop it. And you can go anywhere you like, with anyone you like, and stay as long as you like. And when you get back, not one minute will have ticked by. You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome not only time and space, but any objections."

In the final scene of the film, Elwood (along with everybody else) arrives back at the hospital. By this point, Dr. Chumley is not only convinced of Harvey's existence, but has begun spending time with him on his own, with a mixture of admiration and fear.

Dr. Sanderson convinces Elwood to come into his office where he will receive a serum called Formula 977 that will stop Dowd from "seeing the rabbit". As they are preparing for the injection, Elwood's sister is told by their cab driver about all the other people he has driven to the sanatorium to receive the same medicine, warning her that Elwood will become "just a normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are." Upset by the very thought of this, Veta halts the injection by banging on the examining room door, at which point Elwood comforts her and explains her tears to others with, "Veta's all tired out, she's done a lot today."

As Elwood is leaving, Dr. Chumley asks Elwood for Harvey's help, and Elwood, being the obliging fellow he is, makes no objection. Dr. Chumley, arm in arm with an invisible companion, asks "Have you ever been to Akron?"

After the gates to Chumley's Residence are closed, and Elwood is leaving, he stops, turns around and has a conversation with an invisible Harvey, who is already back from his trip to Akron and reaffirms their friendship. Harvey opens the gate, and Elwood and his invisible companion saunter off towards the bus stop, following Veta and Myrtle Mae, towards the planned last stop of Charlie's Bar and another drink.

Through the film, Elwood looks up at Harvey. Stewart, at 6'4", decided that Harvey should be 6'8" for the film, but the script lines stating that Harvey was 6' 3.5" were unchanged from the play.[4]



Reviews from critics were mostly positive. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that "so freely flowing is the screenplay which Mrs. Chase and Oscar Brodney have prepared, so vivid and droll is the direction which Henry Koster has given it and, particularly, so darling is the acting of James Stewart, Josephine Hull and all the rest that a virtually brand new experience is still in store for even those who saw the play."[5] Variety wrote that the play "loses little of its whimsical comedy charm in the screen translation," and that Stewart "would seem the perfect casting for the character so well does he convey the idea that escape from life into a pleasant half-world existence has many points in its favor."[6] Harrison's Reports wrote, "A brief synopsis cannot do justice to the humor in the story, much of it delightful and some of it hilarious. Stewart is excellent in the leading role; his casual ease and amiability, and the quiet manner in which he explains his relationship with 'Harvey,' are fascinating."[7] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called it "one of the most beguiling comedies possible ... I'm certain you'll admire the able playing of Stewart and the marvelous out-of-this-world perplexity of the superb Mrs. Hull. Both are Academy Award performances."[8] John McCarten of The New Yorker called it "a movie that only a case-hardened wowser would fail to find beguiling. Even if you saw the play, I don't think your familiarity with the alcoholic hallucinations of Elwood P. Dowd, the hero, will diminish your enjoyment of the film, and though James Stewart, who plays Dowd in the picture, doesn't bring to his part all the battered authority of Frank Fay, the originator of the role, he nevertheless succeeds in making plausible the notion that Harvey, the rabbit, would accept him as a pal."[9] The Monthly Film Bulletin was less positive, writing that "Harvey himself scarcely begins to exist for the audience until the last few minutes. In his absence, the humours that can be extracted from the more obvious aspects of lunacy or suspected lunacy are wrung rather dry."[10]

TV Guide says James Stewart gave "one of his finest performances in this lighthearted film", and it currently has five out of five stars on their site.[11] The film holds an 85% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 26 reviews.[12]

Stewart took a percentage of the profits. In 1953, William Goetz estimated that Stewart had earned $200,000 from the film[13] which is equivalent to $2.1 million today.[14]

Home video release

In March 1990, James Stewart recorded a special narrative introduction, that would be combined with many of the film's still photos, which would be added to the film's original release on VHS. MCA Home Video released Harvey on VHS in 1990. This also appears on at least one DVD release of the film.

Awards and honors

Hull's performance earned her an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress; Stewart's portrayal earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Stewart later declared in an interview that Hull had the most difficult role in the film, since she had to believe and not believe in the invisible rabbit ... at the same time.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


The play/film was made for television several times:

Producer Don Gregory purchased the merchandising and film rights to Harvey from the Mary Chase estate in 1996. In April 1999, Gregory sold the rights to Miramax Films, who beat out several high-profile bidders, including Walt Disney Pictures (represented by the producing team Barry Sonnenfeld and Barry Josephson), Universal Pictures and New Line Cinema. However, Miramax still intended to have Gregory produce Harvey. Universal was interested in having Harvey with Jim Carrey starring and Tom Shadyac directing, while New Line saw it as an Adam Sandler movie. Harvey Weinstein of Miramax was also considering Carrey and Sandler, as well as Tom Hanks. Weinstein wanted Harvey to be set in a modern setting.[18] Weinstein eventually took the project to Dimension Films, who partnered with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to co-finance. Craig Mazin was hired by Dimension in November 2001 to adapt the screenplay.[19] John Travolta entered negotiations to star in March 2003,[20] but the rights for Dimension and MGM lapsed,[21] which were picked up by 20th Century Fox in 2008.[22] Jonathan Tropper was hired to write the script, which, in August 2009, drew interest from Steven Spielberg as director. As a result, Spielberg pushed back development for an Abraham Lincoln biopic, a remake of Oldboy and an adaptation of The 39 Clues. It was then announced that Harvey would be a joint 50/50 production between 20th Century Fox and Spielberg's DreamWorks, with Spielberg and Gregory also set to produce the film. Tom Hanks, who previously worked with Spielberg on Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal, was considered for the lead role.[22] Spielberg had also approached Robert Downey, Jr., but in December 2009 Spielberg opted out after a dispute over his vision for the project.[23][24]

In December 2018, it was reported that streaming service Netflix.com had started developing a version of "Harvey".[25]


The Jimmy Stewart Museum, based in Stewart's hometown of Indiana, Pennsylvania, presents the Harvey Award to a distinguished celebrity tied to Jimmy Stewart's spirit of humanitarianism. Past recipients include Robert Wagner, Shirley Jones, Janet Leigh, and Rich Little.

A 1971 children's film, Mr. Horatio Knibbles,[26] also starred a giant talking rabbit, visible only to one person.

The first episode of 1975 television series The Invisible Man featured a scene with an invisible rabbit (wearing a visible collar) called "Harvey", in a cage in a laboratory.

A scene in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit has a barfly confessing to Judge Doom, "I seen the rabbit" (seemingly referring to Roger, who is being wrongfully sought as a murder suspect). He puts his arm around an invisible presence and says, "Well say hello – Harvey!", as a means of both mocking Doom and protecting Roger. The movie takes place in 1947, while the play released in 1944.

In the 1989 film Field of Dreams, farmer Ray Kinsella hears a voice in his cornfield that no one else can hear. His daughter, Karin, is later shown watching a scene from Harvey on TV.

The 1992 film Memoirs of an Invisible Man sees the recently-turned-invisible Nick Holloway, afraid to his reveal identity to a sinister government agent, answer 'Harvey' when asked his name.

The character Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption describes "Randall Stevens" –the fake person Dufresne created to launder money – as, "a phantom, an apparition, second cousin to Harvey the rabbit."

In the Farscape television series, produced by The Jim Henson Company between 1999 and 2003, the main character Crichton was often "haunted" by visual-auditory hallucinations referred to as a neural-clone of his archenemy Scorpius, produced by an interactive neurochip embedded in his brain. This character is dubbed "Harvey" and called such by Crichton in direct reference to the original film.

In the video game Edna & Harvey: The Breakout, the titular protagonist has a stuffed rabbit named Harvey whom she imagines talks to her.

In 2001, the film Donnie Darko contains a six-foot tall rabbit named Frank, which haunts the titular character. Contrary to popular belief, the writer and director Richard Kelly denied referencing Harvey. In an interview with Future Movies, he is quoted as saying: "I have never even seen the movie, it never occurred to me."[27] In 2002, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica programmed Harvey and Donnie Dark as a double feature.[28]

In 2004, the 15th season episode of The Simpsons, "My Big Fat Geek Wedding" contained a similar imaginary rabbit acting as Barney's 'anti-sobriety' sponsor.

In the cartoon series Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends, the city's founder was Elwood P. Dowd.

A British law firm was partially named after the rabbit.[29]

In the episode "Adventures in Chinchilla-Sitting" in the cartoon series Bob's Burgers, character Teddy seems to spot Louise's signature bunny ears. When he turns, the ears have disappeared and he remarks, "Thought I saw Harvey."

The British rock band Her's directly referenced the movie in the song "Harvey".

In film Sexy Beast, Ray Winstone's character sees a large imaginary rabbit at various moments in the movie.[30]

See also

  • The Unicorn in the Garden, a fable to which the film alludes.
  • Thomas Liehr: Pukas: About the next relatives of the ‘big white rabbit’ known from “Harvey”. ISBN 374672385X


  1. "1951 Retro-Hugo Awards". The Hugo Awards. Retrieved 2019-06-26.
  2. "Harvey - Release Info". IMDb. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  3. 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1951', Variety, January 2, 1952
  4. "Harvey (1950)". IMDb.
  5. Crowther, Bosley (December 22, 1950). "The Screen In Review". The New York Times: 19.
  6. "Harvey". Variety: 6. October 18, 1950.
  7. "'Harvey' with James Stewart and Josephine Hull". Harrison's Reports: 164. October 14, 1950.
  8. Coe, Richard L. (December 25, 1950). "It's a Happy Yule With 'Harvey' Here". The Washington Post: 4.
  9. McCarten, John (December 23, 1950). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 51.
  10. "Harvey". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 18 (204): 200. January 1951.
  11. "Harvey (1950)". Retrieved May 5, 2010.
  12. "Harvey". 13 October 1950.
  13. A TOWN CALLED HOLLYWOOD: Top Stars Now Share in Profits of Major Pictures. Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 24 July 1955: d2.
  14. https://www.dollartimes.com/inflation/inflation.php?amount=200000&year=1950
  15. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-06.
  16. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06.
  17. "AFI's 10 Top 10: Top 10 Fantasy". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-06.
  18. Oliver Jones (1999-04-06). "Miramax to redo 'Harvey'". Variety. Retrieved 2009-08-04.
  19. Michael Fleming (2001-11-28). "Mazin inks to pen 'Harvey' update". Variety. Retrieved 2009-08-04.
  20. Michael Fleming (2003-03-11). "Travolta has ears for 'Harvey'". Variety. Retrieved 2009-08-04.
  21. Michael Fleming (2009-08-02). "Spielberg hops to 'Harvey' remake". Variety. Retrieved 2009-08-04.
  22. Gregg Kilday; Jay A. Fernandez (2009-08-02). "Spielberg picks next directing job: 'Harvey'". The Hollywood Reporter.
  23. Sampson, Mike (2009-12-04). "Spielberg drops Harvey". JoBlo.com. Retrieved 2010-12-06.
  24. "Spielberg hops onto update of rabbit tale 'Harvey'". Associated Press. 3 August 2009. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  25. Busch, Anita (2018-12-19). "'Harvey': Netflix Working To Pull 6ft. Rabbit Out Of Hat". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2019-06-26.
  26. sarah (1 September 1971). "Mr. Horatio Knibbles (1971)". IMDb.
  27. "Richard Kelly". Future Movies.
  28. Schildcrout, Jordan (2019). In the Long Run: A Cultural History of Broadway's Hit Plays. New York and London: Routledge. p. 86. ISBN 978-0367210908.
  29. Lucy Burton, "Manchester-firm JMW has acquired local specialist property and litigation firm Goodman Harvey, set up in 2004 by an ex-Halliwells partner and an imaginary rabbit", The Lawyer, 30 May 2013
  30. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042546/movieconnections
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