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Blu-ray Review Harvey Blu-ray Review - Highly Recommended

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Kevin EK, Sep 3, 2012.

  1. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Screenwriter
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    Harvey hops onto Blu-ray with a new transfer that provides a lovely view of a classic light comedy.  The 1950 movie, adapted from the Mary Chase Broadway hit of the same name, continues to entertain some 62 years after its initial release.  The short version is that it’s about Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart), a man with a large, friendly, and very invisible white rabbit with the title name.  The fun of the movie is watching how Dowd and Harvey make an impression on the world around them, and in watching how people reveal the most unexpected parts of themselves when you least expect it.  This Blu-ray is Highly Recommended for purchase or rental.



    harvey

    Studio: Universal

    Year: 1950

    Length: 1 hr 45 mins

    Genre:  Comedy/Fantasy/Stage Adaptation


    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

    BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 32 mbps)

    Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (@ an average 2.1 mbps), French DTS 2.0, Spanish DTS 2.0

    Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

    Film Rating: Unrated (Family Friendly, although there is one mildly risqué song performance)


    Release Date: August 28, 2012


    Starring:  James Stewart, Josephine Hull, Charles Drake, Cecil Kellaway, Jesse White, Victoria Horne, Wallace Ford and Peggy Dow


    Screenplay by: Mary Chase and Oscar Brodney

    Based on the Play by   Mary Chase

    Directed by: Henry Koster


    Film Rating: 5/5


    Before we get any farther, a disclosure is in order, as was the case with my review this year of Three Smart Girls.  In the spirit of impartiality, and in fairness to Ron, Kevin and Adam, I must disclose a family connection I have to this movie.  The director of the movie. Henry Koster, was my grandfather.  His 30 year career as a feature director in Hollywood began with Three Smart Girls and concluded in 1966 with The Singing Nun, approximately three years before I was born.   This has no bearing on other reviews I write here, but in this case, the relevance is obvious.  I debated about what rating I could fairly give this movie, and whether it was fair for me to recommend it, given my connection.  I have decided that the presence of this movie on enough people’s classic film lists, and its enduring popularity more than justify the full 5 stars.  This may well be the very best film my grandfather directed (although I am a bit more partial to No Highway in the Sky) and it was cited by him and by Jimmy Stewart as one of their very favorite films.  We could also cite the Oscar nominations for Jimmy Stewart and Josephine Hull – with Hull winning for continuing her portrayal of Veta from the stage production.  I also debated whether to write this review or to hand it over to one of the other reviewers here at HTF.  After discussion with my father and others, I decided to go ahead and write this piece.  I welcome any comments by readers of this forum who may offer corrections or differing opinions.  But I do believe this is a classic and one that is worth seeing by all viewers – especially if they’ve never seen it before. 


    Mr. Wilson, reading from an Encyclopedia:

    “P-O-O-K-A.  Pooka.  From old Celtic mythology, a fairy spirit in animal form, always very large.  The pooka appears here and there, now and then, to this one and that one.  A benign but mischievous creature.  Very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and how are you Mr. Wilson?”


    Harvey is, on the surface, a very light comedy of manners, in which friendly drinker Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) introduces everyone he can to his large invisible rabbit friend, Harvey.  Of course, his older sister Veta (Josephine Hull) is beside herself with the problems the presumed imaginary rabbit is creating for her social life and for her daughter’s chances to get married to the right sort of man.  What transpires over the next hour and forty-five minutes is a comedy of mistakes, surprises and occasional moments of truly deep emotion.  There’s nothing here that will upset or offend anyone, but there are a few observations that penetrate a bit farther than you might initially expect.


    SPOILERS HERE:  Harvey is of course adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Mary Chase, and while the language has been mildly softened, it’s pretty much the same thing, only with a bit of opening up for scale, and preserved for all time with several of the original stage performers.  There’s a lot of mischief and whimsy in the story, where the fairy spirit of Harvey has his playful way with the various characters.  (My favorite moment is the above moment of sanitarium employee Wilson (Jessie White) looking up the definition of “Pooka”, but there are plenty more from which to choose.)  However, there is another layer to this movie, lurking right below the surface.  For some inexplicable reason, there is a deep sadness running through the story.  Some of this may come from the origin of the idea – I understand that Mary Chase wrote the play as a way to cheer up a neighbor and friend who had lost her son in World War II.  There’s a strong sense of yearning in the movie, mostly stirred by the almost painful innocence and decency of Elwood.  Stewart said that he felt he played the character as too cute at times, but what comes across today is that this is a man who really doesn’t have an unfriendly bone in his body.  And the movie and play present the case that the world around him will inevitably try to get him to conform to the unhappiness of everyone else.  Dowd is an outcast in more than one sense of the word.  He’s a committed whisky drinker (nothing wrong with that, except that it seems to be his primary pastime), and he has found kinship with this fairy spirit that seems to want nothing more than to make him and everyone else happy.  Veta plots to have Elwood get a shot to bring him back to reality, only to realize that if she does this, she’ll lose the decent and kind brother she forgot she has.


    MORE SPOILERS:   The movie oscillates between moments of gentle humor, gentle pathos, and even some occasional slapstick.  One early gag with a man slipping on a scrubbing brush is nearly worth the price of admission.  Stewart’s Dowd has some truly moving scenes in which he describes his life with the rabbit, and his willingness to go through with the shot at the end really is painful to watch.  At the same time, there is a great scene between him and Dr. Chumley (Cecil Kellaway) wherein the doctor becomes the patient and reveals his greatest desire – to go to Akron, have a cold beer and  be comforted by a woman he doesn’t know, who can keep telling him “poor poor thing”.  Which takes us back to the yearning inherent in the movie.  And when Dowd asks Harvey if he’d like to stay with Chumley, there’s a moment of sadness when Dowd realizes he’ll be walking away alone for the first time.  And when Harvey rejoins him in time for the end credits, there’s a sense of relief that all is right with the world again. 


    FINAL SPOILERS:  The movie was filmed as much as possible in single takes of wider shots, so that when you might expect to see the close-up of the person who is speaking with his or her back to the camera, many times the movie just goes right by it.  This is a specific stylistic choice, meant to keep the audience in the mindset of seeing a stage play with a wider view.  In many cases, the compositions handily accommodate this idea without losing anyone’s face.  The aforementioned moment with Dr. Chumley is but one example – with Chumley profiled in the foreground and an appreciative Elwood listening in the background at the right side of the frame.  In several cases, it has been mentioned that  shots with Harvey in them were framed a bit wider to be sure to include him.  And it goes without saying that they when the crew broke for lunch, they made sure to have a plate and setting for Harvey at the table.  There is one more bit of trivia to note – coming from the production notes on the DVD:  the story is that Mary Chase wanted to have a single shot in the movie that REALLY featured Harvey.  Whether she got her way or not is something that I’ll let the viewer decide.  I personally have never had trouble seeing him, and I’m confused as to how anyone would think he was invisible at that size and how are you Mr. Harris?


    Harvey was released on Blu-ray on August 28th, after having been postponed from an initial date in March.  The new Blu-ray arrives with a new 2K AVC transfer, a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix of the sound, and the extras from the 2000 DVD.  To this has been added two 2012 Universal 100th Anniversary featurettes.  The packaging also includes the 2000 DVD and instructions for downloading a digital copy.  This is also the latest release to not have a regular Main Menu.  Instead, the movie starts up right away, and you’ll need to hit the pop-up menu to access any functionality.  


    VIDEO QUALITY  4 ½/5


    Harvey is presented in a 1080p AVC 1.33:1 picture transfer that is a pleasure to watch.  There’s a lot more detail visible throughout, including the patterns of the various suits and awnings on display.  As a point of comparison, a 480p copy of the trailer is included on the disc so you can see the difference.  It’s not a night/day difference so much as a subtle one.  There is definite grain visible here, in a very pleasing manner that’s in keeping with the movie itself.


    AUDIO QUALITY  4 ½/5


    Harvey is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that gives the dialogue and music a nice soundstage.  There’s nothing fancy here – just a simple 2.0 mix that sounds very clean and clear.  Standard definition DTS 2.0 mixes are also included in Spanish and French.


    SPECIAL FEATURES   2/5


    The Blu-ray presentation of Harvey comes with just a few special features – the same ones as found on the 2000 DVD, with a pair of this year’s 100th Anniversary featurettes added in.



    My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.


    Special Introduction by James Stewart (RECORDED IN 1990, INCLUDED ON PRIOR VHS, LASERDISC AND DVD EDITIONS) (7:10, 480p, 1.33:1) – Jimmy Stewart’s audio introduction to the movie, recorded in 1990, is backed with a montage of multiple photographs both of the actual scenes, and of the behind-the-scenes moments.  It’s a wistful introduction, which is appropriate to the movie, in which Stewart discusses his long association with the piece, including stage performances in multiple venues including London.  One nice moment has the 6’3” Stewart disclosing that for the movie he had to establish Harvey as being 6’8” in order to look up to him.


    Trailer  (1:27, 480p, 1.33:1) (FROM THE 2000 DVD) – This trailer, including some rave reviews for the piece, is most useful as both an example of a 1950 movie preview and as a comparison piece to the new HD transfer.


    100 Years of Universal:  The Carl Laemmle Era (8:41, 1080p) (BLU-RAY ONLY) – This is the same HD featurette covering the early years of the studio that we saw on releases dating back to March. 


    100 Years of Universal:  The Lew Wasserman Era (8:50, 1080p) (BLU-RAY ONLY) – This is the same HD featurette that tended to accompany the Carl Laemmle featurette on earlier releases this year.


    SD DVD – (1.85:1 Anamorphic Letterbox) – As a bonus, the package also contains the 2000 standard definition DVD of the movie.   This DVD contains the movie with an English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192 kbps) mix, and a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. 


    Digital Copy – Instructions are included in the packaging for downloading a digital copy of the movie to your laptop or portable device.  The instructions include a deadline of December 31, 2013 for activation. 


    The movie and special features are subtitled in English, Spanish and French. The usual chapter and pop-up menus are present.  As I said, there is no Main Menu, but you can access everything you need via the pop-up option.  .



    IN THE END...


    Harvey is a classic comedy that offers a bit more beneath the surface than one might expect at first glance.  It’s a tale both of whimsy and yearning, inexplicably mixed together in an irresistible combination.  The Blu-ray offers a solid new 2K transfer which is a real pleasure to watch.  This Blu-ray is Highly Recommended for pookas and non-pookas alike.


    Kevin Koster

    September 3, 2012.


    Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:


    Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – on ISF Night Mode

                -Professionally calibrated by AVICAL in June 2012

    Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver

    Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player

    PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)

    5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)

    2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)

    Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer

     
  2. Reed Grele

    Reed Grele Screenwriter

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    My first name is actually Harvey, but I've always been called by my middle name Reed because I have the same name as my late father. So it was either that or "Hey Junior!". I prefer Reed.
    Anyway, this has always been a favorite of mine, and I agree fully with your excellent review as I own, and have just watched the blu ray.
    A definite blind buy (even if your name isn't Harvey. :)
     
  3. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Great review of a wonderful film. Just a reminder that Ms Hull's other very memorable screen role, was the homicidal Abby Brewster, in Arsenic and Old Lace, which she also reprised from her stage role.
    I didn't have to look far, IMDB, to find a delicious quote re: Harvey from critic Bosley Crowther.
    "Josephine Hull plays Elwood's sister with such hilarious confusion and daft concern that she brings quite as much to the picture as does Mr.Stewart - or his pal to be sure...and it would be an unhappy screen version that did not contain her rotund frame, her scatter-brained fussing and fluttering and her angelic gentleness of soul" (New York Times, December 22 1950).
     
  4. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Screenwriter
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    Jimmy Stewart was on record saying that Josephine Hull actually had the harder part. She had to both not believe and believe at the same time, and be believable while doing so. And try saying that three times fast...
     
  5. RobHam

    RobHam Stunt Coordinator

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    I watched the dvd of this a few days ago - it remains one of my favourite films (i still have an active email address for a pooka).
    Of all the wonderful scenes in the movie the on that gets me is where a slightly inebriated Elwood P Dowd is crossing the road amidst busy traffic. Once reaching the far kerb, the expression on his face is priceless when he "sees" the pooka is still in the middle of the road and rushes back to escort him safely to the kerb. From that point on you believe in Harvey the Pooka.
    As for the Mary Chase request for actually showing the Pooka - for many years, I was convinced I saw a print of Harvey on television where the outline of the rabbit was visible for a few frames at the very end. I've finally given up on this as false whmsical memory - perhaps we all want to see the Pooka, and thats the beauty of this film.
    Tempted to buy this but afraid it will join the growing list of my BD's where the expected uplift over DVD just isnt there (Koyaanisqatsi being the most recent disappointment).
     
  6. Bob Koster

    Bob Koster Extra

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    Kevin, that was you great-grandfather, my mother's father, walking past the front of the bar when Elwood enters. Erno Kiraly acted In many films in Hungary before escaping to the USA in the late 1930s, but I think his was the only one he appeared in here. His records still exist, now on CD in Europe.
     
  7. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Harvey is one of those BDs, where the "uplift" is obvious. Recently scanned from original elements, much from the OCN, and with all work performed beautifully. In this case, that "uplift" in resolution, densities and gray scale is clearly in place.

    RAH
     
  8. Mark Oates

    Mark Oates Supporting Actor

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    Especially without sounding like Porky Pig.
     
  9. Johnny Angell

    Johnny Angell Played With Dinosaurs Member

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    I love learning new things, Kevin, like the fact your grandfather directed this movie and also No Highway in the Sky. That is also a favorite of mine and sits on my DVR permanently. Many movies are admired as this one is, but it is a smaller subset of movies for which the audience feels affection. Harvey and No Highway in the Sky are in that smaller subset, IMHO.
    If you hear any rumblings about a blu-ray of No Highway in the Sky, please let the HTF gang know about it.
     
  10. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    Thanks, Kevin, for a well written review on a wonderful film. No argument from me on the "5" rating. Our copy is en route via USPS at the moment.

    That you have a personal connection to this film makes your comments all the more relevant. Your grandfather left a film legacy for which you and your father should be very proud. My wife just loves "The Bishop's Wife" and I thoroughly enjoy Jimmy Stewart & company in "Mr. Hobbs". So many laugh out loud moments in that movie. It's been too long since I've seen it, but I remember enjoying the "Godfrey" remake as well which I don't think ever made it to DVD. All 3 titles would be sure fire purchases if they came out on BD.
     
  11. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Screenwriter
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    I just want to thank the posters who have responded here.

    I am moved beyond words.

    And if someone could do a Blu-ray or even a MOD DVD of No Highway in the Sky, I'd be first in line to buy it.

    Thank you guys very much.
     
  12. Ransom Stoddard

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    Disappointed with the lack of extras - a commentary would have been nice - perhaps by Mr. Koster? He seems to know his stuff.
    Still extremely thankful Universal didn't botch the transfer, though.
     
  13. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member
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    Harvey was a beloved staple on TV when I was a kid, but it's now been a couple of decades since I've seen it at all. My copy will be here in another day or two and I'm really looking forward to it. Congratulations, Kevin, for what should be a proud association.

    And yes, No Highway in the Sky, please!
     
  14. Bob Koster

    Bob Koster Extra

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    And I'd be right behind you.
     
  15. RobHam

    RobHam Stunt Coordinator

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    Kevin - I watched this again but this time on BD and it is a beautiful thing to see.
    The uplift from the DVD is not as subtle as you suggested in your review - this is a full blown restoration that makes the previous DVD look shabby in comparison.
    I love this film and have seen it more than 100 times in VHS and DVD - watching it in BD slams home just how good a film this is.
    Anyone (like me) that prervaricated in buying the BD because they already had the DVD - fear not, the difference is enormous.
     
  16. AlexF

    AlexF Supporting Actor

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    This is a movie I've been meaning to watch for years, and that desire to see it got increased by the constant references in Farscape to it.
    Sounds like this blu-ray is the edition that will finally get me off my ass to get it, especially since the 100th anniversary discs tend to be fairly cheap here in Canada.
     

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