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.
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