It's hard to watch a movie like Harvey (1950) without a big smile on your face, or at least a little smirk. Adapted from the successful play by Mary Chase, this charming comedy follows the amiable Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stewart) and his pooka friend, Harvey. The latter is a six-foot, three-and-a-half-inch rabbit who routinely joins Dowd at Charlie's, a local bar, for martinis and good conversation. Naturally, no one else can see the giant bunny...including Dowd's high-strung sister, Veta Louise (Josephine Hull, who won an Oscar for the performance) and his niece, Myrtle Mae (Victoria Home). After the seemingly eccentric Dowd ruins yet another social gathering at their home, Veta plans to have him committed to Chumley's Rest, the local nuthouse. Fortunately for us, getting Dowd locked away for good won't be so easy.
Modern audiences unfamiliar with Harvey's charms will probably fall for them within a matter of minutes. This likable comedy is a simple story told well, with only a handful of characters and all of them fairly memorable. Stewart's performance as the good-natured Dowd seems almost effortless, and it's not long before we begin to question his supposed insanity. When Dowd is eventually confronted by authorities, doctors, and the possibility of a "cure", it's hard not to feel defensive on his behalf. Dowd is simply a man stuck in his own little world, but he has no reservations about inviting the rest of us inside. During a narrative introduction to the film, Stewart picks Harvey as one of his personal favorite performances, and it's not hard to see why: this lighthearted film is still capable of entertaining kids of all ages.
Oddly enough, Harvey never really got all that much attention on DVD...unlike, say, even more well-known Stewart films like It's A Wonderful Life or Rear Window. Released just one time back in 2001 on a relatively featureless disc, Universal aims to bolster the film's legacy as part of its "100th Anniversary" line of Blu-Ray and DVD titles. Unfortunately, we still don't get much in the way of bonus features, but there's definitely one highlight of this release: a strong visual presentation that nicely preserves the film's charming, small-town appearance. This combo pack includes both formats and a digital copy too, although the DVD itself is recycled from 2001. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Harvey looks excellent overall. We get an incredibly clean and crisp image, and one that boasts a solid grain structure overall with no obvious signs of excessive DNR. Black levels are consistent, textures look great and the film's natural but pleasing cinematography is preserved nicely. It's a notable improvement over the 2001 DVD edition...which, oddly enough, is the disc included with this combo pack. Considering the lack of bonus features, it's a shame they couldn't have at least ported over the new transfer to SD. Either way, fans should be pleased.
NOTE: This review's screen caps were taken from the DVD release and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
The audio is understandably basic but still gets the job done. Presented in DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio, what we get here is a generally clean and crisp listening experience with only a few minor distractions along the way (for example, there's a very brief hiss/crackle in the high end early on, and it only returns once or twice). Dialogue and music are perfectly understandable without fighting for attention. Optional English, Spanish and French subtitles are included during the main feature and all applicable extras.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
It appears that Universal has changed their style recently; the movie now plays immediately after the trailers / warning screens, while the menu can only be accessed via your remote's "pop-up" command (much like old Warner Bros. releases). Otherwise, the interface is the same, boasting smooth navigation and a smart layout. The DVD menus, seen below, are identical to the 2001 release. This combo pack is housed in a dual-hubbed keepcase with a matching slipcover and digital copy redemption insert.
The only new Blu-Ray extras are two short 100th Annivesary Featurettes
, including "The Lew Wasserman Era" and "The Carl Laemmle Era" (17 minutes total). Each one briefly details their respective contributions to Universal Studios and American cinema in general. These will prove valuable for those interested in film history...but they don't really have anything to do with Harvey
's production, so it's a mixed bag.
We also get the original 2001 DVD and a Digital Copy of Harvey. As noted earlier, it's odd that Universal continues to recycle these older DVDs instead of creating new copies from the remastered transfers.
The remaining bonus features have been ported over from earlier releases and can be found on either of the two discs. These include a short Introduction by Jimmy Stewart (8 minutes, originally recorded in 1990 for the VHS release) and the film's Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes). Overall, it's a shame we don't get anything new here; even a short restoration featurette would've been more than welcome.
Harvey is a classic comedy that rarely takes itself seriously, thank goodness. Filled with memorable performances, great characters, sharp one-liners and tons of heart, it's a true charmer for viewers of all ages. It's also held up well during the last 60+ years...save for Dowd's dance moves and the "nuthouse" portrayal, of course. Univeral's Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack doesn't serve up any new film-specific extras, but the excellent A/V presentation is more than enough reason to pick it up. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.