January 7, 2017

James Stewart • Harvey

as Elwood P. Dowd






And for the third stage-to-film adaptation wiggling its way into 1950’s Best Actor field, we have Harvey - a lighthearted and amusing little picture starring James Stewart in one of his more understated performances to have received an Oscar nomination.

To start, it's a little strange to see Stewart tackle such a submissive part. Elwood Dowd is a big softie of a guy, and with this characterization you have Stewart opting for a new, docile screen presence. Nice guys aren't foreign territory to Stewart of course - Jefferson Smith and George Bailey very much fit into that mold - but the thing I've always enjoyed most about Stewart is the fire to which his gears operate in spite of his nicer, everyman characters. He has a wonderful ability to take hold of the material and deliver it with an intense, earnest veracity such that you feel along with him.

That's why I left Harvey feeling as though something was missing. There's a severe lack of energy in his work here, not necessarily that he doesn't give the part his all, but the role doesn't provide enough fodder for Stewart to sink his teeth into. For the most part, Stewart sits back as a bevy of supporting characters (i.e. a superb Josephine Hull) and kooky shenanigans explode all around him like a bunch of firecrackers. And as if the scene stealing wasn't enough when he is around, Stewart is often not around for much of the film's first half - it seemed as though he shares about equal (or perhaps a little less) screen time than that of Hull, all culminating to his big monologue in a bar back alley which, while well done, didn't really pack a punch for me. 

In spite of the storyline briefly teasing to modify Elwood's disposition towards the end, he remains the same. There's no a-ha moment, no climactic moment for him to face. In essence, you see Stewart play on one note for the film's entirety. Stewart's work as Elwood feels, as always, honest and heartfelt, in spite of the role's sparseness. It's certainly not a bad performance. That said, Elwood is just not a dynamic enough character or personality to warrant praise from me.


7 comments:

  1. That's surprising, I was sure you would like him. :) I adore Josephine Hull (one of my favorite winners) and love Stewart but I am mixed about the movie itself because I hate almost all other characters.

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    1. I'm surprised myself, I feel like I usually am overly excited by him :)

      But Josephine Hull is just lovely. I had seen your post on her performance some time ago and was still not expecting to enjoy her as much as I did! She's just a lovely, overdramatic hoot.

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  2. I enjoyed the movie well enough and I'm sad you did care for Stewart :( I liked him way more.

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    1. Hey, at least we agree with Hull :) We'll see how much I enjoy Holm soon enough.

      How would you rate Stewart?

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    2. I'll eventually review him (I'm going to cover all of the acting categories sooner or later) but at least a 4 for sure.

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  3. I agree with you on Stewart, Allen. He's at his best when his characters are faced with a personal/moral crisis and no one is quite as good in displaying internal conflicts. Stewart has a deceptively wide range as an actor, which is why this performance doesn't thrill me. There's no conflict going on here and the character is rather pat. Stewart's professional but without any character dynamics to play off of he seems tame and a bit flat. The fact that he played this role hundreds of times onstage may have contributed - it's hard to say. I just don't consider this one of his better performances.

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    1. Glad I'm not alone in thinking so!

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