When kindhearted Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) comes home early, he stumbles upon an afternoon tea hosted by his sister, Veta Louise (Josephine Hull). Since the event was intended to be a boost up the social ladder for his niece Myrtle (Victoria Horne), Elwood was purposefully left off the invited list due to an insistent belief that he is accompanied by an invisible, 6-foot-3-inch rabbit named Harvey. Veta is mortified as she helplessly watches her brother unintentionally crash the party by introducing his imaginary best friend. With the family's embarrassing secret revealed, Myrtle sees her chances of catching a husband hopping out the door--along with the alarmed guests.
Oblivious to their distress, Elwood humbly carries on through the rest of the day, always ready to extend kindness to strangers in the form of a dinner invitation or at least an offer to meet for drinks with Harvey and himself.
At wits end, Veta tries to save what is left of the family's reputation by committing Elwood to a mental institution. But as the situational comedy unfolds, Veta and some of the other "normal" people (including the resident psychologist) find their own cognitive abilities coming under the microscope. And it is a bitter pill for them to swallow when it appears the only way to tame all the high-strung insanity may be the delusional Elwood's gentle optimism.
Amid slapstick humor and plenty of laughs emerges a message of tolerance, understanding, and an appreciation for innocence and the simpler things in life. However, parents should be aware that some of the comments and attitudes portrayed are politically incorrect by today's standards, especially regarding mental health issues and the importance of marrying well. Also under scrutiny may be the emphasis placed on the need for social drinking as a way to feel comfortable and form friendships (perhaps even Harvey's?).
Yet, stellar performances by James Stewart and Josephine Hull (which earned her an Oscar) and a clever script based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play combine to deliver just what the doctor ordered--a fun, lighthearted family movie.