With regret, Veta Simmons (Josephine Hull) decides to have her affable brother Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) committed to an asylum. His drinking and his unshakeable delusion of Harvey, a six-foot rabbit who is his constant companion, are interfering with her plans to find her daughter a suitable mate.

The young doctor is a psychiatric zealot, and when Veta claims that she is so fed up that she can sometimes "see that rabbit," he cleverly commits her instead. The error is discovered and rectified, but the gentle manners of Dowd (and his rabbit) eventually convince the young doctor, his nurse, their boss, and even Veta herself that he does not deserve to be locked up. They release him at the very moment he is about to receive a new chemical treatment guaranteed to rid him of the delusion. Dowd happily sets out to share the rest of his life with Harvey.


A surprisingly durable, light-hearted comedy that teases tongue-in-cheek with some of the major tenets of psychiatry. Veta is greatly offended by the physical therapies and the sexual innuendoes she encounters in "treatment." In his defense, the young doctor delivers one of the best lines in the film: "I am not a gossip, I am a psychiatrist."

By the end, the audience also believes in Dowd's invisible rabbit and applauds the decision to leave him untreated, because the delusional man is the kindest and most generous person in the film. Harvey contrasts with the literal solemnity of 0004 (see this database), made only two years before, and helps to flesh out the range of social attitudes to Freudian and biological psychiatry of half a century ago. Hull deserved her Academy Award (1950) and Golden Globe Award (1951) for Best Supporting Actress. Stewart was nominated as Best Actor.


Based on the Pulitzer prize-winning play by Mary Chase.

Primary Source

Universal Studios Home Video