Talkie of the Week: Harvey

USA 1950, 104 minutes, black & white, Universal International Pictures. Director: Henry Koster, Written by Mary Chase and Oscar Brodney, Based on the play “Harvey” by Mary Chase. Cast: James Stewart, Josephine Hull, Peggy Dow, Charles Drake, Cecil Kellaway, Victoria Horne, Jesse White, William H. Lynn, Wallace Ford, Nana Bryant, Grace Mills, Clem Bevans.

Plot summary: Elwood P. Dowd is a likable, regular fella with a unique, mythical friend who never leaves his side no matter how weird others think he is.

Review: Elwood P. Dowd is quite a character. He’s pleasant, sweet and quirky – the kind of relative children would love but adults are frequently embarrassed by. Elwood lives with his sister Veta and niece Myrtle Mae both of whom love him dearly but also want to get rid of him. They do not know how to handle his peculiarities, particularly his friendship to Harvey, a 6’3.5” tall rabbit. Visible only to Elwood, Harvey is a Celtic myth, a so-called pooka, as real or unreal as you imagine him to be.

James Stewart played Elwood Dowd, a simple fellow whose devotion to his unseen companion makes him genuinely smart. At first glance, he may be flirting with addiction and mental illness, his heart, however, is in the right place and his statements are everything but random. Always a natural at playing humble personalities with a touch of greatness, James Stewart was rewarded with his fourth Academy Award nomination in 1951. He was supported by a powerful Josephine Hull whose Veta Louise Simmons was lusciously torn between loving her brother and losing her own mind. She was rightly recognized by the Academy as Best Supporting Actress and, like Stewart, created a unique character you cannot help but like.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Mary Chase, Harvey is still every bit as remarkable and entertaining as it was upon release. Unwilling to give easy answers but offering bittersweet questions instead, the film is funny, sad but also uplifting – a rare mix in movies today and thus a real treat for anyone who enjoys the quality and depth of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The film is available on DVD and VHS. You can get a glimpse at the trailer here.

The Ann Sothern Show

TV classics: The Ann Sothern Show

USA 1958-61, 3 seasons,  93 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Cast: Ann Sothern, Ann Tyrrell, Don Porter, Jesse White, Jack Mullaney, Ernest Truex, Reta Shaw

Plot summary: Katy O’Connor is the assistant manager of the Bartley House hotel in New York City where she has to deal with her friend/roommate/secretary Olive, the hotel staff, peculiar guests and her quirky boss(es).

Review: The Ann Sothern Show was a TV show that followed another TV series called Susie aka Private Secretary starring most of the same cast including its leading lady. Although the setting and plot had been changed, in a way Ann Sothern’s Katy O’Connor picked up where Susie MacNamara had left off due to contract issues which ended an otherwise successful show. Once again, Ann Sothern played a funny and capable character who was surrounded by mayhem and mishaps at the workplace.

Supported by her Private Secretary colleague Ann Tyrrell starring as Katy O’Connor’s best friend Olive, Miss Sothern performed her way through an entertaining set of ninety-three episodes with an otherwise changing cast. After battling with her first boss Jason Macauley (beautifully portrayed by Ernest Truex) for a good run of twenty-three shows, Ann Sothern was reunited with another co-star from her previous series, Don Porter, who was again cast as her love interest boss, complementing Miss Sothern’s comedic talent and style.

Apart from the show’s decent cast, The Ann Sothern Show welcomed a bunch of lovely guest stars, including Cesar Romero and I Love Lucy‘s own Lucille Ball. Produced by Desilu Productions, the show was predestined to feature the famed Lucy Ricardo as Katy O’Connor’s friend to answer Ann Sothern’s previous appearance on The Lucille Ball – Desi Arnaz Hour as Private Secretary‘s Susie MacNamara. Both cameos belonged to the first crossovers in TV history and are still great fun to watch.

Unfortunately, The Ann Sothern Show has not yet been released on DVD and reruns or online streamings are rare. I hope that the show will get a chance to shine again in the near future, because not only is it fondly remembered by Ann Sothern fans, but the show itself also has the potential to easily win over a whole new audience who appreciates genuine comedic talent.


TV classics: Susie aka Private Secretary

USA 1953-57, 5 seasons,  106 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, CBS (summer reruns on NBC), black & white. Produced by: Jack Chertok Television Productions. Cast: Ann Sothern, Don Porter, Ann Tyrrell, Jesse White, Joan Banks

Plot summary: Susie MacNamara assists talent agent Peter Sands at his New York office and beyond, devoted and sweet-natured secretary that she is.

Review: Susie MacNamara is a good-hearted, savvy and fair-minded private secretary to New York talent agent Peter Sands. As a former actress, she knows how to handle her job with wits and charm, always eager to assist her boss beyond office duties and thus creating comedic moments whenever she interferes with his romantic life. Susie is close to her boss, but in sweet 1950s tradition, the plot never suggests anything beyond a deep sense of trust and mild flirtation between the talent agent and his capable secretary.

Apart from handsome Peter Sands (Don Porter), Susie regularly mingles with her best friend and office receptionist Violet Praskins (Ann Tyrrell) and, on involuntary occasion, with her boss’ main rival Mickey Calhoun (Jesse White), called Cagey. Cagey is loud and unhandy, a direct opposite to Susie’s indulgent boss, and seems slightly intimidated by Susie’s shrewdness. He has thus nicknamed her Foxy, a moniker that becomes her.

Private Secretary aka Susie was produced by Jack Chertok for the duration of five seasons until Ann Sothern walked out of her contract in 1957. She continued her TV career one year later on The Ann Sothern Show which ran until 1961 and featured her fellow Susie cast members. The part of Susie MacNamara was reprised by Ann Sothern on the first episode of The Lucy – Desi Comedy Hour (previously knows as The Lucille Ball – Desi Arnaz Show). She was rewarded with three consecutive Emmy Awards (1955-57) for her portrayal of Susie while she show itself won an Emmy for best Sitcom in 1955.

For TV enthusiasts, Susie is a real gem to watch. The cast is beautifully put together, always supported by an enjoyable group of guest stars and smooth comedy plots. Ann Sothern’s sizzling on-screen chemistry with co-star Don Porter adds to a positive cliche of the loyal, delightful secretary who does not mind working over hours for her charming boss without making it tacky. Susie is pure entertainment and a great example of a recreational program from the 1950s. It puts a smile on your face and proves once again how dramatically comedy programs have changed over the decades. As always, it depends on what you are looking for, but all I can say is give this package of fun a chance in our fast-paced times. You may end up looking for more episodes of this addicting show.

Selected episodes available on DVD. Susie sample episode