Random Harvest (1942)
Release Date: December 17th, 1942 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Mervyn LeRoy Actors: Ronald Colman, Greer Garson, Philip Dorn, Susan Peters, Henry Travers, Reginald Owen
ased on the novel by James Hilton, “Random Harvest” is a clever, unique, and deeply affecting romantic drama. Happiness seems to be perpetually just out of reach for the two leading star-crossed lovers, despite their interconnected pasts continually resurfacing to tease the audience with a chance for a successful reunion. Taking the amnesia plot five steps further than perhaps any other film, it’s an emotionally complex work that gets more unusual, more unpredictable, and more alluring as the extraordinary scenario progresses.
The First World War is about to end, leaving unrecognized amnesia victim John Smith (Ronald Colman) to wait for someone to find him and fill him in on his identity and family. After a stay at the Melbridge County Asylum, where he struggles with speech and escalating despair, the unknown man finds an opportunity amidst revelries to escape unhindered. As he strolls through the crowded streets, Paula (Greer Garson), inquisitive of his disorientation, takes him to a nightclub where she sings on the stage. It’s love at first sight for her, taking an immediate interest in Smith, despite guessing at his getaway from the institution. In very short time, the two are married. “My life began with you,” he exclaims.
Over the course of three years, they settle down in a white picket fence house, he takes up writing, and she has a baby. When “Smithy” is asked to write for a newspaper, he heads into Liverpool, only to be hit by a taxi. It’s a minor accident, but it jolts his memory back into place – causing him to forget all about his new life with Paula and their child. And that’s just the beginning…
Smith’s “lost” three years with his wife are a mystery to him, but not to the audience. This causes a game of extreme anticipation and worry as their lives evolve without one another and their paths repeatedly cross. As he attempts to restore his original origins as the son of a wealthy businessman, Paula never gives up searching for her vanished husband – eventually attempting to reintegrate herself into his world, incognito. Waiting for the inevitable collision is further intensified with details of their separate lives, peppered with surprises and tragedies. The film spans more than a decade, with the majority of smaller narratives acquainted through conversations with supporting characters as the leads alternate central focus (the primary one, invented for the purpose of informing viewers, is Dr. Benet, played by Philip Dorn).
“Random Harvest” boasts a deviously heart-wrenching plot, dripping with sentimentality and efficaciously tear-jerking romance, even though it was altered notably from the source material, which relied heavily on the fact that the reader is unaware of Paula’s identity. Here, the contrasting notion of stress from managerial obligations and peacefulness in a secluded village, and the climate of British political pressures from the war are overshadowed by a grand love, found and lost and rediscovered again. It’s a beautifully epic, superbly written (adapted by George Froeschel, Claudine West, and Arthur Wimperis), and expertly directed (by Mervyn LeRoy) film with the right balance of pathos, fantasy, and sincerity. Not surprisingly, it was nominated for four of the top five Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay of 1942. Had Greer Garson not already been recognized (and won) for “Mrs. Miniver” that same year, she certainly would have rounded out the Academy Award nods.
– Mike Massie