Random Harvest (film)

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Random Harvest
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Produced by Sidney Franklin
Screenplay by Arthur Wimperis
George Froeschel
Claudine West
Based on Random Harvest
by James Hilton
Starring Ronald Colman
Greer Garson
Philip Dorn
Susan Peters
Music by Herbert Stothart
Cinematography Joseph Ruttenberg
Edited by Harold F. Kress
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
December 17, 1942
Running time
125 minutes
Language English
Budget $1,210,000[1]
Box office $4,650,000 (Domestic earnings)[2][3]
$3,497,000 (Foreign earnings)[1]

Random Harvest is a 1942 film based on the 1941 James Hilton novel of the same name, directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Claudine West, George Froeschel and Arthur Wimperis adapted the novel for the screen and received an Academy Award nomination. The film departed from the novel in several significant ways, as it proved nearly impossible to translate to film otherwise. It starred Ronald Colman as a shellshocked, amnesiac World War I soldier and Greer Garson as his love interest.

It was an instant commercial success. Its seven Academy Award nominations included nods for Colman, supporting actress Susan Peters, director Mervyn LeRoy and Best Picture. Garson, whose performance was well-received, was ineligible for the Academy Award for Best Actress, as she had already been nominated that year for her role in Mrs. Miniver.


"John Smith" (Ronald Colman) is a British officer who was gassed and became shell shocked in the trenches during the First World War. He is confined to an asylum as an unidentified inmate because he has lost his memory and has trouble speaking. When the war ends, jubilation erupts in the nearby town of Melbridge and the gatekeepers abandon their posts to join the celebration. With no one to stop him, Smith simply wanders off.

Greer Garson from the trailer for Random Harvest

In town, he is befriended by singer Paula (Greer Garson). She guesses he is from the asylum but as he seems harmless, she arranges for him to join her travelling theatrical group. After an incident that threatens to bring unwanted attention, Paula takes Smith away to a secluded country village, where they marry and are blissfully happy.

"Smithy", as Paula calls him, discovers a literary talent and tries writing to earn a living. Paula remains home with their newborn baby while Smithy goes to Liverpool, for a job interview with a newspaper. There, he is struck by a taxi. When he regains consciousness, his past memory is restored but his life with Paula is now forgotten. He is Charles Rainier, the son of a wealthy businessman. None of his meagre possessions, including a key, provide any clue how he got there from the battleground of France.

Charles returns home on the day of his father's funeral, to the family's amazement as he had been given up for dead. Fifteen-year-old Kitty (Susan Peters), the stepdaughter of one of Charles' siblings, becomes infatuated with her "uncle".

Charles wants to return to college but the mismanaged family business needs him and he puts off his own desires to safeguard the jobs of the many employees and to restore the family fortune. After a few years, a newspaper touts him as the "Industrial Prince of England".

Meanwhile, Paula has been searching for her Smithy. Their son having died as an infant, she returns to work as a secretary. One day, she sees Charles's picture in a newspaper and manages to become his executive assistant, calling herself Margaret (Paula being her stage name), hoping that her presence will jog his memory. Her confidante and admirer, Dr. Jonathan Benet (Phillip Dorn), warns her that revealing her identity would only cause Charles to resent her.

As Kitty grows up, she sends Charles love letters. Eventually they become engaged. Margaret has Smithy declared legally dead, seven years having elapsed since he left her, dissolving their marriage. However, a hymn that Kitty is considering for their upcoming wedding triggers a vague memory in Charles. Kitty realizes that he still loves someone else and heartbroken, breaks off the engagement.

When Margaret hears Charles is in Liverpool, trying one last time to piece together his lost years, she rushes there. They recover his suitcase from a hotel but he recognizes nothing. Charles is then approached to stand for Parliament. After his election, in which Margaret provided invaluable assistance, he feels the need for a wife in his new role. He proposes to her, more as a business proposition than a romantic one and she accepts.

They become an ideal couple, at least to all outward appearance. She is the perfect society hostess. They sometimes discuss his lost past and at one point, she tells him of her own lost love, without disclosing that it is Charles. He hopes their life together can fill the void they both feel. Desperately unhappy, Margaret decides to take an extended vacation abroad by herself. Before her liner sails, she revisits the hamlet where she and Smithy lived.

Meanwhile, Charles is called upon to mediate a strike at the Melbridge Cable Works. He succeeds. As he walks through town, the familiar surroundings and the celebrating workers begin to unlock his lost memories and eventually lead him to the cottage he and Paula shared. Hesitantly, he tries the old key he kept, and finds that it unlocks the door.

Margaret, who had been about to leave for the boat train, makes a casual remark to the current innkeeper about the former owner. The innkeeper remarks that someone else had just that morning asked about the same woman. Margaret goes to the cottage and calls "Smithy!"; he turns, memories flooding back; he cries out "Paula!" and they embrace.


Actor Role
Ronald Colman Charles Rainier
Greer Garson "Paula Ridgeway"/Margaret Hanson
Philip Dorn Dr. Jonathan Benet
Susan Peters Kitty Chilcet
Henry Travers Dr. Sims
Reginald Owen Biffer
Bramwell Fletcher Harrison
Rhys Williams Sam
Una O'Connor Tobacco Shopkeeper
Aubrey Mather Sheldon
Margaret Wycherly Mrs. Deventer
Arthur Margetson Chetwynd Rainier
Melville Cooper George Rainier
Alan Napier Julian Rainier
Jill Esmond Lydia Rainier
Ivan F. Simpson Vicar
Ann Richards Bridget
Norma Varden Julia
David Cavendish Henry Chilcet
Marie De Becker Vicar's Wife
Charles Waldron Mr. Lloyd
Elisabeth Risdon Mrs. Lloyd

Differences from the novel[edit]

The differences between novel and film are many but principally:

  • The novel does not reveal that Mrs. Rainier and Paula are the same person until the last line of the narrative. Of course it could not have been filmed that way, since the actress playing Paula would be seen to be Mrs. Rainier as well.
  • The film does not have Kitty die; she simply leaves to join her mother in travelling abroad.
  • Parson Blampied does not appear in the film.
  • Melbury, a quiet north London outer suburb, becomes Melbridge, a booming industrial town in the Midlands.
  • In the film, Charles inherits the family house and a substantial portion of the family wealth. He completes university and graduates. In the novel, he does not do so; neither does he inherit anything, save what the family donates to him.
  • Smithy and Paula live in Blampied's London parsonage, not a small Devon village.


According to MGM records, the film earned $8,147,000 and made a profit of $4,384,000.[1][4]

Despite its box office success, critics were not impressed at the time. James Agee wrote, "I would like to recommend this film to those who can stay interested in Ronald Colman's amnesia for two hours and who can with pleasure eat a bowl of Yardley's shaving soap for breakfast."[5] In his New York Times review, Bosley Crowther was of the opinion that "for all its emotional excess, Random Harvest is a strangely empty film."[6] "Miss Garson and Mr. Colman are charming; they act perfectly. But they never seem real."[6] Variety praised the performances of the two leads, in particular Garson, but noted that Colman seemed older than the role.[7]

Decades later, Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader allowed that it had "a kind of deranged sincerity and integrity on its own terms".[8] Leonard Maltin's capsule review reads "James Hilton novel given supremely entertaining MGM treatment, with Colman and Garson at their best."[9] Hal Erickson wrote, "Under normal circumstances, we wouldn't believe a minute of Random Harvest, but the magic spell woven by the stars and by author James Hilton (Lost Horizon, Goodbye Mr. Chips etc.) transforms the wildly incredible into the wholly credible."[10]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Academy Awards[edit]


In popular culture[edit]

This film is alluded to in the third season of British sitcom As Time Goes By. Lionel and Jean attend a meeting in Los Angeles about a script he has written, and co-executive creative consultants Josh and Lisa come up with a "mangled version" of Random Harvest, about "Lionel being shot in the head every five minutes."

Bengali movie "Harano Sur" starring Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen was influenced by this film.

DVD release[edit]

Warner Home Video released a restored and remastered version in DVD format in 2005.


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ "WHICH CINEMA FILMS HAVE EARNED THE MOST MONEY SINCE 1914?.". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 4 March 1944. p. 3 Supplement: The Argus Weekend magazine. Retrieved 6 August 2012. 
  3. ^ "Top Grossers of the Season", Variety, 5 January 1944 p 54
  4. ^ Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Robson, 2005 p. 365
  5. ^ Kamp, David; Levi, Lawrence (2006). The Film Snob*s Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Filmological Knowledge. Random House. p. 2. ISBN 9780767918763. Retrieved September 28, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Bosley Crowther (December 18, 1942). "Random Harvest (1942)". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ "Review: "Random Harvest"". Variety magazine. December 31, 1941. Retrieved September 28, 2013. 
  8. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Random Harvest". Chicago Reader. Retrieved September 28, 2013. 
  9. ^ Maltin, Leonard. "Random Harvest (1942)". Turner Classic Movies.  3.5/4.0 stars.
  10. ^ Erickson, Hal. "Random Harvest (1942)". AllMovie. 
  11. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-19. 
  12. ^ "NY Times: Random Harvest". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-14. 

External links[edit]