Random Harvest (film)
|Directed by||Mervyn LeRoy|
|Produced by||Sidney Franklin|
|Screenplay by||Arthur Wimperis|
|Based on||Random Harvest|
by James Hilton
|Music by||Herbert Stothart|
|Edited by||Harold F. Kress|
|Distributed by||Loew's Inc.|
|December 17, 1942|
|Box office||$8,147,000 (Worldwide rentals)|
Random Harvest is a 1942 film based on the 1941 James Hilton novel of the same title, directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Claudine West, George Froeschel, and Arthur Wimperis adapted the novel for the screen, and received an Academy Award nomination. The novel keeps the true identity of Paula/Margaret a secret until the very end, something that would have been impossible in a film, where characters’ faces must be seen. This meant that the movie had to take a very different approach to the story. The film stars 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 Oscar 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.
In England in November 1918, "John Smith" is a British officer who was gassed in the trenches during the First World War. Having lost his memory, he is confined to an asylum as an unidentified inmate. When the war ends, the gatekeepers abandon their posts to join the celebration in the nearby town of Melbridge, and Smith simply wanders off.
In town, he is befriended by singer Paula Ridgeway. She guesses he is from the asylum, but as he seems harmless, she arranges for him to join her traveling theatrical group. After an incident that threatens to bring unwanted attention, Paula takes Smith to a secluded country village, where they marry and are blissfully happy.
"Smithy", as Paula calls him, discovers he has some literary talent. Paula remains home with their newborn son while Smithy goes to Liverpool for a job interview with a newspaper. He is struck by a taxi, and 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 meager possessions, including a key, provide any clue about where he has been.
Charles returns home on the day of his father's funeral. Kitty, 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 his many employees and restore the family fortune. After a few years, a newspaper touts him as the "Industrial Prince of England".
Paula has been searching for her Smithy. Their son died as an infant, and she now works as a secretary. One day, she sees Charles' picture and story in a newspaper. Paula gets hired as his executive assistant, calling herself Margaret Hanson (Paula being her stage name), hoping that her presence will jog his memory. Her confidant and admirer, Dr. Jonathan Benet, warns her that revealing her identity would only cause Charles to resent her.
As Kitty grows up, she sends Charles love letters, and they become engaged. However, a hymn that Kitty is considering for their upcoming wedding triggers a vague memory in Charles. Kitty, realizing that Charles still loves someone else, sadly breaks off the engagement.
Margaret joins Charles in Liverpool, where he is trying one last time to piece together his lost years. They recover his suitcase from a hotel, but he recognizes nothing.
Charles is approached to stand for Parliament. After his election, in which Margaret provides 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 appearances, with Margaret a perfect society hostess. In a moment of reflection, they discuss his lost past, and she tells him of her own lost love, without revealing that it is Charles. He hopes their life together can fill the void they both feel.
Miserable, Margaret decides to take an extended solo vacation abroad. Before her liner sails, she revisits the village where she and Smithy lived. When Charles sees her off at the train station, he is summoned to mediate a strike at the Melbridge Cable Works. After the successful negotiation, he walks through the town, and the surroundings and celebrations begin to unlock his memories, leading him to the nearby village and the cottage he and Paula shared. Hesitantly, he tries the old key he kept, and finds that it unlocks the door.
Margaret, about to leave for her boat, makes a casual remark to the innkeeper about her predecessor, Mrs Deventer. The innkeeper tells her that a gentleman just that morning had inquired about Mrs Deventer, and had mentioned that he used to rent a cottage near a church. Margaret hurries to the cottage and finds Charles standing at the front door. When she calls him "Smithy," his memory comes flooding back and he cries out "Paula!" as he rushes to embrace her.
- Ronald Colman as Charles Rainier/"Smithy"
- Greer Garson as "Paula Ridgeway"/Margaret Hanson
- Philip Dorn as Dr. Jonathan Benet
- Susan Peters as Kitty Chilcet
- Henry Travers as Dr. Sims
- Reginald Owen as Biffer
- Bramwell Fletcher as Harrison
- Rhys Williams as Sam
- Una O'Connor as Tobacco Shopkeeper
- Aubrey Mather as Sheldon
- Margaret Wycherly as Mrs. Deventer
- Arthur Margetson as Chetwynd Rainier
- Melville Cooper as George Rainier
- Alan Napier as Julian Rainier
- Jill Esmond as Lydia Rainier
- Ivan F. Simpson as Vicar
- Ann Richards as Bridget
- Norma Varden as Julia
- Marie De Becker as Vicar's Wife
- Charles Waldron as Mr. Lloyd
- Elisabeth Risdon as Mrs. Lloyd
- Clifford Severn as Albert (uncredited)
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." 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." "Miss Garson and Mr. Colman are charming; they act perfectly. But they never seem real." Variety praised the performances of the two leads, in particular Garson, but noted that Colman seemed older than the role.
Decades later, Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader allowed that it had "a kind of deranged sincerity and integrity on its own terms". Leonard Maltin's capsule review reads "James Hilton novel given supremely entertaining MGM treatment, with Colman and Garson at their best." 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."
Academy Award nominations
- Best Picture
- Best Director – Mervyn LeRoy
- Best Actor in a Leading Role – Ronald Colman
- Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Susan Peters
- Best Writing, Screenplay – Claudine West, George Froeschel and Arthur Wimperis
- Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture – Herbert Stothart
- Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White – Cedric Gibbons and Randall Duell (Art Direction), Edwin B. Willis and Jack D. Moore (Interior Decoration)
In popular culture
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."
Several Indian films were influenced by this film: the Bengali film Harano Sur (1957), starring Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen; the Tamil film Amara Deepam (1956) and its Hindi remake Amar Deep (1958), starring Dev Anand.
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