|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 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 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.
November 1918: "John Smith" (Ronald Colman) is a British officer who was badly injured and is now shell shocked: He was found near death in a shell hole after the Battle of Arras. He is confined to the Melbridge County Asylum, which has a new military wing, full to overflowing. He has lost his memory and has trouble speaking. He is under the care of Dr. Jonathan Benet (Phillip Dorn), a wise and kind physician who must balance hope and honesty when he prepares Smith for a visit from a couple who are looking for their son. He is not their boy; the fact is devastating to all. Smith, still wearing the uniform he wore to meet them, bundles up in his great coat and cap, both without insignia, and goes outside into the foggy night for his customary walk around the grounds. Suddenly the sounds of sirens, horns and shouting erupts, first outside the gates and then within the asylum—the war is over. The gatekeepers run from their posts into the hospital to rejoice, accidentally leaving the postern door unlocked. With no one to stop him, Smith simply wanders off down the hill, into the center of town.
There, he is befriended by singer Paula Ridgeway (Greer Garson), who is in Melbridge with a traveling theatrical group. Smith tries to buy cigarettes, and his speech impediment terrifies the tobacconist ( Una O’Connor), who identifies him as being from the asylum and slips away to call them. Paula warns Smith, who haltingly tells her that he is really all right. He leaves the shop and Paula follows him. As he seems harmless, she takes him for a drink at the pub patronized by the troupe, and the owner, a former boxer nicknamed “Biffer” (Reginald Owen) remarks that Smith looks like he is sickening with the Flu. Smith is so bewildered that Paula can’t bear to leave him on his own, so she brings him to the theater and lets him watch her performance of “She is ma Daisy” in the style of Harry Lauder. He collapses, and Paula has him taken to the pub. Biffer was right, Smith has the Flu. Paula nurses him through it, and by the time Smith has recovered she has arranged for him to go with the group when they move on to the next booking. Their plans are ruined at the last minute, when the asylum guard who was on the gate on Armistice Day comes into the pub. He describes the escaped man and worse, tells how a mild-mannered “loonie” can go wild without warning. Off screen, Sam (Rhys Williams) and “everyone else” argue with Paula and convince her that it is best for everyone to leave Smith where he can get proper care. The news shatters Smith, making him speechless again. Appalled at his reaction, Paula sends him out by the back door while she pays Biffer and asks him to hold her trunks. Inside the back door she finds Smith standing over an unconscious Sam. Smith pushed him when Sam tried to stop him. Against Smith’s protests—He says he’s no good—Paula bundles him onto the train. She devises a plan to cover their tracks and they end up in the West Country, in a secluded country village that is “lonely and lovely.” Paula telephones the Biffer, who tells her that Sam says it was just an accident. They book rooms at the inn, telling Mrs. Deventer (Margaret Wycherly) that they are engaged.
Come Spring,"Smithy", as Paula calls him, has discovered a literary talent and believes he can earn a living writing. He has recovered everything except his memory, and he proposes. They marry in the village church; the choir sings “O Perfect Love” as Paula comes down the aisle on the arm of Dr. Sims (Henry Travers). They go straight to the cottage that will be their home. The gate squeaks, and he promises to oil it. He must lift a low-hanging tree branch, laden with blossom, out of the way as they walk up the path, but when he says he will trim it, Paula says it is beautiful and to leave it. Arm in arm, they enter their new home.
Early on a winter morning (November 6 as we learn in the next scene), the milkman arrives, whistling, and Smith asks him to be quiet. “Today is it?” the milkman asks, and shares his own experience with fatherhood and “synthetic pain.” Hours pass and at last Dr. Sims wakens a dozing Smith to tell him that Paula has had a hard time but is out of danger and well. They have an 8-pound son. [8 pounds was very large for a newborn in the 1940s.] Dr. Sims ushers Smithy into the bedroom and closes the door, smiling as he rolls down his sleeves. What happens between Smithy, Paula and their baby is left to the audience’s imagination.
A few days later, Smithy registers the baby’s birth. He is to be called John, after his father. Bubbling over with joy and pride Smithy provides a lot of unnecessary information, which the clerk receives with aplomb. [There is a joke in this scene which, taken out of context, has been labeled a blooper on several websites. Smithy tells the clerk that his wife thinks the baby looks like him. He thinks the baby looks like his wife, especially when he smiles, “except for the teeth,” meaning of course, that Paula has teeth and the baby has none. “You can’t expect everything all at once,” the clerk replies.]
Smithy returns home with a little toy cat for the baby and a pretty necklace of glass beads—“just the color of her eyes”—for Paula. The Vicar arrives with a telegram from the editor of the Liverpool Mercury asking Smith to come for an interview the next day. They pack Paula’s suitcase; she suggests that he stay at The Great Northern Hotel, and checks to be sure he has his latchkey. They are blissfully happy. He will be back the next day. He kisses Paula, bids farewell to the baby and asks Hannah, the nurse, to take card of his little family.
In Liverpool, Smithy slips in a patch of mud and is struck by a taxi while crossing the street to The Mercury office. Memories of the trenches fill his mind, and when he regains consciousness, he has lost three years. His memory before 1917 is restored, but his life In the hospital and with Paula is now forgotten. He is Charles Rainier, a son of a wealthy businessman. None of his meager possessions, including the key, provide any clue as to how he got there from the battlegrounds of France.
Charles returns home late at night on the day of his father's funeral, to his deep sorrow and the family's amazement, as he had been given up for dead. Fifteen-year-old Kitty (Susan Peters), the stepdaughter of Charles’ sister, instantly becomes infatuated with her "uncle". He is amused. She gets him to promise to write to her and persuades him to let her come and visit in the holidays. As Kitty grows up, she sends Charles letters that describe the next few years for the audience. Charles returns to Cambridge, but his brother’s mismanagement of the family business brings him home. After a few years, a newspaper touts him as the "Industrial Prince of England".
A grownup Kitty comes to Charles’ office to take him out to lunch. His secretary, Miss Hanson, unseen but heard over the intercom, tells them to take at least 2 hours. Kitty reminds Charles that he was originally just going to whip things into shape at Rainier’s. He tells her that he realized how important it was to safeguard the jobs of the many employees,” little families in little homes,” all over England, who depend on the business, not just to restore the family fortune. Charles freezes for a moment when he hears the voice of Dr. Benet, who has been sitting at a table behind them. We learn that he is now in private practice. Charles does not turn and look. Kitty tells him of her now very grown up love and Charles reveals that he does care for her. Back in the office, he contemplates the latchkey, which he carries on his watch fob. Miss Hanson comes in. It is Paula. They discuss business, including a report on the Melbridge Cable Company. She watches him closely as he looks at pictures of the town, but there is no reaction. He tells her he is going to be married and she struggles for control. That night, in her apartment, she talks with Dr. Benet. He had told her years ago that Smithy had not deserted her, that a door had opened in his mind and another had closed. If the sight of her when she walked into his office two years before was not enough to restore his memory, telling him would do no good. He warns her that revealing her identity would only cause Charles to resent her. He holds out a frail hope that one day Smithy will come back to her. She thanks him for the hope, and he allows that it is rather nice of him, since it robs him of his own hope (that Paula will return his love).
Paula searched for her Smithy and then became seriously ill for many months; the baby died. She was unsuccessful in her attempt to return to the stage. She worked as a waitress and studied stenography at night school and eventually went to work as a secretary. One day, she saw Charles' picture in a newspaper and managed to become his personal secretary, calling herself Margaret Hanson.
Margaret has Smithy declared legally dead, dissolving their marriage: 12 years have passed since he disappeared. A few days before their wedding, Charles and Kitty are choosing hymns for the service. The organist plays “Oh Perfect Love” and Charles freezes, staring at the altar. He turns to look at Kitty without recognition, and she runs to a pew, weeping. She says that she has always known that she is not the one. Nearly the one, but nearly is not enough for a lifetime. She calls off the wedding, and Charles disappears.
With the help of the butler, Sheldon, Margaret learns that Charles is in Liverpool, trying one last time to piece together his lost years. She rushes there with the news that he has been asked to stand for a by-election to Parliament. She joins him in his investigation. They recover his suitcase from a hotel, but he recognizes nothing.
After his election, in which Margaret provides invaluable assistance. he proposes to her, offering a marriage as a friendly and useful partnership rather than a romantic one. She talks about it with Benet, who warns her to keep to the terms, even though she loves him. Charles calls and she accepts. They become an ideal couple, at least to all outward appearances. He is knighted. She is the perfect society hostess and diplomat. On their third anniversary, he gives her an exquisite emerald necklace. She opens her jewel box and finds the beads that Smithy gave her. She shows them to Charles, who recognizes that they were a gift from her dead husband. He confesses his own awareness of someone in his past. Margaret is on the verge of telling him the truth, but pulls herself back. He bids her goodnight and she weeps bitterly.
Miserably alone and desperately unhappy, Margaret decides to take an extended vacation abroad by herself. Before her ship sails for South America, she takes two days in Devon, to revisit the hamlet where she and Smithy lived.
As Charles is seeing Margaret off at the train station, he is summoned to mediate a strike at the Melbridge Cable Works. After the successful negotiation and the resulting announcement to the factory workers, he walks through the town, and the familiar surroundings and sounds of celebration begin to unlock his lost memories. He remembers a girl...
Margaret’s face emerges from the mist around the inn. She is about to leave for the station and makes a casual remark to the current innkeeper about Mrs. Deventer. The innkeeper tells her that a gentleman just that morning had inquired about Mrs. Deventer and the old vicar, and was looking for a cottage he used to rent, near the church. With newfound hope, Margaret hurries away.
Charles stands on the bridge, looking at the cottage. He walks slowly up to the gate—which still squeaks—and ducks under the tree branch, pausing to examine it. Hesitantly, he tries the old key, and finds that it unlocks the door.
Margaret comes to the gate and says his name, “Smithy,” and he turns to look at her. He smiles, recognition and understanding on his face. “Oh Darling.” she says, and he cries out "Paula!" as he rushes to embrace her.
|Ronald Colman||Charles Rainier/"Smithy"|
|Greer Garson||"Paula Ridgeway"/Margaret Hanson|
|Philip Dorn||Dr. Jonathan Benet|
|Susan Peters||Kitty Chilcet|
|Henry Travers||Dr. Sims|
|Una O'Connor||Tobacco Shopkeeper|
|Margaret Wycherly||Mrs. Deventer|
|Arthur Margetson||Chetwynd Rainier|
|Melville Cooper||George Rainier|
|Alan Napier||Julian Rainier|
|Jill Esmond||Lydia Rainier|
|Ivan F. Simpson||Vicar|
|David Cavendish||Henry Chilcet|
|Marie De Becker||Vicar's Wife|
|Charles Waldron||Mr. Lloyd|
|Elisabeth Risdon||Mrs. Lloyd|
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, art direction; Edwin B. Willis, sets, Randall Duell, Jack D. Moore
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: Bengali film Harano Sur (1957), starring Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen; Tamil film Amara Deepam (1956 film) and its Hindi remake Amar Deep (1958 film) starring Dev Anand.
In 1973, the twenty-fourth episode of the sixth season of The Carol Burnett Show featured a spoof of the film called "Rancid Harvest", with Carol Burnett in the Greer Garson role and Harvey Korman in the Ronald Colman.
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- Eyman, Scott (2005). Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. Simon & Schuster. p. 365. ISBN 978-0743204811.
- Kamp, David; Levi, Lawrence (2006). The Film Snob's Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Filmological Knowledge. Random House. p. 2. ISBN 978-0767918763. Retrieved September 28, 2013.
- Crowther, Bosley (December 18, 1942). "Random Harvest (1942)". The New York Times.
- "Review: "Random Harvest"". Variety. December 31, 1941. Retrieved September 28, 2013.
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Random Harvest". Chicago Reader. Retrieved September 28, 2013.
- Maltin, Leonard. "Random Harvest (1942)". Turner Classic Movies. 3.5/4.0 stars.
- Erickson, Hal. "Random Harvest (1942)". AllMovie.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
- "New York Times: Random Harvest". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2009-12-21. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
- Rajadhyaksha, Ashish; Willerman, Paul (July 10, 2014). Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema. New York: Routledge. p. 1994. ISBN 978-1135943257.
- "The Carol Burnett Show (1967–1978) Episode #6.24". IMDb. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
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