Saturday Night Cinema: Random Harvest

Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema 40’s classic is Random Harvest, starring lovely, charming Greer Garson and Ronald Coleman.  Love-found, love-lost, love-found.

Random Harvest (1942)
‘ Random Harvest,’ With Greer Garson and Ronald Colman, From James Hilton Novel, Opens at the Music Hall; ‘

Published: December 18, 1942

The almost impossible problem of finding an equally popular role for the lovely and charming Greer Garson after her tour de force in “Mrs. Miniver” has been challenged by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in a manner most likely to succeed. It has taken a story for her from a novel which has been most widely read—James Hilton’s “Random Harvest.” It has called on Ronald Colman to co-star and play the romantic obbligato in this virtually two-character tale. It has assigned Mervyn LeRoy to direct her; Sidney Franklin (of “Mrs. Miniver”) to produce and has run in a host of able actors, only one of whom has very much to do. And the consequence is a towering picture, filled entirely with emotional lights and shades, which came yesterday to the Music Hall as the big thing of the annual Christmas show.

In the way of opportunities for Miss Garson to be charming and heart-breakingly disturbed, to manifest tender devotion and sainted loyalty, it leaves no stones unturned. She is the model splendid woman in every desirable respect, and she even is modestly permitted to show off her dimpled knees. Likewise, Mr. Colman is presented in the most attractive light as a man of impeccable character and conspicuous gentility. Indeed, the love between these paragons would be a beautiful and eternal thing if it weren’t for one fateful circumstance: amnesia. That is the nubbin of this film.

For what we see here is a story, shaped entirely by chance or circumstance, of love gained, love lost and then recaptured after an uncommon lot of emotional strain. The first hour of the film is an idyl: a very lovely English girl in a variety show picks up a nameless, homeless soldier on the night of the last Armistice, shelters him, mothers him, soothes him and finally marries him in a sweep of rich romance. But then he is struck by an auto while he is far from home, and the amnesia from which he had suffered since the war is swept away. A door in his mind is opened and that on his idyllic life closed. He goes back to the world of his origin, completely blank about his wife and the late romance. And then the next hour of the picture is consumed with the torturing stratagems by which his wife, having found him, tries patiently to help him remember.

As a studied account of personal anguish and frustrated emotions, “Random Harvest” is boldly over-powering. It is freighted with sentiment. “O, Perfect Love” is the motif for the musical score. That gives you an idea. Mr. Leroy has directed it in slow tempo with an eye to poignant moods and has made it as humanly significant as the script allows. Susan Peters is rather affecting but oddly young for the one conflicting role of a girl who crosses briefly the paths of Mr. Colman and Miss Garson. And Philip Dorn, Reginald Owen, Bramwell Fletcher, Rhys Williams and Henry Travers are competent in the small parts which they are enrolled to play.

But, for all its emotional excess, “Random Harvest” is a strangely empty film. Its characters are creatures of fortune, not partisans in determining their own fates. Miss Garson and Mr. Colman are charming; they act perfectly. But they never seem real. And a sense of psychiatric levels is not conveyed in either the script or direction. One might also inquire mildly why it is that the wife in this case never persuaded her aberrant husband to consult a doctor in an effort to regain his lost life. Personally, we had the feeling that there was nothing wrong with him which couldn’t be cured by a psychiatrist—or maybe a whack on the head.

RANDOM HARVEST; screen play by Claudine West, George Froeschel and Arthur Wimperis; based on the novel by James Hilton; directed by Mervyn LeRoy; produced by Sidney Franklin for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. At the Radio City Music Hall.
Charles Rainier . . . . . Ronald Colman
Paula (Margaret) . . . . . Greer Garson
Dr. Jonathan Benet . . . . . Philip Dorn
Kitty . . . . . Susan Peters
Dr. Sims . . . . . Henry Travers
“Biffer” . . . . . Reginald Owen
Harrison . . . . . Bramwell Fletcher
Sam . . . . . Rhys Williams
Tobacconist . . . . . Una O’Connor
Mr. Lloyd . . . . . Charles Waldron
Mrs. Lloyd . . . . . Elisabeth Risdon
George . . . . . Melville Cooper
Mrs. Deventer . . . . . Margaret Wycherly
Sheldon . . . . . Aubrey Mather
Chetwynd . . . . . Arthur Margetson
Julian . . . . . Alan Napier
Lydia . . . . . Jill Esmond
Jill . . . . . Marta Linden
Bridget . . . . . Ann Richards
Julia . . . . . Norma Varden
Henry Chilcet . . . . . David Cavendish
The vicar . . . . . Ivan Simpson
Vicar’s wife . . . . . Marie De Becker

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