Tuesday, March 19, 2013

1942 - Random Harvest

In all the post-Oscars excitement, I forgot to link to this in my last post, so here it is now: the menu from my annual Oscars party.

The final nominee in the Best Picture contest of 1942 is...

Random Harvest
Mervyn LeRoy
Arthur Wimperis, George Froeschel, Claudine West
(based on the novel by James Hilton)
Ronald Colman, Greer Garson, Philip Dorn, Susan Peters, Henry Travers, Reginald Owen, Bramwell Fletcher
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
0 wins

Due to shell-shock from World War I, a British soldier (Colman) is now a patient in an asylum without any memory of his past life. Known now as John Smith, he escapes the asylum and befriends Paula (Garson), who immediately takes a liking to the amnesiac, taking him under her wing. After nursing him back to mental health and encouraging him to pursue his talent for writing, the two fall in love and get married. The fairy tale is destroyed, however, when Smithy is hit by a car in Liverpool and gets his memory back. Well, almost all of it. He now draws a blank as to what he's been doing with the past three years of life since the shell-shock. No memory of the asylum, no memory of his new-found writing skills and, sadly, no memory of Paula. Nonetheless, Paula tracks him down, becomes his secretary and patiently waits for him to regain his memory of her and their happy life. You know, what any girl in love would do.

With all its twists and turns, Random Harvest is certainly an engrossing story. Admittedly, to enjoy the tale, you must first accept the conceit that Paula would drop everything so immediately, including her career, to care for a stranger. Then, of course, there's the conceit that Paula's tender loving care would transform Smithy from a stuttering simpleton into an intelligent suave gentleman. While the transformation takes place over several months, the movie-going audience experiences the change in a split second. Still, that's not the most challenging conceit. We are then asked to concede that a second bump on the head would inexplicably reverse Smithy's memory, returning the memories of his life before the initial accident, while leaving him with no recollection whatsoever of the intervening three years. And I haven't even mentioned the conceit that Paula would reinsert herself into her lost love's life without even mentioning who she is.

The most fascinating part of this concoction of absurd unlikelihoods is that it is truly captivating. No matter how far-fetched the plot, it is always treated seriously and the result is engaging drama. With the love story at the forefront, I challenge you to watch this film without feeling an irresistible need for the two leads to end up together.

That need is undoubtedly fueled by the immense amiability of both stars. Colman is superb in the film's opening sequences as the simpleton version of his character, earning him a Best Actor Oscar nod. Garson is likewise charming and powerful, the Academy choosing instead to give her a Best Actress nomination (and win) for Mrs. Miniver this year. (Academy rules disallow a performer to receive two nominations in the same category.) Speaking of Mrs. Miniver, Garson is not the only connection between these two films. Both MGM films, Random Harvest and Mrs. Miniver share the same writing team (including James Hilton, who co-wrote Miniver and wrote the source novel here), as well as the same producer (Sidney Franklin), and many key crew members. Along with Greer Garson, character actors Henry Travers and Reginald Owen also appear in both pictures, as do several bit players. Mrs. Miniver was the darling come Oscar time, though, winning six awards from 12 nominations, while Random Harvest didn't manage to secure one from its seven nods.


  1. I have a soft spot for this unabashedly romantic film. Leave your cynicism at the door to enjoy this one, with its manipulations and rather far-fetched plot devices. I don't know if another acting team had speaking voices as beautiful as Greer Garson and Ronald Colman. I don't think it's a spoiler to comment that movies like this have happy endings. If this one doesn't tug at the heart strings, old movies aren't for you.

    I've noticed that you haven't posted a vote for the next year to be reviewed. Any particular reason for this?

  2. Well, mostly it was just because I forgot, but then there was sort of a reason. All will be explained in the verdict post :-)

  3. Love the Oscars menu, as always! Brilliant! :)