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Random Harvest is very fondly remembered and loved by many and for good reason. It is such a beautiful film in so many ways and one of the most moving films I've seen. Random Harvest is a splendidly made film, both sumptuous and Expressionist and still looking as fresh now as it did then. The period detail is rendered handsomely as well, not accurate perhaps but with the quality of how the film looks that doesn't really matter all that much. The music has that lush romantic feeling without being too syrupy, the use of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake was apt and will be a delight for classical music enthusiasts(count me as one). The script has the right dose of warmth and pathos with nothing being corny or overly-sentimental; this is a script with heart. As has the story, which is romantic to the hilt, heart-warming and incredibly touching, you're guaranteed to need tissues when Charles doesn't return to Paula after going to Liverpool and when his memory starts to come back. I was so engrossed by the characters and so touched by the story that any improbabilities were easily forgiven. Mervyn Leroy's direction is masterly and the characters are sweet and very human, complete with one of the most realistic and heart-breaking portrayals of shell-shock on film. The supporting cast all give solid performances, Susan Peters is utterly convincing in her feistiness and confidence and Reginald Owen, Henry Travers and Edmund Gwenn are always watchable. But the two leads dominate and are a huge part of the reason why Random Harvest works so well. Ronald Colman was a revelation, wistful and dignified but it is also very difficult to not tear up at Colman's body language when his memory starts returning, a very telling piece of acting. Greer Garson is just radiant and is wonderfully sincere in her role. Their chemistry together is just pure magic. All in all, beautiful and outstanding film, cinematic romance at its finest. 10/10 Bethany Cox
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
. . . RANDOM HARVEST provided the blueprint for thousands of men to subsequently establish multiple households with multiple wives. Sure, technically "Smithy"\Charles commits double marriage with the SAME WOMAN (so that the censors would remain happy). But it's not hard to read between the lines. When you enjoy Dale Carnegie Get Rich Quick training, you learn to compartmentalize your life (think Bernie Madoff). Though the military man in this movie harvests his women serially due to his randomly alternating realities, it doesn't take too much imagination on the viewer's part to tweak the plot and shorten the time between towns\households\wives from this flick's lengthy 3 to 15 years down to a more reasonable 3 to 15 days or hours. Though some men have been known to reap their RANDOM HARVEST among as many as four or five separate families, this strikes me as being too stressful, not unlike a show performer trying to keep five stacks of plates perpetually spinning atop five tall poles (sooner or later, some china is going to shatter). However, if an amnesiac can "randomy harvest" the same woman twice, how hard can it be for someone with all their marbles to seed and harvest two or three a few fields miles apart?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Since this is one of my 3 favorite movies (right behind "GWTW" and
"Ben-Hur", I'm pleased to see that the vast majority of reviews here
are extremely positive.
I want to begin my review my dismissing several of the oft-heard criticisms of the film. First, that Colman was too old for the role. When you a have a film than spans nearly 20 years, any actor is going to be either too young for the older scenes, or too old for the younger scenes. Either way, there's going to be lots of makeup. Colman was 51 when he made this film, meaning that if you want to go with actual ages, his character would have been 47 when he entered the military at the beginning of WWI. In actuality, that made Colman 6 years to old for enlistment status (41 was the upper limit). But just right to be the "industrial prince" of Great Britain later in the film. So you either err in the age of the soldier, or you err in the age of the industrialist.
Another criticism is the need to suspend belief. Yup. That's what the vast majority of movies require. If not, you're usually either watching a very boring fictional movie or a documentary. Normal life portrayed on the big screen isn't usually very interesting.
Another criticism is that the film brings in the twist midway through the film, rather than at the very end, as the novel did. Well, doing the film way simply wouldn't have worked. Garson would have had to have been absent for half the film. And, the choice is between total surprise, or the interest in seeing how each of the main characters deals with the "ruse". And, Garson's character (Paula) explains why she wants the relationship only when Colman's character (Smithy/Charles) comes to a realization based on love and remembrance, not based on when he feels a legal responsibility. And frankly, I recently read the book, and I thought it was awful. And I doubt that most readers knew about the plot twist before reading the book; you just can't keep secrets like that.
One criticism of this film that I hear that is accurate, though of little consequence, is that the hair and clothing styles of the women are not accurate to the time period. Fair criticism, but fairly common in the cinema.
The one major criticism I have is the character of Kitty, played by Susan Peters. Supposedly being only 15 when she first meets Charles, while he is clearly in his 40s (by movie standards), not only didn't work for me, but I found a bit repulsive. It would be easier to tolerate the liaison if Kitty had been fresh out of college when they met -- a May/December romance -- but this is a bit too much. Not only that, but despite others praising her acting here, I was not impressed at all. She was far more suited to the next film she made -- an Andy Hardy piece where she was a co-ed. This one flaw is the reason that, for me, I can't give the film a "10".
I hold Greer Garson and Ronald Colman in almost equal esteem. There are some who see this as Garson's film, but I disagree. Considering the degree of suspension of belief required of viewers here, Colman had the task of holding the center while being a shell-shock victim and amnesiac on the one hand, and becoming the industrial prince of England and a member of Parliament on the other. I noticed one of our reviewers for criticizing Colman for "walking through" the film. I had an uncle that was shell-shocked in WWII, and that's exactly what he did -- walked through life with something missing. And Colman portrays that perfectly, without going over the edge. He talks to Paula about wishing he had belonged to the couple at the asylum. Perfect. He becomes easily distracted by certain semi-flashbacks, but not able to focus on them. Perfect. This should have won the Academy Award (although I'm not taking anything away from James Cagney). And then there's the scene which is as good an acting job as I've seen -- at the cottage door when all you see is the back of Colman's head as the memory returns. Though lasting only seconds, you see several stages of returning memory in just the way his body tenses in very slightly different movements. Absolutely perfect.
Greer Garson also plays this perfectly. Just the type who would take in a stray dog. Just the type who would want the relationship to be based on love, rather than responsibility. And her dance routine -- so very entertaining...and different for her! I fell in love with Greer Garson watching this film.
There are other actors in the film who make it feel so comfortable -- Henry Travers, Reginald Owen, Una O'Connor, Margaret Wycherly, and more. But Philip Dorn, a Dutch actor, stands out as the psychiatrist.
I love this film and have for years. Since its DVD release, I find myself watching it a couple of times a year. I never grow tired of it. Almost the perfect film.
I have a tendency to like LeRoy's thirties movie best ("I'm a fugitive
from a chain gang" "they won't forget" "Waterloo bridge" ) but "random
harvest " is a superb melodrama which does not forget the zeitgeist of
the time:mysterious past ,lapses of memory,Freudian sides were present
in many Hitchcock,Lang ,Siodmak and Tourneur of the time.Le Roy's is
psychoanalytical melodrama (whereas theirs were thrillers) Greer Garson
was Le Roy's favourite actress at the time :she had been Edna Gabley
who devoted her life to orphans ("Blossoms in the dust") and the same
year Wyler's "Mrs Minniver" followed by another Le Roy's work "Madame
Curie" (to think that there are French critics who do not like that
movie!)So it is surprising to see a cast against type Greer Garson
portray a music hall dancer (she manages quite well though).She won't
stay in the job for long anyway and the rest of the movie shows Greer
Garson in her usual role :an actress who never overplays -which in
melodramas can be dreadful- and plays with restraint and sensitivity.
The structure of the movie is bizarre ,there are several parts with sometimes a lack of connection between them ;take Garson's reappearance after the greedy family episode .Few scenes in the pure melodrama genre leave the viewer ill at ease like this one.In its own way ,it predates the second part of "Vertigo" .The end of the movie is what we have got to call "catharsis" ,or how the hero finally comes to term with his past .Ronald Coleman may seem a bit too old in the first scenes but as the movie at least spans a decade or more ,it's not a big problem,except may be for the short romance with his distant niece .
Melodrama buffs cannot ignore "random harvest" .
I had never seen Random Harvest until just the other day on my TCM
channel. What a refreshingly beautiful romantic drama that was. My
favorite star, Ronald Coleman, was there and that is what made me even
want to watch it. I have never seen Greer Garson but know of her great
talent from Mrs. Miniver and this pair made the fine story even finer
with their convincing and earnest acting. Oh! for the days when we had
real actors and real stories come out of Hollywood! I do not recall any
other romantic drama from Hollywood that is this memorable or haunting
as this one. Only Wuthering Heights with Lawrence Olivier and Merle
Oberon came close.
Ronald Coleman and Greer Garson did a superb job of producing a variety of expressions on their faces to match their words and atmosphere. Some scenes would bring tears to the eyes even in grown men. The movie as a whole including the sets and period costumes was impeccable.I wonder if any one with a fascination for old Hollywood classics noticed the actress that played the little lady owner of the tobacconist shop. She was the one that performed so delightfully as the half blind house keeper in that famous film, Witness for the Prosecution.
This is one of those sentimental films like "An Affair to Remember" which you either love or don't. This one gets me every time. I nearly have to see it alone, since most men have trouble crying around other grown men. I love to listen to Ronald Coleman's voice. It is no wonder my mother fell in love with Mr. Coleman on the radio. Greer Garson is no slouch either. While they carry the English emphasis on correct behavior nearly to the breaking point, I still love the mystery and unsettled nature to this psychological mellodrama. In the scene where Kitty realizes Sir Charles does not love her, Coleman does incredible things with his face that defy description. Just his expression convinces her and us he does not love her. Mervyn LeRoy knows how to film dramas like this. "Mr. Roberts" is another favorite of mine he directed. Watch "Random Harvest" to witness the ultimate lifetime devotion of unrequited love that eventually comes to fruition.
Why does Random Harvest work? It does not regard any semblance of the
way things work in this world, from amnesia to the capacity to which
anyone could bear pursuing someone they love to chronology. I know what
this is. It is suspension of disbelief. My concern is why it works, why
it was after the film was over that I started to realize that it was
full of it.
The film opens during the closing days of WWI. Ever poised Ronald Colman is a British officer who was shellshocked in the trenches, now restricted to an asylum because he has lost his memory and has trouble speaking. When the war ends, joy rules in the nearby town and the gatekeepers desert their posts to join the merriment. With no one to stop him, Colman simply wanders off OK For some reason, I bought that. I was happy he was able to escape. Good.
In town, he is befriended by Greer Garson, who will always hold a tender place with me for her work in William Wyler's Mrs. Miniver, here a benevolent showgirl, who takes him under her wing. After she finds out he has escaped, but seems harmless, she arranges for him to join her traveling theater group. After a confrontation that endangers them with unwelcome attention, she takes him away to a quiet, out of the way country village, where they marry and are ecstatically on cloud nine.
Colman realizes a talent at writing and tries to earn a living at it. He leaves Garson and their newborn baby for an overnight trip to Liverpool for a job interview with a newspaper. On his way, he is hit by a cab. When he comes to, his past memory is reinstated, but his life with Garson is now completely gone and forgotten. I mean, doesn't that seem like it would make sense? From there, it unravels surprises and we are deflated from the bliss of his life as an amnesiac, at least as much as director Mervyn LeRoy will let us be deflated.
I know that James Hilton's original novel was different, and had less of a problem deflating us in the name of dramatic effect and a familiarity with life outside the movie theater. But Mervyn LeRoy restricts his vision of the story to the rule of splendor. Loveliness substitutes simple function, and the film, rather than taking license the way an Indiana Jones movie would, imposes its creative set of laws on life. LeRoy is involved with forming a congruous and well-proportioned society founded on handsome ideas and stuffed with a pleasant aesthetic. He is of the cinematic view that sculpts out a world in which we can wholeheartedly escape from the one to which we will be returning in no time.
This is just the sort of movie in which elitist cynicism toward film is rooted, but, hey, it works. I was happy. Somehow, I was transported. I bought the whole thing for 125 minutes and only grasped its abandon afterward.
I caught this again tonight, it must be my fourth viewing and it never fails to carry me along on its quite unbelievable plot and really hokey Hollywood lot exteriors. The reason, of course, is the stars, Ronald Coleman in one of his decent, agonized roles that he made quite his own and Greer Carson looking so beautiful and fragile and always quivering bravely on the edge of tears. The plot is convoluted and really pushes the credibility metre the wrong way. We are asked to believe that a shell shocked WW1 veteran who can barely speak has completely forgotten his past. So far so good. He meets and marries his rescuer (Greer of course) and they have a child. He takes off on a writing job, suffers an accident with no ID on him and remembers all he left behind prior to Greer and forgets all about the interlude with Greer. Many years later Greer gets a job as his personal secretary and this still doesn't jog his memory, he is all prepared to marry someone else and then through another co-incidence, marries Greer in a contractual, passionless arrangement. Of course it all irons its way out in the end. The stars are faultless, Ronald got an Oscar as did a remarkable performance by Susan Peters as the young love interest. 8 out 10. A sinful indulgence.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having just finished reading for the first time Random Harvest, I was
interested to see the movie based on it. I wish I hadn't. The book is
brilliantly cynical and perceptive and tantalizing; the movie is hokey
and saccharine and ungainly. The book's conclusion (and I do mean the
very last line) hits the reader in the solar plexus when we learn that
Mrs. Charles Ranier is also the true love, the first wife, Paula. This
stunning turn of events makes the reader reevaluate the entire book; it
makes the reader realize that he, the reader, has been in his own
amnesiac haze. With no words left to read, we realize we have been as
lost as has Charles/Smithy. Well, the movie reveals this "secret" half
way through the film, so there's absolutely no jolt to the ending. To
be fair to the movie makers, I don't see how the story could have been
made into a visual medium without doing this--short of resorting to
some really artificial device, such as having a different actress play
the part of the secretary/new Mrs. Rainier who then morphs back into
Greer Garson at the end. This inability to achieve the surprise
element, which is the sine quo non of Random Harvest, argues that this
is a novel that should never have been filmed.
However, let's look at some of the other shortcomings of this movie that make this a dreadful piece. First off, perhaps Ronald Colman was seen as a dashing leading man in his era, but time has not been kind to this definition of "dashing." More than that, though, is the fact that he is WAY too old and WAY too sexless to be Charles/Smithy. I can find no reason why Paula would have found him appealing or mysterious, let alone sexy. The next problem is the cheesy painted scenery. Everything looks like a high school stage setting, including the obviously model trains! The photography style is actually quite elegant, especially the lighting, but what is photographed is laughably implausible. Equally bad is the "romance" of the young girl for Charles. Since Ronald Colman looks so old, the age difference makes the viewer positively uncomfortable when they kiss. Yet another problem with the movie is a bias that is tossed into the screen play that is troubling; namely, it is the obvious pro-union/anti-capitalist slant one gets. Finally, the major problem with the movie is the fact that it has been removed from the time in which it was most definitely meant to be set. The story was written to be playing out against the rise of Fascist totalitarianism and the despair of a Europe going to hell in a hand basket. Yet this is totally absent from the movie, replaced by breathless but artificial "when will they get together again" romance.
Recommendation: Read the book, skip the movie. Time has enhanced the former but has shone a bright light on the flaws of the latter.
To say that RANDOM HARVEST was a highly popular success when released
in 1942 is almost an understatement. It played for ten weeks at the
huge Radio City Music Hall, filling it with appreciative fans who
couldn't get enough of this sentimental James Hilton romance.
Most of its success is due to the charisma of RONALD COLMAN and GREER GARSON, both at their absolute peak of professional charm and poise, with Colman doing a magnificent job of making the shell-shocked "Smithy" one of his most appealing characters and Garson giving one of her most radiant performances as Paula.
But if you take a moment to examine the story contents, it makes you realize what an accomplishment the performances are since the story has so many flaws in realism, particularly regarding the instant falling in love that happens when Garson first discovers "Smithy" is from an asylum and then her refusal to tell him the truth for a long period of time while she patiently waits for him to get his memory back. Too patiently.
The amnesia theme was a favorite of '40s Hollywood and it has never been used to better advantage than it is here. But the instant attraction between SUSAN PETERS and Colman when he returns to his snobbish family after an auto accident that makes him forget Paula, seems a contrivance that doesn't ring true. Nor do the subtle clues that bring his memory back seem reasonable enough to swallow. However, the moment when she realizes he is still thinking of another, is brilliantly handled by both Peters and Colman.
Nevertheless, all of the schmaltz has been so skillfully directed by Mervyn LeRoy that most will fall under the spell of the film's unrelenting romanticism and let cynicism fade. That's just as well, because LeRoy's direction is slow-paced at times, almost cumbersome, letting the film run to an inordinate length before letting "Smithy" and Paula get together for a final embrace while cherry blossoms fall and the music swells to an appropriate volume for "The End".
I don't rank this film as high as WATERLOO BRIDGE or TO EACH HIS OWN, both romances that skillfully told a tale without resorting to the glossy romantic close-ups and violin music that "Harvest" uses to accentuate the chemistry of Colman and Garson--a distinctly MGM trait.
But they do have enormous chemistry and that is the factor that makes the whole unbelievable story work.
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