Random Harvest

MGM put the great talents of Greer Garson and Ronald Colman together in a 1942 movie called “Random Harvest.”  Colman plays a soldier just back from World War 1 in France, where an explosion has wiped out his memory.  He spends his time in an asylum in the English town of Melbridge, where the benevolent head psychiatrist works diligently to restore his memory.  Nevertheless, Colman’s character loses hope and walks out of the asylum.  A local shop proprietor sees him and threatens to turn him in, but lovely Paula (Garson) arrives and hides him in her boarding house.  Later, the couple take off for a quiet village in the north country where Colman’s character — who Paula calls John Smith — begins a writing career.   “Smithy” and Paula marry and soon have a son.

Ronald Colman forgets Greer Garson in "Random Harvest."

Ronald Colman forgets Greer Garson in “Random Harvest.”

Things change drastically when Smithy suffers a road accident in Liverpool.  A bump on the head and Smithy instantly remembers his true identity; he’s actually Charles Rainier, a nobleman in line to inherit a fortune.  Charles completely forgets Paula and his life with her, and focuses on his business interests and adopted niece Kitty (Susan Peters) who loves him.  The film follows Charles now completely, leaving me to wonder when Paula will show up.  She doesn’t reappear until much later in a total surprise that’s quickly explained but seems only slightly plausible.  Nevertheless, Paula’s presence puts the film back on track as she does all she can to make Rainier remember her.

Paula works as Rainier’s secretary, and Rainier feels a level of trust with her that he can’t explain.  Of course, at this point, it would make sense for Paula to just tell Rainier about their life together.  But the head psychiatrist from the Melbridge Asylum, Dr. Benet (Philip Dorn) warns her not to do that, since the cure for Rainier’s amnesia involves him regaining his memory on his own.  Dr. Benet also carries the torch for Paula, so perhaps he secretly hopes Rainier won’t recall his past.

Ronald Colman creates a striking contrast between the Smithy character and Rainier.  While Smithy is weak and easily distracted, Rainier gets right to work becoming a industrial baron.  Rainer projects patience and calm while Smithy is jittery and unsettled. The cliched plot point of getting a bump on the head to restore a memory is compensated by the moving and beautiful chemistry between Greer and Colman.  Their lovely and clear voices make up for the slow pace of the film, and the interesting story provides a great opportunity for them to display emotional depth.  I found the ending to be very moving and satisfactory.

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