Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Random Harvest (1942)

Director: Mervyn LeRoy

It is romance about love, lose, and reunion in a heartbreaking tale starring Ronald Colman and Greer Garson. As a quickly produced adaption of a bestselling novel that had only hit store shelves a year prior, the film took upon itself several creative licenses with the original material to make it fit the silver screen. Its result makes for a meandering tale of romance lost and the yearning to reestablish that passion along with a sprinkling of the after effects of WWI to help associate with the WWII audience.

Random Harvest is a drama about a war veteran stricken with amnesia who begins a domestic livelihood with loving wife whose original memory returns, blocking out the recent recollections of his renewed life, and the wife left searching for him. While suffering from a severe case of amnesia from the Great War an unknown soldier going by the name of John Smith (Ronald Coleman) finds love and companionship in a beautiful woman named Paula (Greer Garson). They marry and begin a quaint country family life when “Smithy”, as she lovingly calls him, regains his long lost memory as a son of a wealthy family Charles Rainer.

With his restored memory Charles’ mind blocks out everything he shared with Paula and resumes his life rebuilding his family’s company. Paula in seeking out her “Smithy” becomes the personal assistant to Charles years later, but hides their relationship in fear that it would greatly disturb him under his renewed persona. From a close distance Paula watches over Charles and the two eventually wed as a business decision for Charles’ social appearance. This marriage as a term of business strikes Paula with grief as she is reminded that she cannot obtain that same love she once had with him. Paula takes an extended vacation from Charles to get away from this anguish. While Charles is away on business he reminded through of his lost years by locations he visits. Through chance Paula and Charles separately visit the small cottage they once shared together as husband and wife. Here Charles pieces together his past as Paula calls out “Smithy,” reuniting the two in the deep love they once shared.

The picture suffers from a slow, deliberately pace where the audience must endure with the fact that the main character, Charles, is suffering from some sort of amnesia throughout the entirety of the picture. This bout with what I can define as an almost backwards amnesia, where Charles now remembers who he is but is unable to call to mind the honeymoon style of dedicated romance to Paula, is the intriguing nuance of the movie’s plot. This romantic plot is a beautiful tale that definitely feels like a lengthy novel, but because of plot structure it drags on in several instances in a motion picture.

Due to the structure of a novel when compared to a motion picture the film misses out on aspects of the novel’s storytelling. The driving plot point of the feature film is that of Paula searching for her lost Smithy. Paula using a pseudonym Margaret ends up working for and then marrying Charles without him having any knowledge of who she is and her underlying intentions. However, the novel never lets the reader in on the secret that Margaret is actually Paula until the final scene when she calls out “Smithy.” This creates an immense twist for both Charles and the reader as Charles recognizes Margaret to be his beloved Paula for the romantic ending. The book is is more of a focused story on Charles/Smith while the picture focuses on the heartbreaking nature of Paula as we clearly see Paula and Margaret are the same woman. It is difficult to say which form of storytelling is more dramatic, the novel’s surprise ending or the yearning romantic struggle of movie. In either case the audience understands the drama.

Despite the film’s slow, drawn out story the production quality was one of the highest celebrated aspects of the feature for the year 1942. The film would not suffer from the economical production value style of feature films produced during WWII. The stars might be older actors, but they provide adequate performances. Ronald Colman and Greer Garson are very pleasant in their roles, but play characters that are perhaps a bit younger than they are perceived on screen. Both Colman and supporting actress Susan Peters, who portrays the young girl once engaged to Charles after he regained his memory, were nominated for their performances. In total the Random Harvest received seven Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture and Meryn LeRoy for Best Director, making it appear to be one o0f the higher critically praised movie of the year.
What the film does very well is share moments that provided foreshadowing to significant scenes shared in later parts of the picture. Little reminders as simple as a branch of a tree share as reminders as to special moments that prompt the audience of the times shared between Paula and Smithy that together bring Charles around to the ultimate happy ending with Paula.

The feature would accumulate a good profit and be a relatively well received motion picture. Few detractors were critical of the rather drawl unfolding of the plot and the melodramatic acting, but with seven Oscar nominations it can be considered to be one of the better pictures of 1942.

If one enjoys rather slow, sappy love stories then this feature will make you cry in joy, sorrow, grief, and finally with a burst of elated tears in the end. For many who are not be of this type of audience Random Harvest may not be a feature greatly enjoyed for is long in the tooth story. Despite these drawbacks it is a finely constructed motion picture that pulls on some heart strings for those that can sit through the whole two hour fifteen minute feature.

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