|RANDOM HARVEST (1942)|
|"My life began with you. I can't imagine the future without you."|
|Time: 125 mins.|
Rating: Not Rated
Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Coleman), Best Supporting Actress (Peters), Art Direction, Director, Score, Screenplay and Best Picture.
This is one of those classic films that should be more famous than it is. The plot is completely unbelievable and yet, the subtle and powerful performances of Garson and Coleman make it an intelligent, thoughtful and romantic love story that truly captures the heart. Coleman plays John Smith, a shell-shocked World War I veteran trapped in a small town mental institution unable to return home because he canít remember anything about his past before the fateful night that landed him in the hospital. Heís a ghost with an assumed name who decides to walk out into the future even though he has no idea how to begin it. Lucky for him, his confusion generates sympathy in Paula (Garson), a beautiful actress, who takes an instant liking to his kind, if somewhat distant face. She hides him in her room and gets him to open up to her. When her plans to have him join her acting troupe as a helper fall through, she takes him to a cottage in the country to help him recuperate. Not only does he regain his speech and his confidence, he finds the courage to ask Paula to be his wife. She heartily accepts and they begin their new life together, deliberating forgetting that he has a past hidden inside his head. His burgeoning career as a writer and the birth of a son soon make their happiness complete. That is until fate steps in.
A job opportunity at a newspaper in Liverpool ends up being Smithyís undoing instead of his success. An accident on his way to the meet the paperís editor causes him to regain his real identity: Charles Rainier. Unfortunately, it erases all memories of his life with Paula. He has no idea how he got to Liverpool, why heís there or where heís been since the battle at Arras three years earlier. All he has in his pockets is some money and a house key. All he can do is return to his familyís estate and begin his life all over again. The ensuing years are good to Charles. He finds success in the family business and kindles a romance with his sisterís stepdaughter Kitty (Peters). He should be happy, yet the loss of those three years plagues his soul. He often finds himself of the verge of remembering, but always fails to make the final breakthrough. His hopes (and ours) of recovering those precious years seem to be answered when his secretary Margaret Hansen enters his office. Itís Paula, his one true love. Everything is going to be OK again. Except he doesnít remember her as his former wife. All she is to him is his faithful assistant, a woman with an equally sad past, but one he doesnít recall them sharing.
When we finally discover what happened to Paula and their son, our dreams of a happy ending are dashed. It took her years to discover why he failed to return home and by then their lives had taken drastically different turns. Paula desperately wanted to tell him about their relationship, but knew if seeing her again for the first time didnít bring their life back into his memory, words would never convince him of her claims. Yet she is unable to let him go, brokenhearted at being so close to the man she loves and so far out of his heart. Without realizing the implications, Charles makes a proposal that grants Paula her deepest desire; however, instead of companionship and joy their union brings her even more pain and sorrow. Everyone believes her to be the luckiest woman in the world and she would be if the man she loved reciprocated her passion. Charles respects her, enjoys her company and in some ways canít live without her, but itís not enough for Paula. Of course, fate works in mysterious ways and through circumstances best left to the viewer, our lovers find themselves back in each otherís arms with the full knowledge of their past and a new outlook for the future.
RANDOM HARVEST is without a doubt one of the most convoluted love stories to ever come out of Hollywood and also one of the best. While the tale of these star-crossed lovers may be a little extreme in the struggles they fight to overcome, the story is well-developed and the acting rarely overplayed. Their woes unravel like the horrible quirks of fate that they are. While Charlesí reversal of memory is horribly tragic to the audience, itís not to him because he doesnít realize what heís left behind. The event is treated so matter of factly, it makes our longing for news of Paula even more palpable as the film progresses. Our desperation grows minute by minute as he comes closer and closer to the unlocking his memory. When she reappears, as if by magic, the moment is pure movie hokum, until itís revealed he has no idea who she is. Itís a stunning blow made all the more powerful by Garsonís dignity and resignation. We start to believe that this is as close as sheís ever going to get and itís truly heartbreaking. The plot plays a delicate game of cat and mouse with our emotions, delivering a delicious rollercoaster ride of highs and lows almost unparalleled in cinema.
That the characters are forced by circumstances to keep their emotions under wraps makes the rather ridiculous chain events more believable than they should be. This being a love story, itís inevitable theyíll wind up together and the final third begins to drag as the secret continually keeps the lovers apart. The ending comes up rather suddenly; however, like Paula I think the audience appreciates the quick conclusion after so many near misses. Thereís only so much disappointment one can take. As in so many of her pictures, Garson is the key component that makes watching this film worthwhile. Few other actresses could have shown so much pain while being so utterly composed. Her eyes burn with sorrow and disappointment, yet she resolutely refuses to let life beat her down. Sheís intelligent, lovely and a real joy to watch, which makes her presence even more sorely felt when sheís not onscreen. Coleman was nominated for his performance here and while he occasionally appears out of his element, for the most part, he gives Smith/Charles charm, grace and decency behind the mask of confusion and heartache. This is pure melodrama woven into a sweet, sincere, honest romance that satisfies despite the overkill of itsí plot. Do yourself a favor and discover the greatness of Greer Garson. You wonít be sorry.