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Paula Smith (Greer Garson) is the secretary of industrialist Charles Rainier (Ronald Colman). She's also his wife, which Charles does not know. Shell-shocked during World War I, he doesn't recall his days as her husband, John Smith. Advised not to endanger Charles' fragile mental state, Paula cannot openly reveal her identity. She must find other ways to help him remember their life together.
From the novel by James Hilton (Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Lost Horizon) comes one of the great sentimental romance movies. Garson's Paula, alongside her same-year triumph as Mrs. Miniver, established her persona as the strong, self-sacrificing wife. Random Harvest gathered seven Academy AwardO nominations* (including Best Picture and Colman as Best Actor) and also reaped a box-office harvest as the year's #4 hit.
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The film is superbly acted by the two leads whose intelligence, restraint and chemistry are what make the film work. Although they were two of the biggest stars of the '1940's neither one is as well remembered today as they deserve. Ronald Colman had been a big star in the silents and made the transition to talking films without a problem. In fact he was even bigger after the sileent era, his mellifluous voice, which conveyed intelligence, decency and sincerity, becoming his strongest asset. Interestingly, his role was written in James Hilton's novel as a twenty year old as it opens, but because it's Colman, we accept him in the role without question. At a later point in the film his age makes for a slightly awkward situation (missing in the novel), but again because it's Colman, we let it go. Greer Garson was a new face, having just broken through in the biggest film of the year, Mrs. Miniver. The two films together made her a major star in a very short time. Like Colman she exhuded a warmth, kindness and decency that made the two seem perfectly matched. You want these two to get together.
They are supported by an excellent cast of actors including Reginald Owen as Biffer, a friendly bartender and former boxer; Susan Peters as Colman's young niece Kitty; and Philip Dorn as Dr. Jonathan Bennett, a psychiatrist who plays an important role. Familiar faces Henry Travers, Melville Cooper, Rhys Williams and Una O'Connor also appear in smaller roles. But it's all Colman and Garson's show and it's their presence that holds the whole thing together.
Author James Hilton was on a roll at this point, having written Goodbye Mr. Chips, Lost Horizon, foreign Correspondent and the screenplay for Mrs. Miniver. The plot of Random Harvest will offer some challenges, especially for some contemporary viewers. The story is an out and out romance, and as such you have to accept it on its own terms and by doing so, be rewarded by its twists and turns and final outcome. The 1940's were fascinated by psychology and psychoanalysis and movies found much material there. Amnesia (a malady that seems to have occurred more in films than in real life) plays an important role in this film and the way it is used as a plot device strains credibility. My advice is to simply accept it or the movie won't have its full effect. There are a few other moments that don't quite add up, but the film is too good to bother noticing.
An extra word has to be added about Herbert Stothart's score, one of the film's other outstanding supporting players. This is one of those classic Hollywood films where music is playing almost entirely throughout the picture. It's very important in sustaining the mood but is just barely noticeable most of the time, unlike films where the score is practically demanding that you feel a certain way. This restraint makes it far more effective than a loud, melodramatic score ever could. Speaking of music, Greer Garson sings an old Harry Lauder tune and dances on stage in a show number and does it all quite credibly.
If you like romantic films, this one will really tear you up and put you through the wringer before it's all over but it's worth it. Famed director Sidney Pollack presented this film on TCM's "Essentials". He had wanted to remake this film but after watching it realized it simply could not be remade. It's that good.
TITLE: Random Harvest (1942) • PG-13 • 2:06:29
Ronald Colman, Greer Garson, Susan Peters, Reginald Owen
Mervyn LeRoy (Director)
This movie is an excellent example of why MGM was the PREMIERE movie studio in the world from the mid 1930s to the mid 1950s. This movie has comedy, wit, drama, romance, style, tragedy and triumph. It has a superb cast featuring Ronald Colman, Greer Garson, Susan Peters, Reginald Owen, Una O'Connor and Henry Travers. It also features very-good direction and excellent acting. And, finally, it has high production values (i.e.—very good lighting, very good wardrobe, good- to very-good sets, good editing, and — best of all — it features a very well-written and highly-moving story). In short, if you're a fan of "old" movies and/or an incurable romantic, do yourself a BIG favor and buy (and watch) this movie. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
See the other reviews for more detail and/or other opinions regarding the plot of the movie.
VIDEO: 1.33:1 • B&W • 480p • MPEG-2 (5.9 Mbps)
Within the confines of the DVD format, this film exhibits excellent picture quality — in part, I'm sure, because of its much higher than average bit-rate (for a B&W, 4:3 movie on DVD). Apparently Warner Bros. has also done some re-mastering work on this classic film, because there are very few artifacts such as black specks, white dots, hair-lines or dropped frames. In addition, sharpness and detail (for a DVD) are VERY good — with the textures of most clothing and furnishings being readily apparent. Also, contrast and gray scale (again, for a DVD) are VERY good overall, and in many scenes, even excellent. This is the best that this movie is going to look until it gets officially re-mastered and re-released on blu-ray.
AUDIO: Dolby Digital 1.0 (Mono)
Warner Home Video has apparently also done some clean-up work on the film's soundtrack, because there are no loud bumps nor objectionably high levels of hiss. Also, dialog is very clear and all voices are easily understood. However, dynamic range is limited, and there is not much bottom-end nor any top-end to speak of (which makes the musical score and the Foley work all sound a little 'thin' and not quite realistic). Otherwise, considering the age of the source elements and the fact that this is a monophonic, dialog-driven movie from the early 1940s, its audio presentation has acceptable sound quality.
None of the extras were reviewed.
Most recent customer reviews
careful use of words was important.Read more
My husband has watched it through twice. :)