Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Random Harvest (1942)

"You are from the asylum, aren't you? Aren't you? "

John Smith, played by Ronald Colman, is a WWI veteran stuck in an asylum, suffering from shell shock. He can't remember who he is but lives with the hope that some day his family will come to claim him and take him home. When the end of the war is declared, in the celebration, Smith slips out and wanders into a tavern. He is befriended by Paula, played by Greer Garson who takes him under her wing. The two fall in love, get married and start a family. Smith, still trying to recover his past life is forging on with his new one. Unfortunately, on a job interview in Liverpool he is hit by a car, losing all memory of Paula but regaining his lost memories.

I like Ronald Colman but upon first learning that he was supposed to be a WWI veteran, I found it difficult to believe. Most soldiers in WWI were young men whereas Colman here very much looks his 51 years of age though I will admit that he does look very dapper in a uniform. I was finally able to suspend my disbelief when a couple came to look in on him, thinking he might be their missing son. When they replied in the negative, the look on his face was enough to break anyone's heart and after that point I was sold. As well, it was wonderful just to listen to him. He has one of the most beautiful speaking voices I've heard in older movies. It should also be noted that Colman was actually a WWI veteran, having suffered severe shrapnel wounds and gassing.

Greer Garson, noted queen of MGM during WWII, played Paula. Garson plays a rather strange role here as a singer/dancer with a traveling troupe. It felt very much outside the roles she normally plays but she looked very comfortable with her part. I didn't think much of her singing however as her voice has always seemed very breathy and doesn't much lend itself to song. I did however like the strength she showed in this film, especially during the third act. The situation she places herself in takes such courage of character that I felt desperately bad for her but the entire time I was on her side.

One of the issues I had with the film was the length of time that passes between before revelation for Colman. By my count 15 years(!) pass before we the audience receive any sort of payoff, an amount of time far beyond which I am willing to suspend my disbelief. This ridiculous span is longer than I believe even the Greyfriars Bobby would stick around.

As well, I thought it was far too convenient for all the aspects of Paula and John's previous relationship to just disappear. After you watch the film you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. There was no mention of this aspect of their life despite the loss and it's never addressed later in the film. These two spent years together and it felt very much as if it was only used as a plot device to bring them together rather than an integral part of their relationship and a set of cumulative experiences that you can't just erase.

I did enjoy this movie and I would recommend. I would say though that it's worth checking out of the library but don't worry about buying a copy.

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