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Random Harvest(1942)

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teaser Random Harvest (1942)

SYNOPSIS

Amnesia costs the heir to a manufacturing fortune his family -- twice --until true love finally brings him back the happiness he had lost. CharlesRainier's first bout of amnesia follows his shelling during World War I,bringing him to an asylum in the English countryside. When he escapes, abeautiful music hall performer, Paula, takes him under her protection,calling him "Smithy" in the absence of his real name. The two fall in loveand marry. On a business trip to Liverpool, Smithy is struck by a cab andregains his memory, only to forget his life since the war. Paula andSmithy are eventually reunited when she gets a job as his secretary, nowcalling herself "Margaret." But she dare not reveal their truerelationship for fear of triggering a complete mental breakdown. ThenRainier, who can't commit emotionally to any woman as long as he has athree-year gap in his memory, proposes a marriage of convenience toMargaret so he can enter politics with the perfect wife by his side. Thestage is set for a reconciliation if only his wife can find the righttrigger to help him regain his memory on his own.

Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Producer: Sidney Franklin
Screenplay: Claudine West, George Froeschel, Arthur Wimperis
Based on the Novel by James Hilton
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Editing: Harold F. Kress
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Herbert Stothart
Cast: Ronald Colman (Charles Rainier/John "Smithy" Smith), Greer Garson(Paula/Margaret), Philip Dorn (Dr. Jonathan Benet), Susan Peters (Kitty),Reginald Owen ("Biffer"), Edward Fielding (Prime Minister), Henry Travers (Dr.Sims), Margaret Wycherly (Mrs. Deventer), Alan Napier (Julian), NormaVarden (Julia), Rhys Williams (Sam), Henry Daniell (Heavy Man), ArthurShields (Chemist), Peter Lawford (Soldier), Una O'Connor (Tobacconist),Aubrey Mather (Sheldon)
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Why Random Harvest is Essential

Random Harvest is often cited as one of Hollywood's all-timegreatest tearjerkers. It's also considered the definitive treatment ofamnesia in a romantic film.

Spurred by the success of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, MGM bought the rights to Hilton's Random Harvest in 1940, as soon as the book appeared. Initially, however, it was planned as a vehicle for Spencer Tracy. When producer Sidney Franklin and director Mervyn LeRoy learned that Ronald Colman was available, however, they jumped at the chance to sign him for the picture. His image of British sincerity was perfect for the role of a shell-shocked World War I veteran who marries while suffering from amnesia, then recovers his memory only to forget the wife he adores. With two bona fide Brits in the cast, LeRoy could boast that "the English Language was never spoken more beautifully on film."

With the success of Random Harvest, Ronald Colman proved he couldstill play a romantic hero, even at the age of 51. The film ensured hiscontinuing popularity through the rest of the decade, climaxed by hisOscar® win for Best Actor in 1947's A Double Life.

With this film and Mrs. Miniver, 1942 was definitely "The Yearof Greer," as some industry insiders dubbed it. Not only did she win theOscar® for Best Actress for the latter, but the combined success of both films madeher the top female star on the MGM lot, a position she would hold throughthe '40s.

Like most Hollywood films of the '40s, Random Harvest was shot entirely at the studio, where technicians turned MGM's stock English village into a facsimile for Medbury, the small town where Colman and Garson build their life together after he's first lost his memory. They also had to make some minor script changes to please the Production Code Administration, Hollywood's self-censorship organization. In particular, they had to avoid any suggestion that Colman and Garson were intimate before their marriage and eliminate his character's first wife, which would have made him a bigamist. Despite the changes, however, Hilton was so thrilled with the film that he agreed to record the opening narration himself.

Random Harvest was a major box-office hit, bringing in $4.5 million on a $2 million investment, and breaking attendance records at the Radio City Music Hall, where it premiered. Audiences during the desperate first days of World War II were drawn to its story of the effects of war on the home front and its affirmation of the importance of love and family life.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Random Harvest (1942)

Made during the first full year in which the U.S. was involved in WorldWar II, Random Harvest achieved success partly because its depictionof a shell-shocked veteran adjusting to peacetime life captured the anxietiesand post-war mood of its era.

With its record-setting success, Random Harvest was prominentlyfeatured in MGM promotional materials. Among them were two short films:"Partners" (1943), which spotlighted such rising stars as Susan Peters, and"Some of the Best" (1944), a 20th anniversary salute to the studio narratedby Lionel Barrymore.

In Chapter 19 of J.D. Salinger's modern classic The Catcher in theRye the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, sees Random Harvest atthe Radio City Music Hall.

Other films using amnesia as the catalyst for a romantic story includeTerence Fisher's Song of Tomorrow (1948), in which a man withamnesia falls in love with an opera singer whose voice is the only thing heremembers from his lost past, and Sergio Rubini and Dominick Tambasco'sLa Bionda (1992), in which Nastassia Kinski forgets her life ofcrime and falls in love with a disabled man (Sergio Rubini).

Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman took the roles created by Garson andColman, respectively, for a spoof of the film on The Carol BurnettShow. Film critic Pauline Kael, never a big fan of Garson or MGM'smore serious films, preferred the take-off to the original. "At least itwas shorter," she wrote in 5,001 Nights at the Movies.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Random Harvest (1942)

The film's wartime spirit came naturally to Ronald Colman. Off-screen,he was heavily involved in the war effort, lending his voice to governmentradio broadcasts, serving on the Hollywood Victory Committee, working forThe American Red Cross and selling bonds on extensive cross-country trips.He also served as president of British War Relief in Los Angeles,organizing the film capital's British colony in support of theirhomeland.

In his autobiography, Mervyn LeRoy: Take One, the director saidof the stars of Random Harvest that "between the two of them, theEnglish language was never spoken more beautifully on film."

When Garson's musical number scored a hit in screenings, a stockingmanufacturer claimed that he recognized the stockings she was wearing as aspecial therapeutic model he had designed. He tried to generate publicityfor his brand by giving interviews to various gossip columnists, butcouldn't remember, from interview to interview, whether she was wearingstockings designed to camouflage knocked knees or bow legs. Garsonresponded with a poem: "Say I'm dreary, say I'm sad/Say my acting doesn'tplease/Say my films are awfully bad,/But don't knock myknees."

Colman was so pleased with the film what when he finished remodelinghis Hollywood home that year, he dubbed it "Random House."

Critics carped about Colman's on-screen engagement to co-star SusanPeters because, at 51, he seemed too old for the 21-year-old actress(off screen, Colman's wife, Benita Hume, was 15 years younger than he).They did not complain about his playing husband to Greer Garson, who was 13years younger, but later that year, gossip columnists had a field day whenGarson married actor Richard Ney, nine years her junior. It didn't helpthat Ney had just played her adult son in Mrs. Miniver.

FUN QUOTES FROM RANDOM HARVEST (1942)

"I don't even know who I am."
"Well, I know who you are. You're someone awfully nice." -- Ronald Colman,who has taken the name John Smith, confesses his plight to Greer Garson asPaula.

"Look here, Smithy. You don't mind if I call you Smithy, do you? Now, howare you ever going to get better if you're not happy?" -- Garson as Paula,counseling Colman as John Smith.

"I'm -- all right. It's my speech. I can't -- remember. I'm not like theothers. I'm not like them. I'm all right. But I -- I can't go back. I-- I'll never come out; I'll -- I'll be like the others." -- Colman as JohnSmith, finally facing the truth of his situation as an amnesiac.

"Paula, it's -- it's a lot of nerve, but -- I'm -- I've fallen in love withyou. I'm asking you to marry me, on a -- on a check for two guineas."
"Smithy, don't ask me, please. I might take you up on it. I'm just thatshameless. I've run after you from the very beginning; you know I have.I've never let you out of my sight since I first saw you in that littleshop." -- Colman as Smithy, proposing to Greer Garson as Paula.

"Never leave me out of your sight -- never again. My life began with you.I can't imagine the future without you." -- Colman completing hisproposal.

"1920. Three years gone. Three years. France -- I remember distinctly.But after that -- what after that? Liverpool -- what am I doing here?Where have I been? Better go home. Yes -- may clear things up. Better gohome -- ." -- Colman getting back the memory that he's Charles Rainier, butforgetting the wife and child he had as Smithy.

"Sometimes, especially when we've been closest, I've had the curiousfeeling that I remind you of someone else - someone you once knew...someoneyou loved as you'll never love me. I am nearly the one, Charles. But nearlyisn't enough for a lifetime." -- Susan Peters as Kitty, breaking herengagement with Colman.

"You and I are in the same boat, Miss Hanson; we're both --ghost-ridden....We are prisoners of our past. What if we were to pool ourloneliness, and give each other what little we have to give -- support,friendship? I'm proposing marriage, Miss Hanson, or -- should I call it amerger? A Member of Parliament should have a wife, Margaret; so I'm toldon all sides. He needs a clever hostess; you have exceptional gifts.Would it interest you to have a wider field for them? You need have nofear that -- I would make any -- emotional demands upon you. I have only-- sincere friendship -- to offer. I won't ask any more from you." --Colman as Rainier, proposing to Garson, now calling herself Margaret, notrealizing they're already married.

"Isn't there something morbid in burying one's heart with the dead?"
"That's a strange thing for you to say. Your capacity for loving, your joyin living, is buried in a little space of time you've forgotten."
"In some vague way, I still have -- "
"-- hope?"
"Yes, I suppose that's it."
"Have you, Charles? Do you feel that there -- really is someone? Thatsomeday you may find her? You may have -- come so near her, may even havebrushed her on the street....You might even have met her, Charles. Met herand not known her. It might be someone you know, Charles. It might -- itmight even be me." -- Colman and Garson, considering their links tothe past.

Compiled by Frank Miller

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teaser Random Harvest (1942)

James Hilton published Random Harvest in 1941. Like his earlierbooks Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Lost Horizon, it became arunaway best seller.

Hilton took the title from a British war report: "According to aBritish Official Report, bombs fell at random." He motivated theconnection by naming the protagonist's family manor RandomHall.

MGM bought the rights to Hilton's novel for $50,000 the year it cameout, thinking it might be a good vehicle for contract star SpencerTracy.

After notable hits in the '30s -- including the first Bulldog Drummondfilm (1929), A Tale of Two Cities (1935), Lost Horizon (1937)and The Light That Failed (1939) -- Ronald Colman's career hadfaltered when his first two films of the '40s, Lucky Partners (1940)and My Life With Caroline (1941), fared poorly with fans andcritics. Now in his '50s, Colman feared his career was drawing to a closeuntil he scored a hit with George Stevens' The Talk of the Town(1942). The film put him back on the radar and encouraged MGM to cast himin his most popular film of the decade, Random Harvest. It was hisfirst MGM film since A Tale of Two Cities seven yearsearlier.

When Colman's services became available after the success of Talk ofthe Town, MGM dropped plans to star Tracy in Random Harvest andrushed to sign Colman instead.

Colman's life paralleled the character's in many ways. Both had grownup in the same part of England. Both had served in World War I and beenreleased with medical discharges (Rainier, a shellshock victim; Colman with a shatteredankle). Both had faced postwar life with a degree of alienation and asense of loss and had overcome those feelings through artistic work:Charles as a writer; Colman as an actor.Colman had been one of Greer Garson's idols when she was a young girl. She was delighted with the chance to finally work with him.

Both Colman and Garson had scored hits in earlier adaptations ofHilton's works: Colman in Lost Horizon (1937) and Garson in Goodbye,Mr. Chips (1939), which made her an overnight sensation in her firstAmerican film.

The other plum role in the film was Colman's fianc Kitty. LeRoycast young Susan Peters, hoping he could mentor her to stardom as he haddone with Loretta Young, Ginger Rogers and, most notably, Lana Turner.Although she would turn in a fine performance and win an Oscar®nomination, her career would be cut short a few years later when she wasparalyzed in a hunting accident. She played a few roles in a wheelchair --including the title heroine of Miss Susan (1951), a televisionseries about a lawyer detective that preceded Raymond Burr'swheelchair-bound Ironside by almost two decades. -- before she diedin 1952 at the age of 31. Some observers suggested she had died of abroken heart.

Shortly after Franklin signed Peters for the role, MGM hired a youngAustralian actress named Ann Richards, who looked enough like Garson tohave been her younger sister. Since Kitty's resemblance to Paula was a keyplot point, Franklin told Richards that he should have waited and cast her,but he wasn't going to go back on his agreement with Peters. Instead, hecast Richards as another family member. She and Colman felt like familyanyway; she had gone to school in Australia with his brother, Eric's,children.

The Production Code Administration demanded certain changes in thenovel to make it acceptable for filming. In particular, they demanded thatRainier's first wife be omitted so the character would not be a bigamist,however unwittingly, and that there be no indication that he and Paula hadintimate relations before their first marriage.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Random Harvest (1942)

Random Harvest went into production on April 21, 1942.

Like most Hollywood films of the era, it was shot entirely on a studiobacklot, where designers and technicians created their own versions of thestreets of Liverpool, London's Waterloo Station and the cottage where Paulaand Smith found happiness.

For the picnic scene in which Smithy proposes to Paula, Garson wantedto ride her own bicycle, but for authenticity's sake, the art departmentfound her a vintage 1918 vehicle. When production finished LeRoy gave hera new bike, which she gleefully rode through the streets of Beverly Hillsto the astonishment of tourists.

Both Colman and Garson made suggestions on improving the script, thoughthey never did so on set. Instead, they would either meet privately withLeRoy or send notes to him and Franklin. Garson's notes were so extensiveand helpful, the producer jokingly offered her an office in thewriters' building.

When the writers had trouble coming up with a scene to show Paula onstage (the book only mentioned the title of a patriotic play she wasperforming in), Garson suggested singing the Harry Lauder standard "She M'Daisy" in a short kilt. Franklin and studio head Louis B. Mayer hesitated,concerned that the show of leg would hurt her image as the perfect lady.They even tried kilts in three different lengths, finally choosing amedium-length one that wouldn't show too much leg.

Garson rehearsed the number with choreographers Ernst and Marie Matrayfor three weeks before shooting it on April 27, 1942, in front of anaudience of 200 extras. She was nervous until the extras started whistlingat her legs. That put her at ease, and she performed like a seasonedvaudeville trooper. At the end of the number, the extras burst into aspontaneous chorus of "For She's a Jolly Good Fellow." Studio acting coachLillian Burns, who witnessed the performance, said that it was the kind ofwork Garson had always wanted to do. The dramatic star would have beenmuch happier, Burns said, doing musicals. Franklin sent her a telegramreading, "I was simply delighted with our Scottish number and yourperformance was beyond what I thought possible. I think it will add greatcolor to the picture and great warmth will be given to the character ofPaula."

Despite their fondness for director Mervyn LeRoy and each other, Garsonand Colman did little socializing on the set. They spent time betweenshots in their dressing rooms, working on the script or justrelaxing.

The person Garson spent the most time with on set was cameraman JosephRuttenberg, who was her favorite photographer. She appreciated his using awoman's stocking over the lens to soften and glamorize her features. Inaddition, he quickly realized that she looked best shot from the right andmade sure the sets were constructed so he could favor thatside.

Production finished on May 8, 1942, with the film's final scene at thecottage gate where Charles finally remembers his lost years with Paula.When they finished shooting, the usually reticent Colman said, "This is onepicture I hate to finish!"

James Hilton was so impressed with the film that he offered to recordthe opening narration.

The film's final budget was $2 million, large for a film at that time,but every penny of it shows up on screen.

The film's tag line: "He had found love -- lost it -- and now hadfound it again!"

Random Harvest was a hit from the moment it premiered onDecember 17, 1942. With a 12-week continuous run, it set a house record asthe Radio City Music Hall's longest-running film to date. Demand fortickets was so great, they had to open the box office at 7:45 a.m. eachmorning. The theatre's manager told LeRoy it could easily have playedanother 12 weeks, but MGM's parent company -- Loew's, Inc. -- pulled it toplay in their own theatres.

Random Harvest was the fifth in an amazing string of seven hitsMervyn LeRoy had directed since returning to the director's chair after atwo-year hiatus to produce. His other hits from the period includeBlossoms in the Dust (1941) and Madame Curie (1943), bothwith Garson, Johnny Eager (1942), and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944).

by Frank Miller

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teaser Random Harvest (1942)

Awards and Honors

Random Harvest brought in $4.5 million on its initial release, aprofit of $2.5 million for MGM. It ranked fifth among the year's topmoneymakers, behind Bambi, Mrs. Miniver, Casablancaand Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The National Board of Review named Greer Garson (for RandomHarvest and Mrs. Miniver) and Susan Peters among the best actorsof the year. At the time, they did not give competitive actingawards.

Random Harvest was nominated for seven Academy Awards®:,though it failed to win anything. Its main competition was another MGMhit, Mrs. Miniver, which beat it for Best Picture, Best Director andBest Screenplay. In addition, Susan Peters lost Best Supporting Actress tothat film's Teresa Wright. Colman lost Best Actor to James Cagney inYankee Doodle Dandy, while the film lost Best Art Direction toanother wartime drama, This Above All, and Best Score to Now,Voyager.

In the screenwriting category, the writers of Random Harvest were running against themselves. Claudine West, George Froeschel and Arthur Wimperis were alsonominated for Mrs. Miniver, along with Random Harvest authorJames Hilton.

Sidney Franklin won the Irving G. Thalberg for his work as producer onboth of his 1942 releases, this film and Mrs. Miniver.

Garson's failure to receive an Oscar® nomination for her acclaimedperformance in Random Harvest would have created an uproar in anyother year, but in 1942 her performance was overshadowed by her work in thepro-British flag-waver Mrs. Miniver, which brought her theOscar® as Best Actress.

Director Mervyn LeRoy never won a competitive Oscar®. In fact,Random Harvest brought him his only nomination for Best Director.He would win the Academy®'s honorary Irving G. Thalberg Award in1976.

The Critics' Corner on RANDOM HARVEST

"One of the truly fine motion pictures of this or any other year...anemotional experience of rare quality. Rave press notices cannot fail togreet the excellence of its production, direction, performances andcraftsmanship, for there can be no fault to find with any phase of thegreat, enduring love story it stirringly brings to life." -- TheHollywood Reporter.

"Miss Garson, more charming and seductive than ever, is an importantmainstay of the picture. Essaying a highly sympathetic role, sheovershadows Colman and places the film in the laps of the women togetherwith their moist handkerchiefs." - Variety.

Random Harvest...is distinguished by (1) a moving love story, (2) the unveiling of Miss Garson's interesting legs." - Time.

"I would like also to recommend Random Harvest to those who can stayinterested in Ronald Colman's amnesia for two hours and who could withpleasure eat a bowl of Yardley's shaving cream for breakfast...." -- JamesAgee, The Nation.

"Given Metro's usual glossy treatment and packed with familiar faces insupporting roles, Random Harvest offers many delightful surprises(Garson dancing in a miniskirt, for one) and fantastic plot twists whileproviding enough hanky action to break even the meanest cynic." - Luisa F.Ribeiro, Baltimore City Paper.

"The only reason to see this twaddle is the better to savor the memory of the Carol Burnett-Harvey Korman parody, which also was shorter. Mervyn LeRoy, who directed many a big clinker, also gets the blame for this one." - Pauline Kael (5001 Nights at the Movies).

Compiled by Frank Miller

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teaser Random Harvest (1942)

In Random Harvest (1942), MGM's top female star, Greer Garson, continued two important partnerships. It marked her second film adapted from a James Hilton novel after she made her U.S. film debut in the screen version of his Goodbye, Mr. Chips in 1939. And it was also the second of ten films she would make with cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg. She was so impressed with his work on the same year's Mrs. Miniver - for which both won Academy Awards - that she insisted he photograph all of her subsequent films at MGM. In her opinion, he was the only cameraman on the lot who shot her to maximum effect. Throughout filming of Random Harvest, they shared a subtle sign language, as he coached her to lift her head to just the right angle for the camera. Clearly it worked, as Garson is at her most ravishing as the musical-hall singer who sacrifices everything for her husband.

Spurred by the success of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, MGM bought the rights to Hilton's Random Harvest in 1940, as soon as the book appeared. Initially, however, it was planned as a vehicle for Spencer Tracy. When producer Sidney Franklin and director Mervyn LeRoy learned that Ronald Colman was available, however, they jumped at the chance to sign him for the picture. His image of British sincerity was perfect for the role of a shell-shocked World War I veteran who marries while suffering from amnesia, then recovers his memory only to forget the wife he adores. With two bona fide Brits in the cast, LeRoy could boast that "the English Language was never spoken more beautifully on film."

The film marked a major career boost for Colman, who had been in the doldrums after two early '40s films, Lucky Partners (1940) and My Life with Caroline (1941), had languished at the box office. He had just starred in the popular comedy, The Talk of the Town (1942), withCary Grant and Jean Arthur, and Random Harvest cemented his comeback with what critics were hailing as his best performance ever.

Also scoring mightily in the film was young Susan Peters, an MGM starlet cast as the distant relative who almost marries Colman after his memory returns. Her scene when she realizes there was another woman in his life during his lost years, won raves. Sadly, she lost the chance to build on her success when a hunting accident severed her spinal cord, putting her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Eventually she found a few roles, including the wheelchair-bound TV sleuth Miss Susan (1951), in a series that aired almost two decades before Raymond Burr starred as Ironside.

Like most Hollywood films of the '40s, Random Harvest was shot entirely at the studio, where technicians turned MGM's stock English village into a facsimile for Medbury, the small town where Colman and Garson build their life together after he's first lost his memory. They also had to make some minor script changes to please the Production Code Administration, Hollywood's self-censorship organization. In particular, they had to avoid any suggestion that Colman and Garson were intimate before their marriage and eliminate his character's first wife, which would have made him a bigamist. Despite the changes, however, Hilton was so thrilled with the film that he agreed to record the opening narration himself.

Random Harvest was a major box-office hit, bringing in $4.5 million on a $2 million investment, and breaking attendance records at the Radio City Music Hall, where it premiered. Audiences during the desperate first days of World War II were drawn to its story of the effects of war on the home front and its affirmation of the importance of love and family life. The picture scored seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Colman) and Best Supporting Actress (Peters). Although it didn't win anything on Oscar night (Garson's earlier release, Mrs. Miniver, was the big winner that year), it remains one of the screen's most glowingly romantic films.

Producer: Sidney Franklin
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Screenplay: Claudine West, George Froeschel & Arthur Wimperis
Based on the novel by James Hilton
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons.
Music: Herbert Stothart
Principal Cast: Ronald Colman (Charles Ranier), Greer Garson (Paula), Philip Dorn (Dr. Jonathan Benet), Susan Peters (Kitty), Reginald Owen ("Biffer"), Edmund Gwenn (Prime Minister), Henry Travers (Dr. Sims), Margaret Wycherly (Mrs. Deventer.
BW-127m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller

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