You guys… Random Harvest. I mean, I know it’s preposterous and completely impossible, but come on! It’s so good! You may see it listed as a ‘drama’ or maybe a ‘romance,’ but this, my friends, is a tearjerker. A good old-fashioned two-hankie affair that will break your heart in a million places and then fill it back up again.
We begin in a mental hospital at the end of World War I. Ronald Colman, whose gently mussed hair and slight stammer tell us he’s in Great Emotional Pain, is a patient named “Smith” who suffered a head injury in the trenches and has lost his memory.
In the nearby town, Greer Garson is a singer/showgirl who wears the most adorable little shorty kilt onstage and has a knack for making wayward amnesiacs feel good about themselves. She meets Colman in the street during the armistice celebration, calls him Smithy, and takes him in when he collapses with fever. When he recovers she leaves her troupe and the two of them head to a storybook cottage in the countryside, “the end of the world, lonely and lovely” so he can regain his strength.
A modern viewer will undoubtedly raise an eyebrow at her willingness to give up her entire career and way of life for a guy she’s known five minutes. Maybe that was expected of a woman in 1918? Or, more importantly, in 1942 when the film was made? Never mind. She gives up her whole life for him. It will not be the last time.
In the country, their happiness blooms like the soundstage cherry trees beside their white picket fence. They’re in love, and they build a lovely life together. He starts earning money by writing (adding to the fairytale aspect of things) and even though he hasn’t recovered his memory, everything is lovely. Until, well, it isn’t.
Colman is in an accident, and the knock on his head knocks his memory back. His original, pre-war memory. And while in another movie this might be cause for some celebration, it also knocks all memory of his life with Garson away. Heartbreak! Grab that hankie now, because he remembers his name, and it isn’t Smithy.
Colman goes back to his old life, which includes a family manor (Random Hall), a family business (making lots of money), and Kitty (Susan Peters) a niece-by-marriage who goes from fifteen to twenty-two while crushing hard on him. Maybe it isn’t supposed to be icky because she isn’t really his niece, but it is. Because she’s twenty-two and he’s fiftyish and I know, but really.
In any case, watching her grow up we see that seven years have passed. Seven years with no Greer Garson. The only hint Colman has of his missing years is the key to their humble cottage, which he carries with him always. Clueless.
And then…THEN… we have a scene where Colman the businessman sits contemplative in his office. His secretary enters, and yes! It’s her! Greer Garson has found him and is working as his secretary! There’s no dialogue for a moment because everyone in the theater must have been losing their minds. Greer!! Sitting there serenely and calling him “Mr. Rainier” while he has no idea he used to love her! I can’t take it.
The look on her face as she watches him tells us everything we need to know about her. She still totally loves him. Once again she’s given up everything to be near him. And then the look on her face when he says he’s marrying the youngster Kitty – I can’t even.
I won’t say more. I won’t. You have to watch this movie. If you’re the type who believes in destiny and ‘the one,’ you’ll be delirious. If you’re not (and I’m not) you’ll wish, just briefly, that you were. And although good taste and my lawyers prohibit me from endorsing a strategy of hitting your lover over the head to get him to snap out of it and remember you, you will be tempted. God knows I have been.
Check out the frothy frothy lace Garson wears at collars and cuffs when she first meets Colman. So soft and feminine. Then her whole look changes to sleek sophistication when she becomes his long-faithful secretary.
Garson and Colman have two of the poshest voices ever to be recorded on film. I could just go on listening.
They made a lot of movies back then. This came out the same year as Mrs. Miniver, probably Greer Garson’s definitive role, for which she won the Oscar. Consider yourself encouraged to go watch that next. And bring another hankie.