JAN / FEB 2013: BY PATTI GARDNER
Just in time for Valentine’s Day is a romance surpassing all others…a love so deep and strong that its mere subconscious memory finds all future loves inadequate.
Playing out in 1942’s Random Harvest is that kind of love. Based on the James Hilton novel, Random Harvest is a sweet, sentimental, heart-tugger starring Greer Garson and Ronald Colman, with Philip Dorn, Susan Peters, and Henry Travers in supporting roles. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, this lovely film received seven Academy Award nominations.
In November, 1918, in the military wing of an English psychiatric hospital, elderly Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd hope to be reunited with their soldier son. Although warned by the doctor that the amnesiac patient may, in fact, be a total stranger, the Lloyds eagerly anticipate their appointment with him. Alas, all it takes is one look for their hopes to be dashed… though the man has no idea of his identity and, in fact, struggles to even speak, with one glance the elderly couple knows he is not who they hoped he would be; brokenhearted, they exit the meeting room.
Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd are not the only sorrowful ones; the patient—who has no memory of events prior to the 1917 battle in which he was injured—had been hoping he belonged to them. At least then he would know his name… and he would have a home to go to. Now, with his hopes crushed, Smith (as the doctor has dubbed him) has no idea when he will be able to leave the hospital. In normal surroundings, he could probably get well; however, without a family or a place to go, Smith knows there’s not a chance in the world he’ll be discharged.
Disappointed, Smith takes a stroll on the hospital grounds; while he is outside, pandemonium erupts… shouts ring out from every street corner in the nearby town… the war has just ended! In the jubilation which follows, the hospital’s entrance gates are left unmanned, leaving Smith the opportunity to simply wander away. While out and about, he meets lovely Paula Ridgeway (Greer Garson), who sings and dances at a little pub nearby, and the two bond instantly. When Paula discovers that her new friend can’t remember his name and that he’s been called “Smith,” she nicknames him “Smithy” and promptly takes him under her wing.
Though he still has no recollection of the past or his identity, Smithy’s health begins to blossom as he and Paula spend time together. They fall deeply in love and after marrying, settle into life in a quaint little country cottage. In due time, a baby boy joins their family, making their happiness even more complete.
Two years later, in November, 1920, Smithy sets out for Liverpool on a business venture. While in the city, he is involved in an accident…and the resulting trauma triggers his memory. Now, he knows his identity—he is Charles Ranier of Random Hall; however, he now has no recollection of the years since his war injury … in fact, to Charles’ way of thinking, it is 1917 and he is on active duty. Astounded to learn it is, in fact, 1920, Charles/Smithy has no remembrance of where he has been for the past three years, no idea what he has been doing… and no memory of Smithy, or Paula, or the son she bore… no memory of what door the key in his pocket unlocks.
Years go by, and Charles tries to carry on his privileged life. But deep within him is the memory of a love he doesn’t really remember, but which he can’t get out of his mind. Try as he might, he cannot find happiness… he can’t find love. The memory of a real and true love prevents him from finding love with another.
Will Charles/Smithy ever remember Paula? Will they ever get back together? And what about the key Charles has found in his pocket? Will he ever discover what door it unlocks? To find out the answer to those questions, you simply must watch this lovely film. There are no big huge sobs, but do expect some misty-eyed moments as this heart-tugging drama plays out. ■