Sunday, January 17, 2016
(December 1942, U.S.)
Hey, it looks like I'm finally out of the '80s! Seriously, for just over a month now, from RAGING BULL to RAN, every film I've posted has been from the 1980s. Well, now I can finally get back to a good 'ol black and white classic from the Golden Age of cinema (which exact decade that actually was has always been a debatable point, but for my own tastes, I tend to go with the 1940s). RANDOM HARVEST is one of those classic love stories that's been shown on Turner Classic Movies many times, though I never had the opportunity to give it a look. What finally peaked my interest was reading one of those many "best films" books written by countless film critics and historians (sorry - I just can't recall the book or the author at this time - I've read that many!). Anyway, for the period of the 1940s, this author painted such a wonderful, intriguing picture of RANDOM HARVEST, that I simply couldn't resist satisfying my curiosity. The result was I saw it, I loved it, I bought the DVD and here we are today!
The film is rather unique not only in its tale of undying, uncompromising love, but also its relationship to amnesia and its ultimate effects and consequences. When we meet World War I British officer "John Smith" (played by Ronald Colman), he's a man committed to an asylum from the shell shock effects of battle in the trenches. He's a lost man with no memory of his past and is also struggling with his speech. At the war's end, the jubilation in the nearby streets allows him to simply slip out of the asylum (dressed in full military uniform) without being stopped. In town, he is befriended by the sympathetic (and blissfully happy) cabaret singer Paula (played by Greer Garson). She guesses that he's from the asylum but as he seems to be harmless, she arranges for him to join her travelling theatrical group. Instead of that, though, the two of them end up running off together and inevitably find solitude in a secluded country village, where they fall in love, marry and have a baby. Sounds like the happy ending to it all, doesn't it? Not quite. This is where things are about to twist and get seriously complicated. On one fateful day in November, during a brief trip to Liverpool on a rainy day, John Smith or "Smithy", as Paula calls him, is struck by a car and manages to miraculously retain his past memory and past life before his stay at the asylum. No longer John Smith, Charles Rainier, a rich industrialist of high end social status, no longer has any memory or knowledge of his life of love and happiness with Paula. Perhaps this doesn't sound so spectacularly interesting to many of my readers, but one needs to take a moment and seriously consider the ironic implications of a simple man unknowingly experiencing two lives and all the people that are involved it them. From here on, the film appears to move forward by showing us not only Charles' recovery, but also his possible future as not only a man of purpose and importance in his business and community, but also a man who will have a future with another woman (a woman less than half his age, I might add!). As we watch his progression over the years, we're likely meant to almost completely forget Paula's existence in his life and in the film. Suddenly, though, out of the blue, we're introduced (years later) to Charles' highly efficient and devoted secretary Margaret, who is actually...(guessed it yet?)...Paula, who managed to track down her long lost mysterious husband and is posing as his secretary with the hope that her daily presence in his life will somehow and someday spark the necessary memory in his rather messed up brain to finally reunite them in the blissful happiness and love they once shared together. Well, what can I say...cliché and predictability demand that these two lost lovers find each other again by the end of the film. They do, and despite our best and hardest resistance, we can't help but fall into a mushy sort of heartfelt swoon when it finally does happen in front of the country cottage they once shared together and she cries, "Smithy!" and he cries "Paula!". When they rush into each other's arms and the camera focuses on Garson joyous face looking up at the sky, thanking her almighty stars that she has her man back again, I defy you not to feel a sort of sappy, sentimental "Awwwwww!" You see, this is what real, true love (not to be confused with silly romantic comedy love!) does not only to a film, but to the viewer that allows themselves to be swept away by it.
Love stories are relatively simple screen products, in my opinion. You either go for them or you don't. With RANDOM HARVEST, you have to ask yourself if you're willing to stay interested in a man's amnesia for two hours. It's a challenging notion, yet Ronald Colman's performance manages to pull it off in that you continue to ask yourself what may or may not happen next in his life, particularly when Paula shows up again. I won't actually call it suspense, but it can keep you guessing. The film can be emotionally excessive at times, but then again, isn't all true love in the movies excessive to a degree? The wonderfully charming performances of Colman and Garson make up for that and in the end, the viewer can't help but get the feeling they've been under a pleasant magic spell in front of the screen. Sometimes that spell is just what we need for two hours of our lives. That, my friends, is what movies can do to us...if we let them!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Smithy: "Isn't there something morbid in burying one's heart with the dead?"
Paula: "That's a strange thing for you to say. Your capacity for loving, your joy in living, is buried in a little space of time you've forgotten."
Smithy: "In some vague way, I still have..."
Smithy: "Yes, I suppose that's it."
Paula: "Have you, Charles? Do you feel that there...really is someone? That someday you may find her? You may have...come so near her, may even have brushed her on the street. You might even have met her, Charles. Met her and not known her. It might be someone you know, Charles. It might...it might even be me."