Random Harvest

From Academic Kids

Random Harvest is a 1942 film in which a man loses his memory after being traumatized by his experiences in World War I. He begins a new life, then suddenly regains his memory and tries to pick up his old life, having no recollection of his "new" life. It stars Ronald Colman, Greer Garson, Philip Dorn, Susan Peters, Henry Travers and Reginald Owen.

Missing image
1949 paperback edition
The movie was directed by Marvyn LeRoy and adapted by Claudine West, George Froeschel and Arthur Wimperis from the novel by James Hilton. The novel was first published in 1941 and has rarely been out of print since. The movie departs from the book's narrative in one very important way, but it could not have been filmed as written. (See plot outline below.)

The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Ronald Colman), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Susan Peters), Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White, Best Director, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay.

Film Plot

The film opens during the closing days of World War I. "John Smith" is a solider who was gassed and shellshocked in the trenches and is at an English hospital. He has lost his memory, and is bitterly disappointed when a couple looking for their missing son says he is not theirs. When the war ends, jubiliation reigns in Melbridge, the town near the hospital, and the gatekeepers abandon their posts to celebrate. Out for an evening walk in the foggy grounds, Smith simply wanders off.

In town he is befriended by Paula, a kindly showgirl, who takes him under her wing. After she discovers he has left the hospital, but is perfectly fine except for his memory loss, she realizes he will never get well surrounded by impersonal surroundings at "the asylum." She arranges for him to join her travelling theatrical group. After an incident that could result in his being returned to the hospital, Paula takes Smith away to a secluded country village where they marry and set up house. He discovers a literary talent and takes to writing stories for a living and they share a blissful existence together.

Smith gets an offer from a newspaper in Liverpool to come for an interview and he leaves his wife, Paula (pregnant at the time) for the day trip into the city.

In Liverpool "Smithy" is struck by a taxi while crossing the street. He awakens in a chemists shop, and is astonished to learn that he has lost three years of his life. To him, he is still in France and the war is still raging. He now remembers who he was, but has no recollection of Paula and the idyllic life he shared with her. "Smith" is in fact Charles Rainier, son of a wealthy businessman. He returns home to learn of his father's death, and takes his place in the household again. His siblings are amazed, and some not all that pleased, since he inherits a goodly portion of his late father's estate.

Charles yearns for a life of scholarship, but the family's business needs him and he puts off his own desires to rescue the family fortune. He toys with the idea of returning to university to resume his studies which were interrupted by the war, but doesn't make it back. One of those who welcome him home is Kitty, step-daughter of one of Charles' siblings. As the years pass she becomes infatuated with her "uncle."

During those years, Paula has conducted an unsuccessful search for Smithy. Losing her son in infancy, Paula returns to the business world as a secretary. One day she sees a photo of Smithy in a newspaper, touting his accomplishments as Charles Rainier, the "Industrial Prince of England". She manages to obtain a position as his assistant, hoping he will recognize her. But he doesn't.

Years pass and Charles and Kitty become engaged. Paula, now known as "Margaret," ("Paula" having been her stage name), has her marriage dissolved so Charles can marry Kitty without any furture legal problems. She still had hopes he would remember their love and life together.

While settling on details for their marriage, a hymm that he and Kitty are picking out triggers a vague memory and Kitty realizes that Charles still has an uneasiness towards their union. She breaks off the engagement and goes away.

When she hears Charles is in Liverpool, trying to piece together his lost years, Margaret goes to join him. But the quest fails and Charles abandons hope he will ever regain those years. Charles is then approached to stand for Parliament. After his triumphant election, in which Margaret assisted him, he feels the need for a wife in his new role. He proposes to Margaret, more as a business proposition than a romantic one. She accepts, still hoping to jar his memory of "Smithy".

Charles and Margaret become an ideal couple. She is the perfect wife and society hostess. They sometimes discuss his lost years, since it is obvious that he still feels an emptiness inside. She recounts her own past love, whom she has lost. Charles hopes their life together can fill the void they both feel. Mentally exhausted by the stress of hoping Smithy will come back to her, Margaret decides to take an extended vacation abroad by herself. With time to spare before her liner sails, she visits the hamlet she and Smithy lived in one more time.

While Margaret is remembering happier times with Smithy, Charles has to act as mediator in a strike at the Melbridge Cable Works. He succeeds and afterwards he begins to recall certain places and events from his missing years -- it turns out that the town he is in is the same one he was hospitalized in. His returning memory leads him to the shop where he and Paula first met, and eventually to the house he and Paula shared in the country. Margaret, about to leave for the boat train, makes an off-the-cuff remark to someone about the previous inn-keeper, whom she knew when she and Smithy stayed in the inn. She is told someone else had just that morning asked about the same woman. Hoping it was Charles, she goes to the cottage and sees him outside. She calls "Smithy!". He turns, memories flooding back; he cries out "Paula!" and the film ends as they embrace.

Novel Plot

While the film is shot in a linear timeline, the novel bounces back and forth between Smithy and Paula's time and Mrs. & Mrs. Charles Rainier's time. It opens with Charles, years after his memory has been restored. There is much more detail about the "lost years," and there is a major character that does not appear in the movie (Charles' young assistant).

The book is prefaced with this quote: "According to a British Official report, bombs fell at Random." The novel starts in 1937, and is narrated by Charles Rainier's secretary, Mr. Harrison. Charles and Mrs. Rainier ("Helen" in the novel) reside at Stourton, their country manor, where she is the perfect hostess, and a young man named Woburn has been hired to catalogue the family library. One night Charles and Harrison are up late and Charles relates his story from the time he woke up in Liverpool in 1919, having lost two years of his life.

Charles' tale is told in the third person, and relates his return to Staunton, where he learns his father is gravely ill. Told by the doctor that the shock of his return could be fatal to his father, Charles decides to leave his home to lessen the risk to his father, despite the fact that the family lawyer insists on telling the senior Mr. Rainier so he can change his will back and include Charles, who had been assumed dead. Shortly afterwards, Charles receives word that his father has died and returns home. The family gathers to pay their last respects, and included is 14-year old Kitty, step-daughter of Charles' elder sister Jill.

Prompted by the family lawyer, each of the Rainier heirs agrees to give up a portion of their inheritence to Charles, so he may have an equal share. Some do it willingly. Charles, wanting nothing to do with the family business, convinces his lawyer to sell his shares in the company and invest them in government securities. Then he goes off to Cambridge to enjoy a life as a scholar, living off his meager dividends. Under the poor leadership of Charles' older brother Chet, Rainier shares dwindle in worth until Charles has to take control of the company to save it from bankruptcy. He takes a leave from college and throws himself into work. Years pass. Kitty grows up, and Charles never gets back to college. He has saved the family fortune, but at the price of his own dreams. He and Kitty become engaged. But before their wedding, Charles gets a note from Kitty breaking off the engagement, and telling him she is going abroad.

Harrison takes over as narrator again, and relates Charles' tale of throwing himself into work even more after Kitty left. (Kitty marries in Egypt, where she dies shortly thereafter.) War is on the horizon, and Harrison and Rainier spend time together going to music halls and working. On a lark they go see an old-fashioned vaudeville show, and something about it sparks a vague memory in Charles. He starts to remember things, including being in a hospital in Melbury. He and Harrison drive there, where he finds the asylum he was in during the final days of World War I.

The book now picks up Charle's life in the hospital, where he is suffering from memory loss. He is walking in the foggy grounds of the hospital when sirens and church bells start to go off. The war has ended. So he walks away from the hospital while the gatekeepers are celebrating. He goes into Melbury, and enters a tobacconist's shop. The shopkeeper recognises he is from the asylum and goes to report him, but another shopper -- a young woman -- rescues him and they leave the shop. Feeling poorly, "Smith" is helped by Paula to the Owl hotel, where she is staying. He becomes ill and she administers to him. He recovers and takes on odd jobs at the hotel, under the watchful eye of the owner, Biff, who Paula has convinced to protect Smithy from being returned to the hospital. Eventually the hospital finds out he is at the Owl. Paula sends him away in time to the country. A week or so later he goes to a vaudeville show, and is spotted in the audience by Paula, who is performing. She arranges a job with the travelling troup of actors. Paula and Smithy become close during this period. Smith even does some performing. Rushing to the theater one night he gets into a fight with a man in the street. Panicked by that and his fear of performing on stage, Smith leaves the troupe and travels to a small village named Beachings Over. Paula tracks him down. They decide to stay in the small village. When they read in the newspaper about his fight and that the authorities are looking for him, Paula and Smithy move to London, where they are befriended by a kindly parson. Smith and Paula marry and Smith starts to help the parson in his work. The parson knows the editor of a newspaper in Liverpool, and has sent some of Smith's writings to him. Impressed, the editor asks Smith to come and talk with him. Smith arrives in Liverpool, but slips whilst crossing the street in the rain.

Harrision picks up the thread again, as Charles fills him in on the details of the missing years. Charles is now a member of Parliament, but becomes more interested in piecing together his lost years than anything. Harrision helps him, finding out that the parson died in Liverpool shortly after Smith disappeared. Of Paula, there is no trace. Charles goes off to search and Harrison returns to the Rainier home, where he encounters Mrs. Rainier. He outlines what has taken place. She asks Harrision to take her for a drive, to get away from the news of impending war. They wind up in Beachings Over and spot Charles' car. Mrs. Rainier and Harrison find Charles up on a hillside. Mrs. Rainier goes to him, a few words are spoken and readers realize Mrs. Rainier and Paula are the same woman.

The major difference between the two versions is that the reader does not realize that "Mrs. Rainier" and "Paula" are the same woman until the very last page of the book. Of course it could not have been filmed that way, since the actress playing Paula would have to be seen as Mrs. Rainier as well.

Had Greer Garson not been nominated for Best Actress in Mrs. Miniver that same year, she would have been eligible to be nominated for this film.


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