Random Harvest (1942)

Memories based on everyday and momentous experiences form the basis of human development and identity. Their formation and foundation can create an environment of empowerment and growth of knowledge. Conversely, their presence can sometimes traumatize and significantly regress one’s path to self-actualization. The wish to eradicate some painful memories has been held by all at some instance. However, I could not fathom anyone yearning to erase joyful recollections imprinted for years in their brains. Some individuals living with neurocognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, are robbed of the grandest and most beautiful memories with no mercy. Random Harvest is a 1942 drama-romance film directed by Mervyn LeRoy which explores the potentially devastating effects of memory loss on individual identity and surrounding relationships.

“John Smith” (Ronald Colman) has been hospitalized at Melbridge County Asylum for over a year following his harrowing experiences on the battlefield of WWI. His diagnosis would fit with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but he has dissociated from the raw emotions of his experiences to the point where he cannot remember his own identity. While wandering away from the psychiatric facility on the night of WWI’s end, he meets Paula Ridgeway (Greer Garson) in the town of Melbridge. She is a local actress and dancer who empathizes with “Smithy” to the point of finding a home in the countryside to escape authorities and unwitting family members. As in many classic films, the two rapidly fall in love and marry. Smithy’s newly discovered writing talent blossoms into a job proposal, but a head injury inflicted via automobile accident allows Smithy to remember and slide into his previous life as the wealthy Charles Rainier. Paula is inevitably obliterated from his memory with few reminders of her once great impact. Themes of abandonment, jealousy, anger, detachment, frustration, and never-ending hope engross the remaining intertwining journey of our lead characters. This leads to an ultimate tear-jerking finale which will melt even the coldest, steel-engulfed hearts.

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“Random Harvest” is an interesting and multi-faceted title for this film. Paula and Smithy meet during the typical harvest season (Autumn) randomly it seems in a tobacco shop. The estate to which Charles Rainier and his siblings are entitled is called “Random Hall”. Separately, these words and their place in the film could definitely account for its title. However, the definition of the word “harvest” lends to growth and cultivation, which is what led to Paula and Smithy’s glorious bond and millions of other relationships. As well, the two were randomly brought together, and their relationship was randomly taken away. Hence, their growing interconnected maturation was inadvertently interrupted for varying reasons. Others may beg to differ, citing that no event or association is truly random. Regardless, the atrocity of the events occurring in these characters’ lives is incomprehensible, and we greatly empathize with them.

These drastic impediments yet intermittent delights in the film create a harrowing atmosphere leading viewers to the edge of their seats, fabricating major peaks and valleys of emotion. Our own fears and relatedness to memory heightens the concern and sentimentality in the film. We feel overwhelmed, frightened yet optimistic for the characters’ resolutions. Overall, I feel that “tear-jerker” is an understatement for this beautiful film.

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I do not own the photos in this post. As well, this post is a part of the “No, YOU’RE Crying” Blogathon hosted by Moon In Gemini! Please check out the other posts related to tear-jerker films over the coming days!

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12 thoughts on “Random Harvest (1942)

    • Thank you for your kind words! This was one of the first movies that got me interested in classic film, so it is a special film for me. Mom and I watched it together, and we were just blubbering messes by the end!

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  1. This is such a moving film. I love the growing relationship between Smithy and Paula. This is all about love and devotion during the bad times as well as the good. Garson and Colman are excellent in this. The ending gets me every time. Good choice for this blogathon.

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  2. Pingback: The “No, YOU’RE Crying” Blogathon – Day 1 Recap – MOON IN GEMINI

  3. I’ve only seen this film once and I can not bring myself to watch it again. It’s because Ronald Colman and Greer Garson have created such lovely characters, I can’t stand that they were so cruelly separated. For the last half of the movie I kept saying, out loud, “Here’s your chance! Just tell him!!”

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this film. I really enjoyed your review. 🙂

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    • Thanks! It was difficult re-watching this film for the blogathon for that very reason. I really hated Kitty the first time I watched it, but now I realize that she was oblivious to the whole situation. Paula/Margaret was just so patient the whole time, and it was frustrating to watch. However, I knew I just had to pick this film for this blogathon!

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  4. Oh, this movie… I love it so, so much even though it can be so, so hard to watch. Colman and Garson are absolute perfection — it’s a real masterclass in acting. This was a wonderfully written tribute to a beautiful film.

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    • Thanks so much! It is such a masterclass in acting and is difficult to watch at times. I believe this was the same year that Greer Garson won for Mrs. Miniver (another brilliant film) which made her ineligible to be nominated for this film.

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  5. This is one of my mom’s favorite films, so it has a special place in my heart. I think this is the first film I ever saw with Ronald Colman in it. He and Greer Garson have such a lovely chemistry here.

    Thanks so much for contributing to the blogathon!

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    • Gone With The Wind was one of my grandfather’s favourite books (not sure if he did see the movie), but it is special to me for that reason. Random Harvest is one of the first classic films I ever saw, and it really sparked my interest and love in classic film 🙂 It was such a wonderful blogathon!

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