Review: Random Harvest (1942)

We begin our classics series with Random Harvest, the 1942 Oscar-nominated black and white film starring Greer Garson and Ronald Colman. Set during the years after the end of World War One, Random Harvest is a sentimental, tear-jerker movie which delivers shocks and heartbreak aplenty.

Shellshock and amnesia victim John Smith (Ronald Colman) escapes from the asylum in which he has been recovering on the night World War One ends, after suffering terrible injuries in combat. Showgirl Paula (Greer Garson) takes pity on a disorientated and near-mute ‘Smithy’ and almost instantly falls in love with him. After a remarkable recovery, the two decide to marry and seem to live the perfect life together with their newborn son and a promising writing career ahead for ‘Smithy’. After a call to Liverpool for a permanent post at a newspaper, ‘Smithy’ travels up north and is caught in a shocking road accident which brings his life before the war hurtling back. John Smith becomes Charles Rainier, an industrial businessman with a fortune.  And that’s just the start of it.

Charles Rainier’s and Paula’s (now Margaret) lives continue to spin along and meet once again (for reasons which I shan’t reveal) and reach a conclusion which will surely have the hardest of hearts reaching for a box of tissues.

Perhaps overshadowed by Garson’s other film Mrs Miniver released the same year (which was a winner of six Academy Awards including Best Actress and Best Picture), Random Harvest still earned a healthy seven nominations including Best Director for Mervyn LeRoy. The film is an emotional spectacle with twists and shocks-aplenty, perfect for those unused to the genre of Classic Hollywood or reluctant to watch a black and white film (how very dare you!). Greer Garson’s staggering beauty and Ronald Colman’s appealing vulnerability and emotional journey throughout the piece capture the sentimentality and dogged hope of a mid-Second World War period.

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