In Random Harvest Ronald Colman plays a soldier with amnesia. On a foggy night, he breaks out of the asylum where people are celebrating the end of WWI in the streets. He stumbles around for a while until he meets Paula (Greer Garson), a girl who sings and dances at a club who befriends him. She calls him Smithy, takes him in like a stray puppy and Nightingale syndrome settles upon her. Against better judgments that people with amnesia can become violent, Paula runs off with Smithy and they get married. Everything is so ideally romantic, a tree is flowering in front of their new house as they stand fresh as daisies in their wedding clothes and a baby is born probably nine months to the day later. Smithy is about to get a job as a full time writer and all their worries will be at an end. He just needs to make a little weekend trip into the city, cross that busy street and–oh no! He’s been hit by a car and can suddenly remember everything before the war, but nothing of his new life.
So Smithy (who’s real name is Charles Rainier) goes back to his family, inherits his father’s house and runs the family business. Years later he hires Paula as his secretary, with no memory of their marriage. Throughout her employment with Smithy, she tries to bring back their old life together and they grow closer.
The film explores what the same person is likely to do in different circumstances. This case is quite fascinating. As a man with no past memory, Smithy becomes a writer and a passionate family man. Later, as a business man he hires his wife and absently says that he always wanted to write. I guess it’s always the same person, just not aware of each side.
Ronald Colman was nominated for lead actor for pretending to be oblivious. In his complete amnesia, Colman plays Smithy like a helpless kitten, quiet and unsure of nearly everything. It isn’t until he’s married that he can strut around with confidence,by then he’s built a life. Later, when we’re waiting for him to remember his married life, it seems like he’s just about to make that big connection. His eyes stare, the gears in his head are on the verge of grinding and then something keeps him in the present. The anticipation can kill us.
The visual imagery is key to this film. Pay special attention to the blossoming tree, the foggy town, the beaded necklace, they’re all clues that come back to haunt you. The only film I’ve seen to do this better is Hitchcock’s Vertigo, but here the reliance for those images isn’t as heavy. I wonder now if Random Harvest was an inspiration for Vertigo.
All in all, I enjoyed this film. There were some moments that felt a little stale but it never stayed very long. Though I was able to predict the ultimate outcome, I enjoyed the ride and was hanging on every long mind churning stare Ronald Colman could push out. Random Harvest is a love story, an amnesia story, a woman’s quest to win her oblivious man story.