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Warner Home Video presents
"Your capacity for loving, your joy of living is buried in a little space of time you've forgotten."
DVD ReviewRandom Harvest is the kind of schmaltzy romantic drama your grandmother would love. Prim and proper, rife with repressed emotion and eloquent anguish, this adaptation of James Hilton's classic novel will surely wring tears from the over-60 set—and grudging respect from those much younger. For despite its English reserve and impossibly dignified depiction of true love, Random Harvest remains one of the sweetest and most sincere love stories of Hollywood's Golden Age, and one of MGM's classiest productions.
The crux of its drama, however, is nothing but a hackneyed movie cliché. Say "amnesia," and what comes to mind is a corny plot device, not a substantive theme. Yet director Mervyn LeRoy (I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang) combats that prejudicial notion, at once giving the topic emotional and spiritual weight. As the movie opens, a shell-shocked World War I veteran (Ronald Colman) who suffers from the affliction (and is given the generic name Smith by his doctors) wanders away from the army asylum where he's been trying to piece together his past and remember his identity. At a tiny smoke shop, he meets showgirl Paula Ridgeway (Greer Garson), who sympathizes with his plight, gives him shelter, and helps him get back on his feet. She nicknames him Smithy, and, after a while, the two fall in love and marry.
All goes swimmingly for the couple until Smithy—a fledgling journalist—leaves town to pursue a job opportunity in Liverpool. While crossing a city street, he's hit by a car, and the accident restores his memory. He now recalls everything that occurred before the war—his real name (Charles Rainier), elevated social stature (English lord), and occupation (industrial magnate)—but can't remember a thing that happened afterward, and that includes his time with Paula. Devoid of options, Charles calmly but restlessly resumes his prior existence, even finding romance with his sister's stepdaughter (Susan Peters), but the lost three years haunt him. He constantly fiddles with a mysterious key he finds in his pocket, hoping it might someday unlock the secrets of his past.
The creaky story fits its period setting, and LeRoy's leisurely pacing at times tests patience, but the film's impeccable production values and first-rate performances overshadow any shortcomings. Like many MGM movies of the '40s, style supersedes substance, but a strong emotional thread runs through Random Harvest, keeping us invested in the long-suffering characters. Subtlety was also a rare commodity in those days, but LeRoy resists any melodramatic temptations, and his admirable restraint results in a more credible, touching tale.
Garson was a Louis B. Mayer favorite, and the mogul took immense pride in fashioning a "great lady" image for the actress. With Norma Shearer's star on the wane, Garson inherited her queen-of-the-lot mantle, and the substantive roles that went with it. She won an Oscar for Mrs. Miniver, but in Random Harvest (released the same year), Garson's character strongly resembles the one she played in another Hilton adaptation, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and her warm, natural performance proves just how well the material suits her. Her saintly demeanor and stiff upper lip remain evident, but Garson seems more carefree here, lacking the affectation that would taint her later work. (She even performs a jaunty music hall number in short skirt and tights.) Her genuine affection for Colman, and the lovely rapport they create add resonance to the sappy story, and gloss over any plot holes or inconsistencies. As LeRoy would later remark, "Between the two of them, the English language was never spoken more beautifully on film."
Colman was well into middle age by 1942, but like Cary Grant, he possesses an ageless elegance that allows him to pull off roles better suited to younger men. He proudly flaunts his élan here, and though he strains credulity as a trench soldier, he handles the romantic scenes with a mature tenderness that never compromises his masculinity. As an amnesiac, Colman must tread lightly to avoid caricature, and his quiet strength and distinguished aura help the actor craft an utterly believable portrayal.
Random Harvest may be old-fashioned and maudlin, but Colman and Garson are not, and their excellent work drives the film. It's easy to forget the production received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Actor, Director, Supporting Actress (Susan Peters), Screenplay, Set Decoration, and Musical Score, but such is the nature of amnesia. Thankfully, this DVD jogs our memory, and makes us appreciate Random Harvest anew.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Random Harvest benefits from another winning Warner transfer, featuring a vibrant image, solid clarity, excellent gray scale variance, and terrific contrast. Light grain maintains the film-like feel of this cozy romantic drama, but a lush smoothness predominates, lending the picture a lovely sheen. Blacks are rich and dense, and only a few mild print defects occasionally pop up. A few stretches seem a little murky, but on the whole, this is another superior effort from Warner.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The monaural track also does the film proud. Annoying surface noise is almost entirely absent (save for the faintest possible bit of hiss), leaving the audio crisp and bright throughout. The mellifluous tones of Colman and Garson are always easily understandable, and the syrupy strings of Herbert Stothart's Oscar-nominated score never sound distorted. Considering the picture's advanced age, one couldn't hope for a more full-bodied track.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Mrs. Miniver
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Warner also includes the Lux Radio Theater adaptation of Random Harvest, which aired about a year after the film's premiere. Audio quality is spotty, with some sections nearly unintelligible, but it's a treat just to be able to hear this rare performance, in which Colman and Garson reprise their roles. Director Cecil B. DeMille hosts the one-hour program, which concludes with an "informal" chat with the two stars.
Finally, a Greer Garson trailer gallery is a bit of a misnomer, as it contains only three previews—Random Harvest, Mrs. Miniver, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips—with the latter given a glorious testimonial by none other than the legendary columnist, Alexander Woolcott.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsA mature, thoughtful, and beautifully filmed romance, Random Harvest remains a triumph for Ronald Colman, Greer Garson, and director Mervyn LeRoy. The movie elevates sentimentality to an art form, and epitomizes the glamour and taste of Old Hollywood. Warner's wonderful transfers honor this beloved antique, and allow us to wallow in its tear-jerking splendor over and over again. Recommended.
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