Random Harvest (film)

Random Harvest is a 1942 film based on the 1941 James Hilton novel of the same name, directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Claudine West, George Froeschel, and Arthur Wimperis adapted the novel for the screen, and received an Academy Award nomination. The novel keeps the true identity of Paula/Margaret a secret until the very end, something that would have been impossible in a film, where characters’ faces must be seen. This meant that the movie had to take a very different approach to the story. The film stars Ronald Colman as a shellshocked, amnesiac World War I soldier, and Greer Garson as his love interest.

Random Harvest
Directed byMervyn LeRoy
Produced bySidney Franklin
Screenplay byArthur Wimperis
George Froeschel
Claudine West
Based onRandom Harvest
1941 novel
by James Hilton
StarringRonald Colman
Greer Garson
Philip Dorn
Susan Peters
Music byHerbert Stothart
CinematographyJoseph Ruttenberg
Edited byHarold F. Kress
Distributed byLoew's Inc.
Release date
December 17, 1942
Running time
125 minutes
Box office$8,147,000 (Worldwide rentals)[1]

It was an instant commercial success. Its seven Oscar nominations included nods for Colman, supporting actress Susan Peters, director Mervyn LeRoy, and Best Picture. Garson, whose performance was well-received, was ineligible for the Academy Award for Best Actress, as she had already been nominated that year for her role in Mrs. Miniver.


England, November 1918: "John Smith" is a British officer who was gassed in the trenches during WWI. Having lost his memory, he is confined to an asylum as an unidentified inmate. When the war ends, the gatekeepers abandon their posts to join the celebration in the nearby town of Melbridge, and Smith simply wanders off.

In town, he is befriended by singer Paula Ridgeway. She assumes he is from the asylum, but as he seems harmless, she arranges for him to join her traveling theatrical group. After an incident that threatens to bring unwanted attention, Paula takes Smith to a secluded country village, where they marry and are blissfully happy.

"Smithy", as Paula calls him, discovers he has some literary talent. Paula remains home with their newborn son while Smithy goes to Liverpool for a job interview with a newspaper. He is struck by a taxi, and when he regains consciousness, his past memory is restored, but his life with Paula is now forgotten. He is Charles Rainier, the son of a wealthy businessman. None of his meager possessions, including a key, provide any clue where he's recently been.

Charles returns home on the day of his father's funeral. Kitty, the stepdaughter of one of Charles' siblings, becomes infatuated with her "uncle". Charles wants to return to college, but the mismanaged family business needs him, and he puts off his own desires to safeguard the jobs of his many employees and to restore the family fortune. After a few years, a newspaper touts him as the "Industrial Prince of England".

Paula has been searching for her Smithy. Their son died as an infant, and she now works as a secretary. One day, she sees Charles' picture and story in a newspaper. Paula gets hired as his executive assistant, calling herself Margaret Hanson (Paula being her stage name), hoping that her presence will jog his memory. Her confidant and admirer, Dr. Jonathan Benet, warns her that revealing her identity would only cause Charles to resent her.

As Kitty grows up, she sends Charles love letters, and they become engaged. However, a hymn that Kitty is considering for their upcoming wedding triggers a vague memory in Charles. Kitty, realizing that Charles still loves someone else, sadly breaks off the engagement.

Margaret joins Charles in Liverpool, where he is trying one last time to piece together his lost years. They recover his suitcase from a hotel, but he recognizes nothing.

Charles is approached to stand for Parliament. After his election, in which Margaret provides invaluable assistance, he feels the need for a wife in his new role. He proposes to her, more as a business proposition than a romantic one, and she accepts. They become an ideal couple, at least to all outward appearances, with Margaret a perfect society hostess. In a moment of reflection, they discuss his lost past, and she tells him of her own lost love, without revealing that it is Charles. He hopes their life together can fill the void they both feel.

Miserably alone and unhappy, Margaret decides to take an extended solo vacation abroad. She decides that, before her liner sails, she will revisit the village where she and Smithy lived. When Charles sees her off at the train station, he is summoned to mediate a strike at the Melbridge Cable Works. After the successful negotiation, he walks through the town, and the familiar surroundings and celebrations begin to unlock his memories, leading him to the nearby village and the cottage he and Paula shared. Hesitantly, he tries the old key he kept, and finds that it unlocks the door.

Margaret, about to leave for her boat, makes a casual remark to the innkeeper about the former innkeeper, the old vicar. The innkeeper tells her that a gentleman just that morning had inquired about the old vicar, and had mentioned that he used to rent a cottage near a church. With newfound hope, Margaret hurries to the village and finds Charles standing at the unlocked cottage door. When she calls him "Smithy," his memory floods back and he cries out "Paula!" as he rushes to embrace her.


Ronald ColmanCharles Rainier/"Smithy"
Greer Garson"Paula Ridgeway"/Margaret Hanson
Philip DornDr. Jonathan Benet
Susan PetersKitty Chilcet
Henry TraversDr. Sims
Reginald OwenBiffer
Bramwell FletcherHarrison
Rhys WilliamsSam
Una O'ConnorTobacco Shopkeeper
Aubrey MatherSheldon
Margaret WycherlyMrs. Deventer
Arthur MargetsonChetwynd Rainier
Melville CooperGeorge Rainier
Alan NapierJulian Rainier
Jill EsmondLydia Rainier
Ivan F. SimpsonVicar
Ann RichardsBridget
Norma VardenJulia
David CavendishHenry Chilcet
Marie De BeckerVicar's Wife
Charles WaldronMr. Lloyd
Elisabeth RisdonMrs. Lloyd


According to MGM records, the film earned $4,650,000 in the United States and $8,147,000 worldwide for a profit of $4,384,000 being their biggest hit of the season.[1][2]

Despite its box office success, critics were not impressed at the time. James Agee wrote, "I would like to recommend this film to those who can stay interested in Ronald Colman's amnesia for two hours and who can with pleasure eat a bowl of Yardley's shaving soap for breakfast."[3] In his New York Times review, Bosley Crowther was of the opinion that "for all its emotional excess, Random Harvest is a strangely empty film."[4] "Miss Garson and Mr. Colman are charming; they act perfectly. But they never seem real."[4] Variety praised the performances of the two leads, in particular Garson, but noted that Colman seemed older than the role.[5]

Decades later, Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader allowed that it had "a kind of deranged sincerity and integrity on its own terms".[6] Leonard Maltin's capsule review reads "James Hilton novel given supremely entertaining MGM treatment, with Colman and Garson at their best."[7] Hal Erickson wrote, "Under normal circumstances, we wouldn't believe a minute of Random Harvest, but the magic spell woven by the stars and by author James Hilton (Lost Horizon, Goodbye Mr. Chips etc.) transforms the wildly incredible into the wholly credible."[8]

The film was ranked 36th by the American Film Institute in its 2002 AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions list.[9]

Academy Award nominations

This film is alluded to in the third season of British sitcom As Time Goes By. Lionel and Jean attend a meeting in Los Angeles about a script he has written, and co-executive creative consultants Josh and Lisa come up with a "mangled version" of Random Harvest, about "Lionel being shot in the head every five minutes."

Several Indian films were influenced by this film: Bengali film Harano Sur (1957), starring Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen; Tamil film Amara Deepam (1956 film) and its Hindi remake Amar Deep (1958 film) starring Dev Anand.[11]

In 1973, the twenty-fourth episode of the sixth season of The Carol Burnett Show featured a spoof of the film called "Rancid Harvest", with Carol Burnett in the Greer Garson role and Harvey Korman in the Ronald Colman.[12]

DVD release

Warner Home Video released a restored and remastered version in DVD format in 2005.


  1. The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. Eyman, Scott (2005). Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. Simon & Schuster. p. 365. ISBN 978-0743204811.
  3. Kamp, David; Levi, Lawrence (2006). The Film Snob's Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Filmological Knowledge. Random House. p. 2. ISBN 978-0767918763. Retrieved September 28, 2013.
  4. Crowther, Bosley (December 18, 1942). "Random Harvest (1942)". The New York Times.
  5. "Review: "Random Harvest"". Variety. December 31, 1941. Retrieved September 28, 2013.
  6. Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Random Harvest". Chicago Reader. Retrieved September 28, 2013.
  7. Maltin, Leonard. "Random Harvest (1942)". Turner Classic Movies. 3.5/4.0 stars.
  8. Erickson, Hal. "Random Harvest (1942)". AllMovie.
  9. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  10. "New York Times: Random Harvest". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2009-12-21. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
  11. Rajadhyaksha, Ashish; Willerman, Paul (July 10, 2014). Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema. New York: Routledge. p. 1994. ISBN 978-1135943257.
  12. "The Carol Burnett Show (1967–1978) Episode #6.24". IMDb. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
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