Random Harvest (1942): LeRoy’s Romantic Melodrama, Starring Greer Garson and Ronald Colman

Based on the novel by James Hilton, Random Harvest, Mervyn LeRoy’s romantic melodrama, concerns a shell-shocked WWI vet (Ronald Colman) who suffers from Amnesia, meets a beautiful dancer (Greer Garson) on Armistice Day, falls in love and marries her.

Settling down in a little cottage, they live quietly and happily for three years until he is struck by a cab, an accident that causes him to regain his lost memory, prompting him to return to his home and position prior to the War.

All of this happened in the first reel or so, but the rest of the drama is devoted to the efforts of his loyal wife to find him and to rekindle his memory of their romance and love. In the end, she end sup marrying her husband not once but twice.

Though dealing with the First World War, MGM made and released the film in the midst of WWII, on December 17, 1942, which made the picture a huge commercial hit and established that noble lady, Greer Garson, as the foremost star at the studioand in the country at large. In fact, in the same year, Garson scored another success with the equally schmaltzy War melodrama, “Mrs. Miniver,” for which she won the Best Actress Oscar.

Produced by Sidney Franklin, a prominent figure at MGM, “Random Harvest” is a sampler of the studio’s “tradition of quality,” a well-crafted and well-acted but essentially dull literary adaptation that has few artistic merits, when seen from a filmic perspective.

Film critics at the time pointed out the shortcomings of the screenplay by Claudine West, George Froeschel, and Arthur Wimperis, which was pedestrian and plodding, deviating from the Hilton novel. But quite many reviewers (and viewers) were surprised to see the shapely legs of Greer Garson, a star who seldom exposed any of part of her body on screen.

Oscar Nominations: 7

Picture, produced by Sidney Franklin
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Actor: Ronald Colman
Supporting Actress: Susan Peters
Screenplay: George Froeschel, Claudine West, and Arthur Wimperis
Interior Decoration (b/w): Cedric Gibbons and Randall Duell; Edwin B. Willis and Jack Moore
Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture: Herbert Sothart

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

Easily one of the worst films to win the Best Picture Oscar, Mrs. Miniver competed against The Invaders, Kings Row, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Pied Piper, The Pride of the Yankees, Random Harvest, The Talk of the Town, Wake Island, and Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Most of these films were patriotic flag-wavers, reflecting the surrounding reality of the U.S. 1941 entry into WWII. Next to Mrs. Miniver, the Gary Cooper sports biopic The Pride of the Yankees, was the most nominated (11) picture, though it won only one Oscar, for Daniel Mandell’s editing.

Ronald Colman lost the Bets Actor Oscar to James Cagney, who won for Yankee Doodle Dandy, and the Supporting Actress Oscar went to Teresa Wright for Mrs. Miniver. The Art Direction Oscar went to “This Above All, and Max Steiner won the Scoring award for the Bette Davis melodrama, Now, Voyager.