Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Random Harvest


James Hilton is best known for writing the books Lost Horizon and Goodbye. Mr. Chips. This wildly unlikely story doesn’t measure up to those, but the acting of Ronald Colman and, even better, Greer Garson, almost make it believable. I mean, here’s a man who loses his memory not once, but twice. Amnesia is a beloved story device to novelists and screenwriters, and it’s always a type that leaves the sufferer basically unmarked. Here, a man suffers from shell shock in 1917, meets a kind woman, then is hit by a taxi in 1920 and loses those three years, but recovers his prior memories. Sixteen years later … oh, it’s utterly preposterous, and I frequently wanted to wallop him upside the head. Well, it worked twice before, didn’t it? A dozen times he comes within an inch of jogging it all back, but the opportunity is missed. At some point during those years the wife finds him and goes to work for him as his secretary. (He’s very rich, a titan of industry, and eventually an MP. I mean, this guy has it all … except happiness.) Naturally, she doesn’t tell him, since he wouldn’t remember her. She wants his love for her to be something he remembers. Oh, does she ever suffer! In the end it all works out, of course … but the thing is, in the book, the reader doesn’t know the secretary is really his wife until the last line of the novel! That must have been quite a trick, and I almost would like to read the book to see how he pulled it off. (Maybe I’d be content just to read the last line.) Naturally, this device couldn’t be used in the movie without a radical make-up job as in Sleuth. Interesting footnote: Greer Garson might very well have had an Oscar nomination for this part, but in the very same year she made Mrs. Miniver, a much better movie. She was nominated for that, and won.