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Monday, July 01, 2019

What Drew In '42


Still Rich Rewards in Random Harvest 


Given receipts and attendance for criteria, Random Harvest ranks high among 40’s best, but who grades films on basis of how much initial audiences liked them? Maybe we should try it though, and even watch ones like Random Harvest to grasp magic it wove. Radio City Music Hall was eleven weeks vested in Random Harvest, a record to then. Over a million and a half patrons showed up between December 17, 1942 and closing date of March 3, 1943. The feature ran through projectors over four hundred times. Five prints in 35mm were used up. On three days of the engagement, Dec.26 and 31, then Jan.2, Random Harvest was presented seven times per. For six successive days, beginning Dec. 26, the theatre opened at 7:45 am “to meet public demand” (stats courtesy MGM’s house organ, The Lion’s Roar, April 1943). Radio City bestowed awards on Metro staffers for the historic success, per photo above. Think Academy Awards were meaningful? These were better, as they reflected goings-on at ticket windows and what Loew bankers counted. Director Mervyn Le Roy, who estimated in a memoir that none of his films lost money (and was nearly right) said Random Harvest “could have played longer (at Radio City), except that Nicholas Schenck, MGM’s New York boss, wanted it to play the Loew’s circuit.” Music Hall management privately told Le Roy that Random Harvest had ten more weeks easy given the business it was doing.






There’s too little watching of Random Harvest today. Should Fathom Events use it for theatres? Yes, to crack rigidity of an old movie Top Forty to which all seem presently enslaved. Might Random Harvest have juice to surprise a crowded house? Too automatic a reflex says they won’t stand for Greer Garson. Reason? None other than entrenched notion of her belonging to a too-gone past. But then there’s the story, a good one, and well-adapted, plus Ronald Colman, who can be fresh in ways that William Powell stays fresh, and who’s to say old Hollywood can only be romantic with Cary Grant on a ship? Random Harvest is film’s definitive statement re amnesia. War trauma gives it, and a crosswalk mishap takes it away, melodrama we’re the poorer for progressing out of. We also get two Colmans, and so does Garson (possible tag line: “The Colmans are Back and Garson's Got Them … Both!”), his not exactly a dual role, though it seems so watching. What’s outlandish in synopsis does not play that way on screen. A thing done so well as this covers all potholes. You need a stone heart not to buy Random Harvest, which has too a midpoint waker-up to propel a second half like no other plot device could, 126 minutes going by the easier. If you know Random Harvest, you know the moment, which comes seventy-five minutes in, a huge jaw-drop for me the first time I watched. What I’d not give to have been at the Hall and hear gasps when that office door opens and … (tail-off in deference to readers with Random Harvest still in their future).








Put yourself in Young Actress category at MGM in 1942. Small parts, glamour work, maybe a carhop that stands out like Ava Gardner did in one of the Gillespies. A “B” lead or romantic partnering with a rising (or risen) star, Robert Taylor or maybe Van Johnson. Then there would come a role from which a future might be built, one to engage any or all watching, in or out of the industry. Such a character was “Kitty Chilcet” in Random Harvest. Susan Peters played it and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress, an almost foregone conclusion among the many who longed for such a part as Peters got. I learned gravity of the contest from Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, daughter of John Gilbert and herself a player on occasion at Metro during the late 30’s and into the forties. I asked her about working where her father had been a leading light, her clearest recall the race to be “Kitty” in Random Harvest, and how close she came to the prize. We read of every actress wanting to be Scarlett O’Hara, but what of a multitude of parts near as promising, maybe more so at times they were cast? Random Harvest and “Kitty” was such a brass ring, at least according to Leatrice Gilbert. The character grows from precocious teenage to lovelorn young woman, pinching romantic thunder from Greer Garson through much of an Act Two where star Ronald Colman interacts with her. What Susan Peters got here was impetus toward stardom, much as Teresa Wright did in just-previous, and even higher profile, Mrs. Miniver. Fate, however, would intervene. Random Harvest is rich with many things, foregoing just a few of them. It streams at Vudu in HD, plays TCM similarly, and is on DVD.

4 Comments:

Blogger James Abbott said...

Simply one of my favorite movies, full stop.

6:19 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

It's a film that holds up on revisiting, the surprise bit being just one of the many memorable elements. Perhaps more powerful is a moment near the beginning, when a couple comes to the hospital seeking their missing son.

The story centers on Smith recovering from mental/emotional wounds, but any other consequences of the war are barely acknowledged. I don't recall if the script refers to the new war at all. Tempting to speculate that was a conscious decision, choosing to avoid the fact that countless shell-shocked men were again filling hospitals. Easy to imagine a script that tied the sights and sounds of the home front to the ending.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Dr. OTR said...

I need to see this. I loved the book, but it has an even greater shocker, one which the film can't match because you can't see the actors involved. (I won't go beyond that.) Poor James Hilton is virtually forgotten now, but he was astoundingly popular in his day, with his reputation built on three books: Random Harvest, Lost Horizon, and Goodbye Mr Chips. All well worth reading. (And, of course, all turned into classic films.)

11:05 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

And a counterpoint to "Random Harvest", actually made earlier in 1940: "I Love You Again".

William Powell is an insufferable small-town Babbitt, returning home from a trip. An accident causes him to revert to a forgotten earlier life as a gangster, who now has no memory of living the last several years as painfully respectable citizen. He struggles to keep up the Babbitt identity to rip off the folks who know him only as that, while trying to convince Myrna Loy he's no longer the bore she's divorcing.

"The Crime Doctor" also played with the idea: An amnesiac, seeking to cure himself and find his identity, becomes a qualified doctor. Then he regains his past and his memories: he was a dangerous criminal. But instead of reverting, he remains ... The Crime Doctor! After the first film this origin was largely forgotten and the Crime Doctor became a generic series detective, albeit one with a medical degree instead of a PI license.

1:14 AM  

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