By 1942, Ronald Coleman was reaching the apex of his film career, and MGM's decision to pair the debonair actor with Greer Garson resulted in a perfect match in this amazingly mannered foray into British melodrama. Adapted from the James Hilton novel, Coleman transcends the reserved mush with a moving portrayal of a shell-shocked war veteran in limbo. Garson forms the catalyst, and her irrational sympathy for the asylum escapee creates a romantic bond that temporarily establishes a shield behind which Coleman can recover his confidence, and establish a new life.
The first hour covers the couple's life together, while the second follows Coleman's return to his prior identity, and Garson's efforts to patiently wait out the return of their shared memories. It's an epic romance boosted by MGM's glossy production values, stunning cinematography, and excellent cast of supportive, ex-patriot British thespians.
While "Random Harvest" deals with the singular trauma of one man's relations after The Great War, WWII is covered in two archived propaganda shorts, with a focus on preventive trauma to all of America.
"Crime Doesn't Pay: Don't Talk" is geared to foster an awareness of possible insurgent ears plotting against America's own defenses. Also made in 1942 and co-starring a baby-faced Barry Nelson, the Joe Newman-directed short (brought to you by "MGM's Crime Reporter") has an evil barber and his blue-collar crooks sabotaging components within a metal and tool factory; and while the theme of anti-freedom subterfuge still resonates today, the hokey dramatics provide some excellent unintentional laughs. A high point includes forensic FBI eggheads picking through trash, canned food labels, and bread (bread?!) for a secret code the Fascists use to signal their darkly attired goons and goon-ettes. Two moldy slices = “we strike at midnight.”
Another gem from 1942 is "Marines in the Making," narrated with vintage argot by Pete Smith. Basically a glossy promo for bare-chested, muscle-bound marines practicing hand-to-hand combat against Fascist enemies, the short demonstrates "the high bodily standards of our leathernecks" and self-flagellating "devil-dogs," and ends with a graduate giving the Creed of the Rifle. Accompanied by small brass ensemble, the recruit begins with the statement "This is my rifle"; for fans of "Full Metal Jacket," Stanley Kubrick's more satirical spin on the Creed (via R. Lee Ermey' profane drill sergeant) reduces this earnest soliloquy to hysterical bathos, and is pure funny-bone gold.
The other goodies in Warner Bros' DVD are a 1944 radio show of "Random Harvest," with the film's two stars reprising their roles for a condensed hour-long version, and a trio of Greer Garson trailers from her most popular, and iconic films.
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan
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