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Posted 7/22/2016 4:52pm by Eugene Wyatt.

    Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Starring Ronald Colman, Greer Garson. 

A standard synopsis of Random Harvest will insist it’s a film about amnesia, but don’t you believe it. This wholly absorbing romantic melodrama, a polished product of MGM at its glossiest, is best viewed as a multi-hanky entertainment about the enduring power of endless love. Rarely revived and not generally considered a great film, it remains irresistible, a can-you-believe-it emotional high-wire act that sustains itself against all logic and probability.

Of course, this kind of filmmaking has never been for everyone. Random Harvest received seven Academy Award nominations in 1942, but it didn’t win anything and saw its star, Greer Garson, take home the best actress Oscar for her role in another film, the much feted Mrs. Miniver.

Critics were also divided on the production. Daily Variety was upbeat but the New York Times ’ Bosley Crowther considered it “a strangely empty film.” As late as 1951, J.D. Salinger was mocking key elements of its plot in The Catcher in the Rye, having protagonist Holden Caulfield insist with typical vigor, “It was so putrid I couldn’t take my eyes off it. . .  All I can say is, don’t see it if you don’t want to puke all over yourself.”

Audiences at the time, however, showed no such reservations. Random Harvest was the #5 box office hit of the year, bested only by powerhouses like Bambi, Casablanca, and Yankee Doodle Dandy, and it played New York’s mammoth Radio City Music Hall for a record twelve weeks, with the 6,000-seat theater even instituting 7:45 am screenings to meet the crush.  

This box office success was not surprising given that the film was adapted from a whopping best-seller—100,000 copies sold in the first six weeks—by the hugely popular novelist James Hilton, whose other credits include the books Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr. Chips and whose screenplay for Mrs. Miniver took home an Oscar.

Random Harvest was especially fortunate in the astute pairing of veteran Ronald Colman and relative newcomer Greer Garson. While Colman was celebrated for his mellifluous voice, he’d started in films in 1917 during the silent era and had been a major star for twenty years. Garson, if MGM publicity is to be believed, had only one week left in her studio contract when she was given her very first feature role, in Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939).

That success led her to such a flurry of demure parts, including Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and the protagonist in Mrs. Miniver, that it was considered newsworthy that Garson’s Random Harvest role would at one point feature her as a showgirl dancing in an abbreviated kilt. “Star’s Shapely Legs to Be Revealed on Screen” headlined a story that quotes Garson claiming, possibly with a straight face, “it’s pleasant to be able to prove that I have legs after all.”

It is Hilton’s story, however, that is the heart of the matter, and the author was so pleased with this Oscar-nominated adaptation (by Claudine West, George Froeschel, and Arthur Wimperis) that he agreed to read the voice-over that starts the film.

The time is autumn 1918 and, Hilton says mysteriously as the camera moves forward, “our story takes you down this shadowed path.” The destination is England’s Melbridge County Asylum, a grim, remote building that warehouses men whose “minds were shattered by the war that was to end all wars.”

One of the most poignant of these cases is Smith, a British army officer who has absolutely no idea who he is. Rumpled, confused, but killingly handsome, Colman plays this role so beautifully that he makes having misplaced your mind look positively attractive. Though Smith can barely speak, everyone tells him he’s much improved, and the doctor in charge says that all he needs to recover is to get his confidence back.

Everything changes for Smith on the night the war ends. The asylum guards leave their posts to celebrate and he innocently wanders into the town of Melbridge, where his difficulty with speech makes the local tobacconist (MGM veteran Una O’Connor) suspect he is a dangerous inmate on the loose.

Just at that moment, the warm and luminous Paula Ridgefield (Garson), a vivacious showgirl in town with a traveling revue, comes to the rescue. Taking an immediate liking to Smith, whom she takes to calling “Smithy,” she hurries him out of the shop and more or less adopts him. Paula intrepidly finds him a room in her hotel and takes him along as she headlines a rousing version of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” at the local theater.

“I’ve lost my memory, I don’t even know who I am,” Smith confesses, looking truly bewildered. Paula, who has enough life force for both of them, is nothing daunted. “I know who you are,” she replies with enviable spirit. “You’re someone awfully nice.”

Trusting her instincts, Paula is resoluteness itself when Smith’s freedom is jeopardized, leaving her life in the theater and relocating both of them in a tiny, quintessentially English hamlet “at the end of the world.”

Soon enough (maybe it’s all that refreshing country air) Smith has fallen in love as well and proposes marriage. “Never leave me out of your sight again,” he says passionately. “My life began with you. I can’t imagine a future without you.”

Though Paula and Smith think this is their “happily ever after” moment, Random Harvest has other ideas. A lot of them. Smith takes a crack at journalism and shows enough promise that a newspaper in Liverpool asks him to come in for an interview. Smith takes the train to the city for what he assumes will be the briefest of separations, but once he arrives in Liverpool nothing is ever remotely the same again.

It goes without saying that Random Harvest has surprises up its sleeve, but this film contains more eye-widening, credulity-­straining plot reversals than you can easily imagine, even when you think you’ve imagined them all. Blessed with as many inside out twists and turns—none of which will be revealed here—as a two-lane road through the Italian Alps, Random Harvest correctly believes that the power of story trumps any and all logical concerns.

Helping us get comfortable with all these feints and dodges is the soothing polish and professionalism of the MGM studio style, which specialized in the smoothest possible entertainments. Director Mervyn LeRoy, who’d made his reputation in incendiary items like Little Caesar, They Won’t Forget, and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang in the 1930s, had by this time morphed into an all-around filmmaker at ease in multiple genres. Here he’s supported by the likes of veteran art director Cedric Gibbons and consummate cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg, who in the course of a fifty-year career amassed four Oscars and ten nominations.

But more than anything tangible, Random Harvest succeeds because of what it believes in, which is first of all itself. Far from being apologetic about its wild improbabilities, this film embraces them wholeheartedly as an exercise in narrative daring as audacious as any avant-garde adventure.

Random Harvest also believes it’s the birthright of film to appeal to emotion in general and endless love in particular. An unabashed romance, it focuses on the existential correctness of believing unreservedly in love, insisting that nothing, no amount of success, acclaim, or recognition, is meaningful without it. Which is why, when the Saturday Evening Post asked Garson to name her favorite role, she chose not the Oscar-winning Mrs. Miniver but this one.

“The screen’s main function,” she wrote in 1947, “is to give the world beauty and romance—to make us forget our own troubles for a time and send us out of the theater with a lift of the heart. ‘Random Harvest,’ I like to think, was that sort of picture.” Indeed it was.

Not To Be Missed, Fifty Four Favorites From A Lifetime Of Film 2014, Kenneth Turan, P. 84.

Posted 7/20/2016 12:45pm by Eugene Wyatt.

In his essay The White Negro, Norman Mailer suggested that when a killer takes his revenge on the institutions that he feels are oppressing him his eruption of violence can have a positive effect on him. The most shocking aspect of Taxi Driver is that it takes this very element, which has generally been exploited for popular appeal, and puts it in the center of the viewer’s consciousness. Violence is Travis’s only means of expressing himself.

When The Lights Go Down 1975, Pauline Kael, P. 131.

Posted 7/12/2016 6:38pm by Eugene Wyatt.

948 words from Sodom and Gomorrah Volume IV of À la recherche du temps perdu as translated by Moncrieff, Kilmartin and Enright, 1922-1992, P. 21.

Their honour precarious, their liberty provisional, lasting only until the discovery of their crime; their position unstable, like that of the poet one day fêted in every drawing-room and applauded in every theatre in London, and the next driven from every lodging, unable to find a pillow upon which to lay his head, turning the mill like Samson and saying like him: “The two sexes shall die, each in a place apart!” excluded even, except on the days of general misfortune when the majority rally round the victim as the Jews round Dreyfus, from the sympathy—at times from the society—of their fellows, in whom they inspire only disgust at seeing themselves as they are, portrayed in a mirror which, ceasing to flatter them, accentuates every blemish that they have refused to observe in themselves, and makes them understand that what they have been calling their love (and to which, playing upon the word, they have by association annexed all that poetry, painting, music, chivalry, asceticism have contrived to add to love) springs not from an ideal of beauty which they have chosen but from an incurable disease; like the Jews again (save some who will associate only with those of their race and have always on their lips the ritual words and the accepted pleasantries), shunning one another, seeking out those who are most directly their opposite, who do not want their company, forgiving their rebuffs, enraptured by their condescensions; but also brought into the company of their own kind by the ostracism to which they are subjected, the opprobrium into which they have fallen, having finally been invested, by a persecution similar to that of Israel, with the physical and moral characteristics of a race, sometimes beautiful, often hideous, finding (in spite of all the mockery with which one who, more closely integrated with, better assimilated to the opposing race, is in appearance relatively less inverted, heaps upon one who has remained more so) a relief in frequenting the society of their kind, and even some support in their existence, so much so that, while steadfastly denying that they are a race (the name of which is the vilest of insults), they readily unmask those who succeed in concealing the fact that they belong to it, with a view less to injuring them, though they have no scruple about that, than to excusing themselves, and seeking out (as a doctor seeks out cases of appendicitis) cases of inversion in history, taking pleasure in recalling that Socrates was one of themselves, as the Jews claim that Jesus was one of them, without reflecting that there were no abnormal people when homosexuality was the norm, no anti-Christians before Christ, that the opprobrium alone makes the crime because it has allowed to survive only those who remained obdurate to every warning, to every example, to every punishment, by virtue of an innate disposition so peculiar that it is more repugnant to other men (even though it may be accompanied by high moral qualities) than certain other vices which exclude those qualities, such as theft, cruelty, breach of faith, vices better understood and so more readily excused by the generality of men; forming a freemasonry far more extensive, more effective and less suspected than that of the Lodges, for it rests upon an identity of tastes, needs, habits, dangers, apprenticeship, knowledge, traffic, vocabulary, and one in which even members who do not wish to know one another recognise one another immediately by natural or conventional, involuntary or deliberate signs which indicate one of his kind to the beggar in the person of the nobleman whose carriage door he is shutting, to the father in the person of his daughter’s suitor, to the man who has sought healing, absolution or legal defence in the doctor, the priest or the barrister to whom he has had recourse; all of them obliged to protect their own secret but sharing with the others a secret which the rest of humanity does not suspect and which means that to them the most wildly improbable tales of adventure seem true, for in this life of anachronistic fiction the ambassador is a bosom friend of the felon, the prince, with a certain insolent aplomb born of his aristocratic breeding which the timorous bourgeois lacks, on leaving the duchess’s party goes off to confer in private with the ruffian; a reprobate section of the human collectivity, but an important one, suspected where it does not exist, flaunting itself, insolent and immune, where its existence is never guessed; numbering its adherents everywhere, among the people, in the army, in the church, in prison, on the throne; living, in short, at least to a great extent, in an affectionate and perilous intimacy with the men of the other race, provoking them, playing with them by speaking of its vice as of something alien to it—a game that is rendered easy by the blindness or duplicity of the others, a game that may be kept up for years until the day of the scandal when these lion-tamers are devoured; obliged until then to make a secret of their lives, to avert their eyes from the direction in which they would wish to stray, to fasten them on what they would naturally turn away from, to change the gender of many of the adjectives in their vocabulary, a social constraint that is slight in comparison with the inward constraint imposed upon them by their vice, or what is improperly so called, not so much in relation to others as to themselves, and in such a way that to themselves it does not appear a vice.

 

918 words as Marcel Proust wrote it.

Sans honneur que précaire, sans liberté que provisoire, jusqu’à la découverte du crime ; sans situation qu’instable, comme pour le poète la veille fêté dans tous les salons, applaudi dans tous les théâtres de Londres, chassé le lendemain de tous les garnis sans pouvoir trouver un oreiller où reposer sa tête, tournant la meule comme Samson et disant comme lui : « Les deux sexes mourront chacun de son côté » ; exclus même, hors les jours de grande infortune où le plus grand nombre se rallie autour de la victime, comme les Juifs autour de Dreyfus, de la sympathie –parfois de la société –de leurs semblables, auxquels ils donnent le dégoût de voir ce qu’ils sont, dépeint dans un miroir qui, ne les flattant plus, accuse toutes les tares qu’ils n’avaient pas voulu remarquer chez eux-mêmes et qui leur fait comprendre que ce qu’ils appelaient leur amour (et à quoi, en jouant sur le mot, ils avaient, par sens social, annexé tout ce que la poésie, la peinture, la musique, la chevalerie, l’ascétisme, ont pu ajouter à l’amour) découle non d’un idéal de beauté qu’ils ont élu, mais d’une maladie inguérissable ; comme les Juifs encore (sauf quelques-uns qui ne veulent fréquenter que ceux de leur race, ont toujours à la bouche les mots rituels et les plaisanteries consacrées) se fuyant les uns les autres, recherchant ceux qui leur sont le plus opposés, qui ne veulent pas d’eux, pardonnant leurs rebuffades, s’enivrant de leurs complaisances ; mais aussi rassemblés à leurs pareils par l’ostracisme qui les frappe, l’opprobre où ils sont tombés, ayant fini par prendre, par une persécution semblable à celle d’Israël, les caractères physiques et moraux d’une race, parfois beaux, souvent affreux, trouvant (malgré toutes les moqueries dont celui qui, plus mêlé, mieux assimilé à la race adverse, est relativement, en apparence, le moins inverti, accable qui l’est demeuré davantage) une détente dans la fréquentation de leurs semblables, et même un appui dans leur existence, si bien que, tout en niant qu’ils soient une race (dont le nom est la plus grande injure), ceux qui parviennent à cacher qu’ils en sont, ils les démasquent volontiers, moins pour leur nuire, ce qu’ils ne détestent pas, que pour s’excuser, et allant chercher, comme un médecin l’appendicite, l’inversion jusque dans l’histoire, ayant plaisir à rappeler que Socrate était l’un d’eux, comme les Israélites disent de Jésus, sans songer qu’il n’y avait pas d’anormaux quand l’homosexualité était la norme, pas d’antichrétiens avant le Christ, que l’opprobre seul fait le crime, parce qu’il n’a laissé subsister que ceux qui étaient réfractaires à toute prédication, à tout exemple, à tout châtiment, en vertu d’une disposition innée tellement spéciale qu’elle répugne plus aux autres hommes (encore qu’elle puisse s’accompagner de hautes qualités morales) que de certains vices qui y contredisent, comme le vol, la cruauté, la mauvaise foi, mieux compris, donc plus excusés du commun des hommes ; formant une franc-maçonnerie bien plus étendue, plus efficace et moins soupçonnée que celle des loges, car elle repose sur une identité de goûts, de besoins, d’habitudes, de dangers, d’apprentissage, de savoir, de trafic, de glossaire, et dans laquelle les membres mêmes qui souhaitent de ne pas se connaître aussitôt se reconnaissent à des signes naturels ou de convention, involontaires ou voulus, qui signalent un de ses semblables au mendiant dans le grand seigneur à qui il ferme la portière de sa voiture, au père dans le fiancé de sa fille, à celui qui avait voulu se guérir, se confesser, qui avait à se défendre, dans le médecin, dans le prêtre, dans l’avocat qu’il est allé trouver ; tous obligés à protéger leur secret, mais ayant leur part d’un secret des autres que le reste de l’humanité ne soupçonne pas et qui fait qu’à eux les romans d’aventure les plus invraisemblables semblent vrais, car dans cette vie romanesque, anachronique, l’ambassadeur est ami du forçat ; le prince, avec une certaine liberté d’allures que donne l’éducation aristocratique et qu’un petit bourgeois tremblant n’aurait pas, en sortant de chez la duchesse s’en va conférer avec l’apache ; partie réprouvée de la collectivité humaine, mais partie importante, soupçonnée là où elle n’est pas étalée, insolente, impunie là où elle n’est pas devinée ; comptant des adhérents partout, dans le peuple, dans l’armée, dans le temple, au bagne, sur le trône ; vivant enfin, du moins un grand nombre, dans l’intimité caressante et dangereuse avec les hommes de l’autre race, les provoquant, jouant avec eux à parler de son vice comme s’il n’était pas sien, jeu qui est rendu facile par l’aveuglement ou la fausseté des autres, jeu qui peut se prolonger des années jusqu’au jour du scandale où ces dompteurs sont dévorés ; jusque-là obligés de cacher leur vie, de détourner leurs regards d’où ils voudraient se fixer, de les fixer sur ce dont ils voudraient se détourner, de changer le genre de bien des adjectifs dans leur vocabulaire, contrainte sociale légère auprès de la contrainte intérieure que leur vice, ou ce qu’on nomme improprement ainsi, leur impose non plus à l’égard des autres mais d’eux-mêmes, et de façon qu’à eux-mêmes il ne leur paraisse pas un vice.

Tags: Proust
Posted 7/8/2016 6:41pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Interviews

Lydia Davis, Art of Fiction No. 227

This interview began in Oslo, in September 2013, as a public conversation between Lydia Davis and her translator Johanne Fronth-Nygren at the Norwegian-American Literary Festival. 

I certainly wouldn’t do that deliberately—ever, ever, ever. When I translate Proust, I am trying to be Proust in English. If I compare the earlier translation of Swann’s Way by Scott Moncrieff, with all his flourishes, to the way I translated it, yes, mine is plainer. But so is Proust. Scott Moncrieff’s is more redundant, more embellished. What I’m trying to do is get out of the way and let Proust’s own style come through in English. If people notice this— that Proust is cleaner and clearer in my translation—it is not because of my own style, but because I’m being more faithful to his style than the previous translator was. For example, Proust writes “the entrance to the Underworld.” That’s the plain French, and that’s how I translate it. Scott Moncrieff writes “the Jaws of Hell,” so he introduces a metaphor that isn’t in Proust. 

There is, however, something that I have less control over. More and more I think that each of us, as a writer, has a preferred vocabulary. So even though I’m trying to stay very close to Proust’s own syntax, my word choice may reflect my own preferences. If Proust says entrée, you can say entrance but you can also say way into—the way into the underworld. That wouldn’t be out of the question as a choice. In that sense, your own style does show up.

Posted 7/5/2016 6:16am by Eugene Wyatt.

Also appearing in All About Eve is the ditsy movie star from Hollywood Miss Casswell (Marilyn Monroe), introduced by Addison De Witt (George Sanders) as "a graduate of the Copacabana school of dramatic art." This is but one of the hundreds of unforgettable lines penned by writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz...

Rotten Tomatoes

Posted 7/4/2016 4:50pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Davis was a character, an icon with grand style, so even her excesses are realistic.

The Great Movies 2002, Roger Ebert, P. 28.

And in All About Eve she was excessive and so very realistic. 

Posted 6/27/2016 9:41pm by Eugene Wyatt.

Viola is an ancient Latin name which appears as early as 40 BC in the writings of the Roman poet Virgil. It was the equivalent of the contemporary Greek name ion and both names were originally applied to what are now three separate groups of plants. The true violets were, to the Romans, Viola purpurea and to the Greeks, ion melan.

Pansies, Violas & Violettas 1990 Rodney Fuller, P. 15.

Posted 6/27/2016 6:47pm by Eugene Wyatt.

In I’m No Angel (1933) Mae West, confronted by a batch of men from her past, says, “All right, I’m the sweetheart of Sigma Chi. So what?”

The New Yorker, May 2, 2016; Sex And Sexier, David Denby.

Posted 6/27/2016 6:27am by Eugene Wyatt.

In Baby Face, Lily...nabs the bank founder’s grandson (George Brent), and attains jewelry, furs, Paris, a maid, and a chauffeured car. When he gets in trouble at his company, she refuses to sell her jewels to save him. Stanwyck, her blond hair ironed flat, sets her lower lip in defiance, and says, “I can’t do it. I’ve got to think of myself. I’ve gone through a lot to get those things.” In the end, however, Lily redeems herself, keeps her man, and emerges if not rich then, at least, happy.

That’s the original conclusion of “Baby Face,” which appears in the restored version of the film. But, in 1933, after censors banned the movie in several big cities, Warner Bros., which produced it, did some quick reshooting and forced a punitive ending on Lily, in which she loses everything. At the same time, the studio left the movie’s general aura of corruption—sex for favors and much else—intact. The picture hovers between a celebration of a woman’s will and a dirty joke. Are the attitudes in “Baby Face” realistic or merely cynical? Perhaps they’re both.

The New Yorker, May 2, 2016; Sex And Sexier, David Denby.

Posted 6/24/2016 8:42am by Eugene Wyatt.

Films can, and most of them do, reduce all the deprivations and coercions, desires and hopes of social and individual experience, to the simple formula of needing love. ...

The convenient Hollywood explanation for alienation—for failure to integrate in the economy, for hostility to authority and society—is, then, lack of love and acceptance. You’re bland and happy when you’re loved, and if you’re unhappy, it’s not really your fault, you just haven’t been loved. This is the language of the jukebox, and when Freud is reduced to this level, psychoanalysis becomes the language of idiocy.

I Lost It At The Movies 1954 Pauline Kael The Glamour Of Delinquency, P. 44.