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RANDOM HARVEST – Herbert Stothart


Original Review by Craig Lysy

The genesis of the film arose in 1940 when MGM Head Story Editor Kenneth MacKenna was advised to evaluate renown novelist James Hilton’s latest book, “Random Harvest” for a possible film adaptation. The story resonated with MGM executives as the Battle of Britain raged and the studio purchased the film rights in November 1940 for $65,000. Sidney Franklin was placed in charge of production with a $1.21 million budget, Mervyn LeRoy was tasked with directing, and screenwriters Arthur Wimperis, George Froeschel and Claudine West were hired to adapt the novel. A fine cast was assembled, which included Ronald Coleman as Charles Rainier (Smithy), Greer Garson as Paula Ridgeway/Margaret Hanson, Philip Dorn as Dr. Jonathan Benet, and Susan Peters as Kitty Chilcet.

The story is set in England during the ending of WWI. John Smith, a British officer is wounded in battle and suffers amnesia. He eventually leaves the sanitarium as Charles Rainier with no knowledge of his former life and begins a new life with theatrical singer Paula Ridgeway. They fall in love, marry and have a son. Charles is in a car accident while in Liverpool interviewing for a job, which causes him to regain his pre-WWI memories, but lose the memories of his life with Paula. The remainder of the story involves Paula’s efforts to locate her “Smithy” and restore his memory of their life together. This finally occurs when Charles returns to their town and the familiar sights unlock his memories, causing him to remember Paula, who he rushes to embrace. The film was a commercial success earning a profit of nearly $4.384 million, however critical reception was largely negative, commending the acting performances, but ultimately finding the film’s narrative empty and unengaging. Nevertheless the film earned seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction and Best Film Score.

Herbert Stothart was a stalwart of MGM’s composer cadre and was a natural choice for the project given his British heritage. Upon viewing the film, he understood that at its core, the story was a romance between Charles and Paula. A tale of a woman desperate to find the man of her dreams and restore the loving and blissful life they once had. Stothart infused his soundscape with several classical and traditional folk songs to speak to time and setting, including; “Vive La Company!”, traditional, “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow”, traditional, “God Save The King!” by Henry Carey, “Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile” by Felix Powell and George Asaf, “She’s Ma Daisy” by Harry Lauder amd J. D. Harper, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” (1912) by Jack Judge and Harry Williams, “The Voice That Breathed O’er Eden” by Henry Guantlett and John Keble, “Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Opus 64 by Pyotyr Illyich Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake Act II: No. 10 Moderato, Act II: No. 13 Danse des Cygnes (coda), and No. 29 Scene Finale Opus 20 by Pyotyr Illyich Tchaikovsky.

In terms of musical themes, Stothart provides three; the Key Theme speaks to Smithy’s amnesia affliction and struggle to regain his memories, which is intrinsically linked to the turn key Charles carries in his pocket – a literal emblem used to unlock what lies beyond one’s grasp. As such it also serves as a leitmotif for Smithy/Charles. It offers an eerie musical narrative, a misterioso borne by tremolo violins, a repeating four-note descending phrase by forlorn flute with distant muted trumpets calls. Grim bass sow darkness and uncertainty and we feel unsettled as the theme never resolves. The Love Theme speaks to the romance and love of Paula and Smithy. It offers a classic romance for strings, which graces us with old world romanticism. When the melody its taken up by solo violin d’amore, its articulation is sublime. Lastly, Stothart interpolates the idyllic romanticism and yearning of the song “O Perfect Love” (1889) by Dorothy B. Gurney and others to support the film’s romantic story-telling. The song melody provides a unifying thread for the tapestry of the film’s narrative. Cues coded (*) contain music that was not on the album.

“Opening Title” opens dramatically with ascending fanfare declarations by horns maestoso, which support the MGM studio logo. Strings brillante usher in the roll of the opening credits, supported by a sumptuous prelude full of sentimentality from which arises at 0:41 the song “Old Perfect Love” sung by women’s choir. At 1:34 we segue into the film proper with “Asylum” atop the Key Theme, a misterioso borne by tremolo violins, a repeating four-note descending phrase by forlorn flute with distant muted trumpets calls as narration supports the camera advancing up a walkway to the Melbridge County Asylum. At 1:49 foreboding abyssal bass sow darkness and uncertainty as we are informed of its new military wing. At 2:00 Dr. Dorn relates to Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd that they have a man who may be heir lost son. He counsels them that he has suffered trauma to his psyche from injuries, which have caused amnesia and difficulty speaking. Stothart supports with a musical narrative full of sadness borne by woodwinds tristi and forlorn strings. At 2:42 Stothart interpolates the melody of a lament, the sad English folk song “The Minstrel Boy” (1798) by Sir Thomas Moore as the Lloyds disclose to Dr. Dorn that ‘Smith’ is not their lost son.

“The War is Over” (*) reveals jubilation as soldiers run out celebrating the end of the war. Smith, who has stolen a military overcoat and seeks to escape, is taking an evening stroll. He looks on incredulously at the jubilation supported by his amnesia misterioso. The gate is left unguarded and he walks out supported by a grim musical narrative. In town people have taken to the streets with celebratory joy, which Stothart supports with a parade of traditional and folk songs, including “Vive La Company!” and “God Save The King”. “Tobacco Shop” reveals Smithy purchasing cigarettes in a smoke shop supported by the festive “Coming Through The Rye” song. His labored speech arouses the patron’s suspicions and she calls the police to report an escapee from the Asylum. While in the shop the song softens with an instrumental rendering as he meets Paula, who counsels him to leave at once as the shopkeeper is probably calling the Asylum. At 0:31 we segue into “Medley” as we see Smithy overwhelmed by the throngs of people. At 1:02 the music softens as Paula finds him and offers to join him for a brandy and soda, which he accepts. Stothart supports with a parade of festive folk songs, including “Vive La Compagnie!” at 1:27, “When You Were a Tulip” at 1:44 and “We’ve a Hundred Pipers” at 2:10. In the festive pub people sing and dance to the folk song “Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile” (not on the album). We close with “Leaving Biffers” as Paul performs.

In “Paula and Smithy” (*) Paula has to get ready for her stage performance and takes Smithy up to her dressing room. As she dresses and they converse a bond begins to form, the music emanating from her perspective. Strauss’ Emperor waltz is heard from downstairs and plays under the dialogue. She runs to perform and sets a chair up on the balcony for Smithy to watch. In “She Is Ma Daisy” Stothart interpolates the festive folk song to support Paula and a female troupe, who are all dressed in Scottish kilts, as they sing and dance with exuberance. The exuberant crowd of soldiers storm the stage singing the British music hall song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”, joining to dance with the women stage troupe. “Biffer and Paula” (*) reveals Smithy resting in her bed, suffering from a bout of Flu. Paula discloses to Biffer that he is from the Asylum, but is Ok as he was just awaiting discharge. He promises to protect her secret and departs. Stothart supports unobtrusively under the dialogue with forlorn woodwinds of uncertainty. A romance by strings tenero support her caring as she assures him, that she will not allow him to be taken back to the Asylum.

“Addenda to Her Decision” reveals Paula taking super and tea upstairs to Smithy. Stothart interpolates a festive player piano tune written by Bronislaw Kaper for the MGM film “The Captain is a Lady” (1940) which plays in the pub. She says he will be joining the stage show, which will take them far away from the Asylum. He is truly grateful to be “someone again”. As she departs the player piano tune resumes, but as she prepares for supper a policeman enters and advises that he is looking for an escaped “looney” from the Asylum. The following scenes contain music not found on the album, which slits the album cue. Upstairs Paula relates that Sam now refuses to take him with them and that perhaps it is best that he returns to the Asylum. A plaintive musical narrative supports as she pleads with him not to be cross with her. Yet she realizes from his sad expression that she cannot abandon him, and the Love Theme, so full of tenderness, joins. The festive player piano music returns as she gets his coat and luggage and prepares him for departure via the back door. She sends him to the alley and informs Biffer she is leaving the show to settle down with Smithy in the country. The album cue now resumes darkly at 1:21 as Paula discovers that Smithy has knocked out the policeman because he tried to stop him. They flee and speed off to the country on a train.

“The Country” (*) offers a beautiful romantic score highlight, which reveals them looking over the verdant countryside supported by an idyllic pastorale. Harp glissandi and strings tenero carry them into a hotel where they are offered a room. When Paula advises that they are engaged and not married, endearing strings tenero, so full of hope join as the clerk Mrs. Barnes provides them adjoining rooms. Later a string and woodwind pastorale support idyllically as Smithy rests while he fishes in a pond. As Paula rides in on a bicycle, a happy Love Theme entwines. She presents him a letter from Liverpool that contains a check for an article he sent and the music glows with thankful happiness. They revel in the moment as she sets a cloth for a picnic, yet his misterioso theme joins as she wonders if he was a writer before the war. Yet the misterioso is fleeting, replaced by the Love Theme as he says he loves her and proposes marriage. She confesses that she adores him and the theme blossoms as she answers yes and they join in a loving, kissing embrace. “Little Marriage” reveals the marriage ceremony of Smithy and Paula, supported by the “O Perfect Love” song sung by boys’ choir with strings d’amore.

In “Newlyweds” (*) it is springtime, the countryside is abloom and we see our newlyweds being driven home to their cottage by the Vicar and friends, supported by a joyous musical narrative full of happiness. As the car departs and they walk through the front gate a violin d’amore supported by Love Theme carries them into their cottage, and a life together in love. “It’s a Boy!” (*) offers a heartfelt score highlight. It reveals winter snow on the ground and a merchant’s horse drawn cart making a delivery supported by a pleasant trotting promenade. He is greeted by Smithy, who advises him that childbirth is imminent. Later that night strings tranquilli offer serenity as a restless Smithy paces. The next morning Dr. Sims provides him with the joyous news that Paula is out of danger and that he has a son. Stothart bathes us with familial warmth with heartfelt strings tenero, which carry a relieved and thankful Smithy to his new family. The next day a musical narrative of happiness supports Smithy at the town hall registering the birth of his son John. He is brimming with a father’s pride and playful woodwinds move to the forefront and entwine with the “Jack and Jill” song melody to support. The melody transforms into a traveling motif as we see Smithy riding a bicycle home. Inside, he hands the groceries to the nurse and we are bathed with familial happiness as he presents his baby boy with a stuffed animal (cat). Paula misses him, calls him to her in bed where they have a kissing embrace supported tenderly by the Love Theme, followed by his gifting her a blue stone necklace, which she adores as it matches her eyes.

“Wonderful News” (*) offers a beautiful romantic score highlight. It reveals the vicar bringing a telegram, which informs Smithy that he has been offered a full-time writer position in Liverpool. As they pack his suitcase, he shares his dreams for them and we are graced by a tender exposition of the Love Theme. As he prepares to depart, they embrace and kiss with the Love Theme transferred to a solo violin d’amore. As he says goodbye to his son and departs, the theme blossoms beautifully for a heartfelt goodbye. In “The Accident” (*), as Smithy walks to his appointment at the Liverpool Mercury, he is hit by a car while crossing the street. As the camera closes in on him a foreboding Smithy’s Amnesia Theme supports. We enter a flashback dream state with visions of the battlefield, which is supported by cacophonous dissonance and ominous horns as we see him lying dazed in a trench. Gradually the music lightens and ascends as we return to the present with tremolo strings supporting a physician waving smelling salts past his nose to awaken him. A diminuendo of uncertainty supports Charles questioning of why he is out of uniform as the severe head bump has served to restore his prior life memories. When a policeman investigates the accident and asks his name, he answers, Charles Rainier. As he departs, he asks the date, and when he is told November 14, 1920. A foreboding musical narrative carries his walk as we hear in his mind; three years gone, three years. He has no memories for the last three years, or why he is in Liverpool. He resolves to go home and the music swells into a propulsive train motif as we see it carrying him home.

“Random Hall” (*) reveals his arrival at his ancestral estate supported by a foreboding musical narrative replete with grim muted horns. Stothart weaves a misterioso of uncertainty as Charles takes in the familiar surroundings. The music darkens on strings affanato when he is devastated to learn that his father died yesterday and was buried today. The next day the family is in an uproar that Charles shows up mysteriously after three years, claiming amnesia the day before the Will is to be read. “Charles and Kitty” (*) reveals the guests departing and the smitten Kitty chit chatting with Charles. A youthful, and playful musical narrative supports as she takes some puffs from his cigarette. As she counsels him to not marry quickly the playful music incorporates romantic sensibilities as she reminds him that she will be eighteen in three years. We end with joie de vie as Kitty and her family depart with his promise to write her.

In “Kitty Continued”, we open with Charles playing an improvisation on the piano. As he gets up, we discern, uncertainty. At 0:55 muted horns maestoso support a view of the grand portrait of his father hanging over the fireplace as Charles relates to Sheldon that he is unsure of his future plans. As he pulls out the key to the cottage from his pocket, we see confusion in his eyes, supported by a beautiful string borne rendering of the Key Theme misterioso. At 1:41 we segue into “Kitty Grows Up” reveals a montage of Kitty, who remains intent on marrying Charles, writing several letters to him, which she narrates on screen. Stothart offers one of the score’s most beautiful passages as he supports with a delightful and fanciful exposition led by strings felice.

“At the Savoy” reveals Kitty manipulating Charles into taking her to lunch. Stothart establishes the restaurant’s ambiance by interpolating Werner Heymann’s elegant valzer gentile from Ninotchka (1939). At 0:50 strings full of uncertainty usher in the Key Theme as Charles becomes distracted when he hears a familiar voice he cannot place. We see Dr. Dorn conversing at the next table, and then departing. He regains his composure and at 1:15 flow into “Dreams at the Savoy” a score romantic highlight atop a harp glissando. A tender valzer romantico for strings with harp adornment supports their discussion of life and happiness, until a bolt from the blue stuns her when he proposes marriage. Back at the office the romantic exposition continues until 3:46 when the Key Theme misterioso intrudes as he pulls the turnkey from his jacket pocket, joined by a fleeting quote of the Love Theme.

“Miss Hanson” (*) reveals Charles calling in his secretary. And we are stunned to see it is Paula, with a new identity – Margaret Hanson! He does not recognize her as Paula, and she makes no attempt to disclose her true identity. She tries to jog his memory with photos of a possible acquisition of the Melbridge Cable Company – the town where their cottage resides. He examines the photo but with no effect. He then informs her of his plan to marry Kitty and they discuss her marriage, and the sad news that her son died. She leaves distraught and later we find her discussing what to do with Dr. Dorn supported by strings tristi, so full of longing. He believes he is not recoverable, but never the less suggests there still may be hope, one day. She declines his offer for dinner and departs unsure of how to proceed. “Margaret Seeks a Lawyer” (*) reveals her meeting with a lawyer to discuss options afforded under law. Stothart supports unobtrusively under the dialogue with an aching musical narrative full of sadness. Later she meets with a judge who approves her petition to declare John Smith officially dead, and her marriage to him, dissolved.

In “Voice That Breathed O’er Eden” Mr. Beddoes waits for Charles and Kitty to choose their hymns for their upcoming wedding. As they enter the chapel the hymn “Voice That Breathed O’er Eden” plays solemnly on church organ. At 0:16 we flow into “Wedding Remembrance” as Beddoes plays “O Perfect Love”, joined by ethereal wordless women’s choir, which immediately stirs Charles’ mind. Yet soon at 0:43 it is joined by shrill violins emoting the Key Theme. She turns to Charles for validation and finds him starring out the window with a vacant look on his face. His eyes say everything and she realizes, that she has lost him. At 2:02 we flow into “Someone You Once Knew” an achingly beautiful score highlight where Stothart masterfully supports an intersection of powerful emotions. We see a despondent Kitty kneeling in a pew crying. She admits to Charles that she has had her doubts for some time. Stothart supports with a Pathetique borne by strings tristi, full of regret, as she admits to him that she knows that she is not the one for him, and tearfully releases him from their engagement. As they part, she asks for a final kiss goodbye, and they embrace and kiss. She then departs, leaving him to ponder her assertion that there is another for which he longs. The confluence of acting and music for this pivotal scene is sublime.

“Charles and Margaret” (*) reveals Charles has left to return to Liverpool and Paula leaves to join him. She advises him of a draft to support his run for an open seat in Parliament, while he inquires if she knows what happened to him twelve years ago here in Liverpool. He discloses his failure to discover his mystery of his missing three years. She clues him that based on his walk that day, that he probably was staying at the Great Northern Hotel, and they depart. Stothart supports very subtly with a barely perceptible underscore with fragments of the Key Theme misterioso. “Discovery” (*) reveals the hotel has an unclaimed suitcase of John Smith, Room 202. He recognizes nothing, is despondent, reconciles to himself that perhaps there will never be any answers, and prepares to depart on the 8:15 train to London. Again, Stothart supports with a sad musical narrative, closing with a plaintive Love Theme as Paula holds a shirt from his suitcase in her hands.

“The Proposal” (*) reveals Charles and Margaret taking tea on the Parliament terrace, where Charles is congratulated for his election. Charles proposes marriage to Margaret saying they are both prisoners of a hidden past, and should join their resources in a platonic relationship. He asks that she not answer immediately, but instead think it over. Later that night she discusses the proposal with Dr. Dorn who warns she will be hurt if she accepts. The Love Theme informs us that she retains hope and plans to accept, which she affirms to him when he calls her on the telephone. In “The Ballet” (*) Margaret, now Lady Rainier attends a concert with her husband Charles as guests gossip of his devotion to her, and how sad that there is no heir. Stothart supports by interpolating music from Tchaikovsky, including; Swan Lake Act II: No. 10 Moderato, Act II: No. 13 Danse des Cygnes (coda), and No. 29 Scene Finale Opus 20. The Key Theme misterioso entwines as we see him turning in in his hands as he watches.

“Prime Minister Reception” reveals a reception for the Prime Minister at Random Hall. The music opens with grand opulence, which ushers in a graceful valzer elegante, which offers an homage to Mendelssohn’s “On Wings of Song” as we see Margaret and the Prime Minister happily dancing on the crowded dance floor. At 0:48 upstairs, after the party, Charles informs Margaret that May 25th is the third anniversary of their marriage, which is supported by a rendering of the “O Perfect Love” song melody led by a solo violin d’amore as a romance for strings. In “It Is Not Enough” (*) we have a romantic score highlight. Charles, as an affirmation of love, gifts Margaret a stunning emerald and diamond necklace. He then asks if she is truly happy, and if she has everything she wants, to which she responds, perhaps not. He grants her permission to leave him if she is not happy, to which she declines. As he departs, she opens her jewelry drawer and finds the blue stoned necklace Smithy gifted her and a plaintive rendering of the Love Theme, so full of longing unfolds, led by an aching solo violin d’amore as she cries out – Smithy! The musical narrative borne by the plaintive strings romantico of the Love Theme continues with Charles returning to apologize, and then requesting that she be frank with him. He sees her cradling the blue necklace and asks if it was a gift, and its importance, to which she replies; he gave it as a gift, as they matched the color of my eyes. She tries to elicit his latent memories and desire to rediscover the void of those missing three years, but to no success. They part and decide to revisit the discussion in the morning, as she weeps with heartache.

“Departure to Devon” (*) reveals Margaret taking the train for two day stay in Devon before departing on a South American cruise. She is pained to go, and Charles wants her to stay, but she cannot bear the estrangement from Smithy any longer as it is too painful. Later, Charles manages to negotiate the end of a strike at the Melbridge Cable Works and jubilant workers sing “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” after news that their terms were met. Later, while walking through the town streets in “Try to Remember” Charles and Arthur return to the Melbridge Arms to enjoy a whiskey and soda with Arthur. After a round they depart to purchase cigarettes at a shop he remembers. When Arthur asks how he knew the location of the shop if he had never been to Melbridge before, latent memories begin to awaken, empowered by an extensive rendering of the Key Theme misterioso. At 0:56 the musical narrative is joined by ghostly echoes of “Coming Through The Rye” music he heard the night the war ended. The Key Theme intensifies as they journey to the Asylum. Slowly latent memories gain force, and he suddenly remembers a girl. At 2:35 men’s chorus singing “Vive La Compagnie!” joins as they did on that distant night long ago. At 3:01 the music softens and slowly begins to brighten as we see Margaret looking out the hotel widow into the mist. The “O Promise Me” melody slowly seeps into the musical narrative as Margaret decides to walk to the station. As she departs Mrs. Barnes informs her that a man was inquiring about a Mrs. Deventer and a small cottage outside town. Margaret immediately sets off to the cottage carried by the Love Theme. At 4:14 the Key Theme supports Charles’ walk up the walkway to the front door joined by a wondrous romance for strings. At 5:54 we flow into “Finale” atop ethereal textures with a harp glissando, which support him inserting his key and opening the cottage door. Margaret arrives at 6:01 carried by a hopeful Love Theme. She calls out “Smithy”, and he slowly turns, and responds, “Paula”. We soar on the Love Theme atop a crescendo romantico as he runs to her and our lovers join in a passionate kissing embrace of love renewed, which culminates in a grand molto romantico flourish.

I would like to thank Lukas Kendall, his technical team and Film Score Monthly for their long-sought efforts to restore the original recording of Herbert Stothart’s masterpiece, “Random Harvest”. Regretfully 50% of the music was not salvageable from the original optical film elements, including some of the score’s finest compositions. For what could be salvaged, the digital mastering by Doug Schwartz was outstanding, and good audio quality was achieved, which provides a wonderful listening experience. Stothart, unlike many of his contemporaries composed music, which while beautiful, was also unobtrusive. In 1938 he stated; “If the audience is conscious of music where it should be conscious of the drama, then the composer has gone wrong”. His score offers a testament to his approach to scoring a film. With the exception of the Main Title and finale, which offer grand musical statements, the rest of the score offers a beautiful, emotional underscore, ever present, always evocative, yet never intrusive of distracting. His soundscape is supported by three themes, which unify the film’s narrative; the Key Theme, a misterioso, which speaks to Smithy/Charles’ struggle to recovery his latent memories, a yearning Love Theme, which speaks from Paula/Margaret’s desperate yearning to recapture the love from the man of her dreams, and the “O Perfect Love” song, which supports two people in search of the love of their former life together. The score is elegant, beautifully romantic and a testament to Stothart’s mastery of his craft. In my judgement it was Stothart’s music, which elevated this film and allowed director Mervyn LeRoy to realize his vision. This score cries out for a new recording, which provides the complete score of this classic of the Golden Age. However, until this happens, I highly recommend this wonderful Film Score Monthly album, which also includes the partial score to another Stothart gem, “The Yearling”.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to a fourteen-minute suite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Av07ZSx7f7w

Buy the Random Harvest soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Opening Title & Asylum (3:05)
  • Addenda to Her Decision (2:01)
  • Little Marriage (1:03)
  • Kitty Continued/Kitty Grows Up (3:28)
  • At the Savoy/Dreams at the Savoy (4:32)
  • Voice That Breathed O’er Eden/Wedding Remembrance (O Perfect Love)/Someone You Once Knew (5:38)
  • Prime Minister Reception (1:28)
  • Try to Remember/Finale (7:31)
  • Opening Title & Asylum (Instrumental) (3:05) BONUS
  • Tobacco Shop Meeting/Medley/Leaving Biffers (Incomplete Mixes) (2:57) BONUS
  • She Is Ma Daisy (Source Music) (2:19)

Running Time: 37 minutes 28 seconds

Film Score Monthly FSMCD Vol. 9 Nr. 13 (1942/2006)

Music composed and conducted by Herbert Stothart. Orchestrations by Murray Cutter, Paul Marquardt and Leonid Raab. Additional music by Daniele Amfitheatrof. Score produced by Herbert Stothart. Album produced by Lukas Kendall.

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