Susan Peters in RANDOM HARVEST (1942) - Supporting Actress Sundays

StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Sundays for May kicks off a month of Sundays devoted to 1942 with the surprisingly weird work of Susan Peters in the Greer Garson/Ronald Colman romantic epic, Random Harvest

Random Harvest is one of those many movies that could carry the tagline: "Fate bought them together, but would Fate also keep them apart?" Basically, Ronald Colman's a WWI officer shellshocked into amnesia. He's stuck -- no clue as to who he is -- at an asylum in a manufacturing town somewhere in England. Amidst the excitement over Armistice, Colman wanders into town & encounters a music hall singer/actress headlining there (Greer Garson). For reasons known only to the artisans who craft romantic boilerplates, Garson decides to keep the obviously dazed-&-confused Colman on as kind of a manpet. For additionally obscure reasons, they flee from the town to the countryside where -- surprise! -- they fall madly in love, marry & make a baby. All while bantering in the plummiest English accents ever; they're both just "terribly heppy." Then, of course, in a fit of goodprovider-ness, Colman ventures off to the city where he gets run over & wakes up -- what?! -- remembering who he is but with no idea of where he's been for the last three years. Turns out -- you don't say! -- he's heir to a business fortune & his daddy just died leaving him all kinds of money, houses, & servants. But -- sniff -- what about Greer? Will he ever remember her? Ohhh, l'amour, l'amour.

(If you want to see how things turn out,
check out this loving reconstruction of Random Harvest as an English fotonovela.)

Susan Peters -- as Kitty, Colman's fifteen year old step-niece -- arrives to the scene at precisely the moment when Colman re-enters his fancypants life (& forgets all about Greer).

Susan Peters as Kitty: "I have intentions."
Kitty falls immediately in swoon for her tragic & romantic step-uncle. And they develop a devoted relationship over what turns out to be twelve years -- a photo on Colman's mantle charts Kitty's maturation from school girl to college graduate to young woman.

Finally, when 12 years have passed -- Kitty's all grown up and sophisticated; Colman's a workaholic with no interest in romance. But that won't stop Kitty. She reminds him of her unrelenting love for him in creepy molestuous tones ("It's not fair. You've spoiled me for other men, you know.") and -- whaddayaknow -- Colman asks Kitty to marry him. They prepare for the enormously British wedding. Somehow collies are involved. And while selecting hymns for the service, Colman has -- ohno! -- a flashback to his marriage to Greer.

The scene that follows probably's what snagged Susan Peters her only nomination:
Wordlessly -- in close-up & seemingly in a single take -- Peters looks into the eyes of her beloved but troubled fiancé. Her face clouds. She sees that the man she loves does not love her. Her lingering smile becomes an anguished grimace. The radiance that moments before conveyed confident rapture crumbles as a clay mask into a mess of confusion and fear. Wordlessly and in about 30 seconds. And what's even better: Susan Peters' nostrils flare at the moment when she understands the truth in her beloved's eyes. It's a glorious, delicious moment of movie acting. To be sure, when those nostrils flared, a star was born! And Lulu became a Susan Peters fan...

Alas. Susan Peters' rising star didn't quite last. Indeed, when starting on the Supporting Actresses of 1942, StinkyLulu had no inkling who Susan Peters might be, let alone how extraordinary, tragic, and short her career would turn out to be. (See, Peters was paralyzed from the waist down in a freak hunting accident just a few years after Random Harvest. Confined to wheelchair & suffering a variety of chronic ailments, Peters worked only occasionally on stage and screen over the next few years, receiving consistent praise but gaining little career momentum. [BTW: If any lovely readers out there in inter-web-land have an idea how Lulu might get a hold of a copy of what is Peters' lost great performance -- the wheelchair-bound tyrant in 1948's The Sign of the Ram, do tell. Lulu'd forever be in your debt.] Nonetheless, Susan Peters' acting career faltered and, in 1952, at the age of 31, Susan Peters died.)

While an early career Supporting Actress Oscar nomination almost inevitably works against career longevity, Peters' work in Random Harvest suggests unusual promise (at least for excellent matriarch work on Big'80s tv). But the grace comes in that her deservedly nominated performance as Kitty in Random Harvest inspires remembrance of her unfortunately truncated career. In a movie nearly overwrought with the lugubrious, mannered melancholy of serious romance, Susan Peters offers an unexpectedly bright (and imperfect) gem of a performance.

Who said Supporting Actress Sundays weren't full of surprises?


Philipp said...

I thought her acting was excellent throughout the movie. I found it far more believable than the plot.

stevewinn66755 said...

Many think of other films as the greatest love film, but Random Harvest IS, # The Ghost & Mrs. Muir #3 Ghost [Patrick Swayze} lost a great one