Monday, June 10, 2013

Classic Movies About Amnesia

Garbo ponders her identity.
A plot device staple, despite its unlikely real-life occurrence, amnesia has shown no favoritism toward any particular genre nor sex. Screen legend Greta Garbo made it fashionable for women to forget their identities in 1932's As You Desire Me, thus inspiring other actresses to ponder “Who am I?”  A sample roster spans five decades and includes Jennifer Jones (Love Letters), Ava Gardner (Singapore), Karen Valentine (Jane Doe), and Lindsay Wagner (Stranger in My Bed).  

Peck and Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound.
Males have proven to be equally forgetful, especially William Powell and Gregory Peck, both of whom suffered two bouts of amnesia (Powell in I Love You Again and Crossroads, Peck in Spellbound and Mirage). Greer Garson, who dealt with Ronald Colman's loss of memory in Random Harvest (1942), experienced it herself earlier in Remember? (1939). In an unusual plot twist, she and Robert Taylor played a bickering couple who take a potion that causes amnesia and then wind up falling in love again. Amnesia has also separated lovers in high-class soap operas like Random Harvest, Love Letters, and Singapore.

A confused Garner in Mister Buddwing.
It's hard to remember many amnesiac comedies, although Desperately Seeking Susan and The Road to Hong Kong spring to mind with little difficulty. The most interesting amnesiac plots have appeared in mysteries and espionage thrillers. Gregory Peck played the new head of an asylum who turns out to be an impostor with amnesia in Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945). Warner Baxter's The Crime Doctor was a sleuthing psychologist, who had been a master criminal before being reformed by amnesia. Unethical psychiatrist Tony Perkins tried to manipulate amnesiac killer Charles Bronson into murdering his wife's lover in the 1971 thriller Someone Behind the Door. James Garner, unable to remember his name, saw a Budweiser truck and an airplane and decided to call himself Mister Buddwing (1966). It was certainly one of the more commercial films of its time.

The article was reprinted with the authors' permission from the Encyclopedia of Films Themes, Settings and Series.


  1. When James Garner named himself after a Budweiser truck & an airplane, I turned off the film!! Guess it could have been worse, though. He could have seen a pile of dog poop & a piece of head-cheese & named himself Mr. Sh*t-Head!! lol

  2. I love Random Harvest. It's such a sweet film, and when Smithy finally says, "Paula," the tears just start cascading down my cheeks.

  3. Fun read. I could swear there have been several amnesiac comedies yet can't think of titles. I think I suffer from bits of this ailment with a lacing of cluelessness.

    Thanks for posting, Rick!


    1. "Overboard" with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.

  4. Great idea, Rick! I love this plot device. I'd like to write a story about the girl who forgot to eat!

  5. What a great post!! I have seen many of your list of Amnesia films and thought they were awesome films.

  6. "Will she kiss me or kill me?" was the unforgettable line on movie posters promoting Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck in "Spellbound."

    This is a fun post, Rick, about a classic film theme. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Some great films here. Amnesia really is a great plot device.

    I feel the need to confess that I cannot stand the film "Random Harvest". Never was amnesia put to a more manipulative, aggravating use.