Friday, November 23, 2018

CONSENSUS #98 - Mrs. Miniver (1942)

SYNOPSIS:  “Mrs. Miniver” is a romance drama set in WWII Great Britain in 1940.  The Miniver family is upper class and lives in a mansion outside a typical British village.  Eldest son Vin woos the daughter of the local doyen.  She is opposed to the marriage.  Vin joins the Royal Air Force and becomes a fighter pilot.  Father Clem (Walter Pidgeon) participates in the “little boats” rescue from Dunkirk.  Mrs. Miniver (Greer Garson) holds down the mansion and even has a confrontation with a downed German pilot.  The movie builds to the climactic rose competition.

BACK-STORY:   “Mrs. Miniver” is an American movie directed by William Wyler (“The Best Years of Our Lives”).  It was based on the novel by Jan Struther which was published in 1940.  The screenplay was constantly adjusted during production to reflect developments in the war.  It was a massive hit in America and Britain and was the box office champ for 1942.  A sequel entitled “The Miniver Story” was released in 1950.  Garson and Pidgeon reprised their roles.

TRIVIA:  imdb, wikipedia

1. Soon after the movie was finished, Greer Garson married her movie son Richard Nay. The marriage lasted four years.
2. Winston Churchill claimed the movie was equivalent to a fleet of destroyers.
3. The Vicar’s speech at the end (called the Wilcoxon speech after the actor – who cowrote it with director William Wyler) was printed in Look and Time magazines. FDR encouraged its broadcasting on Voice of America and the dropping of it in leaflet form over occupied Europe.
4. Wyler was a Jew born in Germany and knew the stakes. He saw the movie as a pro-intervention piece.
5. After the movie was completed, Wyler joined the Signal Corps (see the documentary entitled “Five Came Back” on Netflix).  He made the documentaries “Memphis Belle” and “Thunderbolt”.  He flew missions in B-17s and once passed out from lack of oxygen.  He became partially deaf in one ear due to the noise he encountered filming P-47s.  Based on what he saw in WWII, he later commented that he felt the movie was too wimpy.
6. It was the first movie with five acting nominations - Garson won for Best Actress and Teresa Wright won for Supporting Actress. Walter Pidgeon was nominated for Actor (losing to Jimmy Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy”) and May Whitty and Henry Travers for supporting roles. The movie won for Best Picture, Director, and Black and White Cinematography.  It was nominated for Special Effects, Editing, and Sound Recording.
7. Garson did not want to play the lead because she did not want to play a mother. Her contract obligated her to take the part.
8. This was the second of eight movies that Pidgeon and Garson made together.
9. The movie script was constantly being rewritten during filming to reflect the changing fortunes of the Allies. For instance, Mrs. Miniver’s confrontation with the German pilot got increasingly belligerent and ended up including Miniver slapping him (after Pearl Harbor).
10. Joseph Goebbels admired the movie’s effectiveness as propaganda.
11.  Greer Garson’s Academy Awards speech was over 30 minutes long and led to limits on the length of speeches.

Belle and Blade  =  3
Brassey’s              =  3.8
Video Hound       =  3.4
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  not on list
Channel 4             =  #79
Film Site                =  no
101 War Movies  =  yes

OPINION:  “Mrs. Miniver” was the perfect movie for its time and yet it holds up very well.  It came out at the time when America was just entering the war and although it reflects the interventionist spirit before Pearl Harbor, it gave Americans inspiration as the long road loomed.  It is highly crafted propaganda, but it does not bludgeon you.  The cast is sterling and the performances are solid, if a bit overrated.  It is a series of vignettes that give each main character a chance to shine and the episodes manage to hit on iconic moments, like sitting out a bombing raid in a cellar.  There is also a tear-jerking death to make sure the audience recognizes that the war will have tragedy.  As a war home front movie, it is one of the best and a great companion for Wyler’s post-war home front flick “The Best Years of Our Lives”.

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