#161) Mrs. Miniver (1942)

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#161) Mrs. Miniver (1942)

OR “Vicar is Quicker”

Directed by William Wyler

Written by Arthur Wimperis & George Foreschel & James Hilton & Claudine West. Based on the book (and newspaper column) by Jan Struther.

Class of 2009

The Plot: The Minivers are an upper class family outside of London. Kay (Greer Garson) runs the household, and hides her expenses from loving husband Clem (Walter Pidgeon). Their eldest son Vincent (Richard Ney) has returned home from Oxford and falls for Carol Beldon (Teresa Wright), the well-off granddaughter of Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty). But all of this is disrupted by the onset of World War II. Vincent joins the Royal Air Force, Clem volunteers his motorboat for various services, and Kay struggles to keep her family together during the darkest hours. They suffer loss and setbacks, but like the rest of their country, the Minivers never give up hope and keep fighting.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “sentimental wartime melodrama”, but praises the leads, director Wyler, and its contributions to the war effort.

But Does It Really?: This is an historical yes. The entertainment value is fine, Garson in particular is giving a wonderfully grounded performance, but my takeaway was a film commenting on World War II while still being in the war. The film’s message of hope and victory is even more inspiring given that there was no guarantee of either in early 1942. It’s propaganda to be sure, but “Mrs. Miniver” is an important document of addressing the war without the blessing of hindsight, as well as highlighting what every citizen could contribute to do their part.

Everybody Gets One: This is Greer Garson’s only NFR appearance! Her star may not shine as brightly as her contemporaries, but in her day she was a box-office sensation, a seven-time Oscar nominee, and one of those actors with that indefinable “star quality”. If you’re going to have one Greer Garson picture on the list, this is the natural choice.

Wow, That’s Dated: This film takes place during that time when a man could spank his wife and we were all okay with it for some reason. Also don’t forget to buy defense bonds and stamps every pay day!

Seriously, Oscars?: A massive hit in both the U.S. and England, “Mrs. Miniver” went into the 1942 Oscars with 12 nominations (a near-record), and took home six, including Best Picture and Director for William Wyler. Greer Garson and Teresa Wright won Best Actress and Supporting Actress, respectively. Both give good performances, but were no doubt aided by their work in other Oscar contenders: Garson with “Random Harvest” and Wright with “The Pride of the Yankees”. Greer Garson may also hold the record for longest acceptance speech, clocking in somewhere in the 5½-6 minute range. There’s no complete footage of that ceremony, so we’ll never know for sure.

Other notes

  • Of the Miniver family, only Greer Garson and Clare Sanders (Judy) were actually British. Richard Ney, Teresa Wright, and Christopher Severn (Toby) were American, while Walter Pidgeon was Canadian, and appears to not be attempting any sort of accent.
  • Greer Garson definitely had “movie star eyes”. So expressive, so full of emotion. You can’t help but watch her.
  • Purely by coincidence, this is my second consecutive film (and third in two months) to feature Henry Travers, a.k.a Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. If you’ve ever wanted to hear him say “horse manure”, this is your movie.
  • “Fun” Fact: Shortly after the film’s release, Greer Garson married Richard Ney, her on-screen son. Watching the film through that lens gives everything a disturbing Oedipal flavor.
  • Vincent does a lot of mansplaining in his first scene with Carol. And then he fat-shames her! And she’s not even fat!
  • Eddie Izzard was on to something about the Church of England. Spice it up, lads!
  • In one of my favorite Oscar What-Ifs, if “Casablanca” hadn’t missed the 1942 eligibility deadline, would it have beaten “Mrs. Miniver” at the Oscars? Or would it have been the other way around?
  • Toby, Shut. Up. Side note: How Christopher Severn never got cast as Tiny Tim in appalling.
  • Clem volunteers to help at the Dunkirk evacuation. Say hi to Christopher Nolan’s impressive production value for me!
  • The scene where Kay confronts a German soldier is when things really start to pick up for this film. Definitely a highlight.
  • Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon do have some lovely chemistry. No wonder they made so many movies together.
  • Dame May Whitty’s role would be played today by either Maggie Smith or Judi Dench. I love her scene with Kay regarding Carol’s marriage, which is comprised almost entirely of one uninterrupted take.
  • It’s kind of hard to tell if the gas detector changes color in a black and white movie.
  • It takes forever to get there, but the Vicar’s speech is worth the trip out. Word has it Henry Wilcoxon rewrote his own speech with William Wyler. Well done, team.
  • Aircraft flying in V formations. Subtle.

Legacy

  • Winston Churchill was often quoted as saying “Mrs. Miniver” did more for the war effort than most military action. FDR was so moved by the film’s final speech that he requested it be shipped out to theaters as a separate short.
  • Garson and Pidgeon had already worked together in “Blossoms in the Dust”, but this film led to six more pairings, most memorably in “Madame Curie”.
  • “The Miniver Story” was a 1950 sequel that followed the Minivers in their post-war life. Nothing is said about Vince, who presumably died in the war. And that’s why you don’t marry your leading lady!
  • “Mrs. Miniver” was remade for TV in 1960 starring Maureen O’Hara. [Footage Not Available]
  • Henry Wilcoxon would play another religious figure in… “Caddyshack”?

Further Viewing: A TCM tribute to Greer Garson narrated by Keith Carradine, who I guess is a big fan.

3 thoughts on “#161) Mrs. Miniver (1942)”

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