Monday, August 10, 2015

Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Director: William Wyler

Academy Award for Best Screenplay
Academy Award for Best Cinematography (Black and White)

As war took over the headlines in American in 1942 director William Wyler brought the conflicts effects as close as possible to the homes of his audience in his motion picture Mrs. Miniver. The picture would bring American audiences as close as it could in a dramatic fashion the realizations that war was to heavily effect everyone’s’ lives, as the film was intended to be a rallying cry for those whose all freedom loving citizens to powwr through was was surely going to be a harsh war. A touching melodrama, Mrs. Miniver would go on to hit an emotional core with audiences and be honored as one of the most acclaimed pictures for the year.

Henry Travers plays a supporting role as a Station Master that names a rose after Mrs. Miniver.
Mrs. Miniver is a drama about the effects of World War II on middle class British family from the point of view of an unassuming housewife. Kay Miniver (Greer Garson) appears to have a perfect middle class life with her loving husband Clem (Walter Pidgeon), her children, including her college aged son Vin (Richard Ney), and Vin’s new bride Carol (Teresa Wright). However the war initiates effects on the community and the family as Vin joins the Royal Air Force, Clem takes part in the evacuation of Dunkirk (based on an actual event), Kay has a run in with a parachuted German soldier found in her garden, an air raid destroying much of the beloved home and community, and the tragic loss of Carol as a slain bystander to an stray bullet. The family is down, but not out as the film preaches a sense that we all must fight on as citizens, never letting fear change their freedom loving ways of life.

A dramatic scene with Mrs. Miniver encountering a German soldier.
The film is a wonderful slice of melodrama out of the period in history where people’s lives were drastically being altered from a time of peace to being thrusted into the conflict of World War II. The picture introduces the Miniver family and its ancillary characters in an idealistic town in England where people lived their lives in happiness almost as carefree and easy as a 1950s sitcom set in suburbia. Mr. and Mrs. Miniver are loving parents whose biggest worries are whether or not to splurge on a car by Mr. Miniver or new fashionable hat for Mrs. Miniver. Vin is the ideal college student who  visits his folks from being away at at the university and now with his new found sense of wisdom is more open to debate sociology and politics in the foolishly wise minor only a college freshman would have. However this all drastically turns around with the onslaught of air raids and news of advancing enemies within the English boarders.

Wyler styles his characters as down to earth and as real as possible to make an emotional connection with the audiences. The town ladies gossips, some citizens worry about this or that more than others, and local events are the social centers of calendar. The Minivers attempt to live on as if nothing has changed since the country had joined the war, but soon people they know begin to leave for the army, then Vin joins the Air Force, and all of a sudden the war is very real. What seemed once so far away starts to affect the small rural town directly as air raid sirens warn of approaching bombers and Clem is called upon in the middle of the night to help in a major evacuation for the war effort. For something that was taking place a half a world away this motion picture was presenting these types of effects to audiences in America in a very effective way.

For director William Wyler Mrs. Miniver was a project dear to his heart as Wyler was passionate to getting across a message to help in the war effort. A German born filmmaker who had long left his home country and felt strongly against the Nazi regime, Wyler looked to make this film as a way to fight against Germany’s tyranny. After production William Wyler would join the United States Army Air Force and help to produce war time documentaries about the Air Force including the filming through some dangerous missions.

Pre-production for Mrs. Miniver began when America was a neutral nation attempting to stay out of the conflict, but as war grew closer and Americans began to back their English allies the script for the picture became a bit darker, namely the stronger stance against the German in the film and the stirring speech at the film’s conclusion. By the time the film was to be released Pearl Harbor was attacked and Americans were signing up for the war effort left and right and this picture would speak more directly to the audience than it would have if it premiered the year prior.

With the emotional effects on the audiences high praise was showered on the film’s cast. Mrs. Miniver had nominations in every acting category at that year’s Academy Award ceremony, a first in the industry’s history. Walter Pidgeon played the loving father figure that was strong and resourceful while Richard Ney assumes the role of his son, the college educated Vin how grows up quickly in the sight of war.

Oscar winner Teresa Wright with her screen husband Richard Ney.
The two actresses that took home Academy honors were Greer Garson in the titular role with whom the audiences follows through the tragedies, and Teresa Wright as Vin’s wife Carol who is a causality in from stray shots from an air battle, the climax of the third act of the feature. Wright’s story as a Hollywood actress would be unprecedented as in her first three pictures she would receive three Academy Award nominations. Here she won the award competing against Dame May Whitty, playing Wright’s wealthy grandmother and town socialite. At the same time Wright was winning her academy Award for Best Suppoirting Actress she lost to Garson for Best Actress this same year for Wright’s performance in The Pride of the Yankees as Lou Gerhig’s (Gary Cooper) wife. Teresa Wright was a peek in her career at a very young age and fresh in Hollywood.

For MGM Mrs. Miniver was a major success at the box office. As the film was not expected to be a major hit the studio was delightfully surprised when the film brought in millions of dollars at a time when the industry was expecting a falloff in profits. That year’s award season manifested how impactful the picture was on critics as the film was up for an extraordinary twelve award nominations, including all major six that tend to grab the most attention for those that follow the awards. The film walked away from the ceremony with six statues which included apart from the before mentioned actresses wins for Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and the biggest prize, Best Picture.

The film did a great deal in building the moral of audiences with the closing title card for the picture urging viewers to invest in war bonds. Aside from that the feature also built emotion support in the hearts of those now living in a world of war. In the years following the picture William Wyler, himself having experiences war first hand, looked back on the film with fondness, but would also sense that he was too light on the horrors of war and its effects on the towns and cities. He realized that war was much more unforgiving and wished he could have less sugar-coated the ideas of how composed it was for the Minivers to jump back into living after such harsh tragedies.

In 1950 movie audiences would be able to catch up on the Miniver family in a sequel entitled The Miniver Story, with Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson reprising their roles. The film would pick up with the family following World War II, including the moments of VE Day, with a plot surrounding the story of their daughter. The picture would fail to recuperate the budget of production as the film lacked the connection with post-war audiences.

A bit of gossip would arise from the result of production of Mrs. Miniver as star Greer Garson and supporting actor Richard Ney, who played her son in the film, would marry shortly after production in 1943. Ney was twelve year Garson’s junior and their marriage would make for a silly story in some Hollywood gossip circles. However the nuptial would not last long as the short marriage would last only until 1947. When the subsequent sequel film was produced no mention was made of the Vin character at all, which might be perhaps to the credit of the Ney and Garson’s recent divorce.

The dramatic stirring words delivered at the films close in church after an air raid.
In review of Mrs. Miniver the film is very entertaining and gripping with a wonderfully written script and a brilliantly assembled plot that would have brought the tragedy of war closer to American audiences who felt themselves far from harm. According to its numbers it is obvious that the film reached a large movie going audience and left critics feeling that it was one of the best films of 1942. The film encapsulates an enjoyable look back on this period, I believe presenting how little differences some aspects of living are between then and contemporary days with its well-rounded characters. What it does best is manifest how things we take for granted can be ripped away from us so very quickly while sharing a story that we as freedom loving citizens must continue to fight on a the face of hardship from enemies, making our voices heard about not being pushed around by oppressive foreign forces.

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