Judge Patrick Naugle urges you to buy war bonds.
Our reviews of Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Romance (published April 17th, 2013), Mrs. Miniver (published March 8th, 2004), and TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Best Picture Winners (published February 19th, 2009) are also available.
Love during wartime.
Taking place in Balham during World War II, Mrs. Miniver follows the title family as they live and love in the confines of war. Kay Miniver (Greer Garson, Goodbye Mr. Chips) lives a privileged life with her successful architect husband, Clem (Walter Pidgeon, How Green Was My Valley). They have two adorable children (Christopher Severn and Clare Sanders), and an older, overly idealistic college age son, Vin (Richard Ney, Midnight Lace), who has come home for a visit. Vin falls in love with Carol Beldon (Teresa Wright, The Best Years of our Lives), the granddaughter of local nobility. Even though Carol's grandmother (Dame May Whitty, Lady Vanishes) doesn't approve of the relationship, their love blossoms as Vin goes off to fight in the war. As Vin and Carol discover the joys of romance, Kay and Clem adjust to war life and realize that the thing that matters most, the bonds of family, can't be replaced.
Directed by the legendary William Wyler (who also helmed the classic Biblical Charlton Heston epic Ben-Hur), Mrs. Miniver was based on a collection of English newspaper columns by Jan Struther. The columns became a book in 1939 and were then turned into an award winning film (as well as a sequel in the 1950s) that features some very good—if slightly dated—performances, a patriotically chest thumping screenplay, and a crisp black and white picture that evokes a specific time and place. I won't say that I was really all that enthralled with Mrs. Miniver; it's certainly not for those with short attention spans. The film often lingers on characters as they discuss their future plans, and can sometimes feel slightly lacking in pace (again, I attribute this to the time period more than the quality of the performances). While Mrs. Miniver may not be the at the top of the "Best Picture" winners, it's a pleasant little movie about staying true to one's self and finding the strength to go on amidst turmoil and trouble.
The performances are never flashy or showy. The film really belongs to Greer Garson as Kay Miniver, a woman who has a strong sense of purpose and love for her family. Garson never became as popular as many of the leading ladies of her time, which is a shame as her screen presence is simply radiating. Stalwart Walter Pidgeon as her doting husband Clem is good, though his character never feels quite as fleshed out. Richard Ney as their son Vin is one of the less likable cast members, coming off as an upper crust snot who needs a good swift kick in the pants. Henry Travers, who famously played Clarence the angel in holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life, displays a warmth that gives the film's rough edge of battle a softer feel. The subplot about a hopefully prize winning rose named after the title character offers a bit more humanity to the film, contrasting well against the backdrop of war.
Because of the time period, Mrs. Miniver sometimes feels a bit sanitized for its own good. One scene where Clem and Kay are holed up in a bomb shelter with their children while explosions detonate around them is almost laughable; the two drink a nice cup of tea and laugh while death and destruction creeps towards their house. At the end of the scene they finally express fear, but it seems too little, too late—if this had been remotely realistic, everyone in that bunker would have been utterly terrified from minute one. Even more implausible is the enormous crowd that gathers for a rose judging competition, but this was the 1940s and the lack of iPhones and widescreen TVs and Xboxes probably didn't help matters.
The film suddenly takes a tragic turn near the end, shocking considering how light it's felt up until that point. Aside of a run in with a German solider—a momentary subplot that doesn't generate a lot of suspense—I was a bit taken aback by what happens to one of the main characters. I'm sure that the moment was created to generate sympathy and pathos, but it felt almost out of place in the film. I can't say I was a huge fan of Mrs. Miniver; it's one of those movies that you feel you should love because of its accolades by the Academy, yet it didn't grab or engage me the way some great old movies do. Garson and Pidgeon both give above average performances, but the movie as a whole is curiously mediocre.
Mrs. Miniver is presented in a gorgeous 1.33:1 full frame black and white transfer in 1080p high definition. I can't say enough good things about how nice this transfer looks; the black and white levels are solid and very clear. There is some film grain in the image, but it's an appropriate amount and is never intrusive. Warner has once again dug into their back catalog and pulled out a winner. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD 1.0 Mono in English. My heaping praise doesn't extend quite as far with the audio mix; although the soundtrack is good, the range is very limited and not highly dynamic. Also, be aware you may need the subtitles with some of the dialects and accents on display. Also included are Dolby Digital Mono mixes in Spanish, French, German, and Italian; as well as English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Korean subtitles.
The extra features on this first ever Blu-ray edition of Mrs. Miniver include a dramatization of an editorial from the Los Angeles Daily News ("Mr. Blabbermouth"), a 'Crime Does Not Pay' series entry/featurette titled "For the Common Defense", an amusing Tex Avery cartoon titled Blitz Wolf, a 1942 Academy Awards Newsreel, and a trailer for the film.
I found myself somewhat detatched from Mrs. Miniver's story and
characters. Those who love the film will certainly thrilled with Warner Bros'
newly minted Blu-ray.
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Studio: Warner Bros.
• Newsreel Footage
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