81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Mrs. Miniver

September 3rd, 2009 · 2 Comments · 1942, Adaptation, Black and White, Clara Bow, Composer: Herbert Stothart, Drama, M-G-M Studios, Mrs. Miniver, Walter Pidgeon, War, William Wyler

Mrs. Miniver Oh, Mrs. Miniver, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways…

I may not be alone in my dislike for this movie. The curmudgeonly book The Real Oscar: The Story Behind the Academy Awards, by Peter H. Brown, indicates a great deal of politics are behind the Oscar picks (what a surprise!) and the choosing of Mrs. Miniver was no exception. Brown writes in a section titled “Five Films Which Shouldn’t Have Won“:

This was a propaganda film greatly sweetened by the talents of Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. But many find it unwatchable today – bathed, as it is in the school of the crying towel. The vote [by the Academy The Real Oscarto name this Best Picture] is excusable, taken as it was in 1943, the darkest year of the war for England, where the film was set

At its core, Mrs. Miniver is Cavalcade Part Two (and y’all know how I felt about Cavalcade). It is the story of a British family dragged into the latest war, which is in this case World War II. It is the flip-side of All Quiet On the Western Front, which is decidedly an anti-war film. Mrs. Miniver, although not pro war, is nevertheless pro doing something. It does not preach passivism. It does not preach war. But it attempts, in its own there’s-nothing-new-under-the-sun way, to gird people for battle, to strengthen them for what must be done. God save the Queen!

My observations and discoveries:

1. Henry Travers (1864-1965), the adorable actor who, four years later, appears as Clarence, the wing-less angel in It’s A Wonderful Life, appears in Mrs. Miniver as a Mr. Ballard, a mild-mannered grower of prize roses. Henry Travers is a superb character actor. But he will always be Clarence to me.

2. Walter Pidgeon (1897-1984), who appeared in the year’s previous Oscar-winner How Green Was My Valley, appears in this Oscar-winner as well. His role is that of the husband of Mrs. Miniver, Clem Miniver. To me, Pidgeon is just as un-dynamic in this role as he was in Valley. It’s rare for an actor to appear in back-to-back Oscar winners. But it’s especially rare for one to do so and yet remain so forgettable.

3. Teresa Wright (1918-2005), plays the role of Carol Beldon, the daughter of aristocratic wealth, in this film. According to her IMDB listing: “A natural and lovely talent who was discovered for films by Samuel Goldwyn, the always likable Teresa Wright distinguished herself early on in high-caliber, Oscar-worthy form — the only performer ever to be nominated for Oscars for her first three films. Always true to herself, she was able to earn Hollywood stardom on her own unglamorized terms.” Clara BowTeresa appeared in one of my favorite movies, the schmaltzy Somewhere In Time (1980) starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. The premise of Somewhere In Time is a man (circa 1980) obsessed with the portrait of a beautiful woman discovers a way to go back in time (to 1912) to be with her. Now, if only that really worked. I’d love to meet silent-film star Clara Bow.

But I digress.

4. Four people are credited with writing the screenplay: “Arthur Wimperis & George Froeschel & James Hilton & Claudine West.” That’s a lot of writers. And, since their names were all joined together with an ampersand (“&”), that means they all share equal writing credit. They may even have worked in the same room together hammering out the script. Joining writers’ names together an “and” means something different, according to the Writers Guild of America. So many writers! Yet so little to remember in the movie. Seems like one writer could have just fine created the movie that is Mrs. Miniver.

5. Mrs. Miniver was directed by William Wyler (1902-1981), who – according to his entry on IMDB – was “an American filmmaker who, at the time of his death in 1981, was considered by his peers as second only to John Ford as a master craftsman of cinema.” I find that hard to believe. How Green Was My Valley was a superb film with a lot of heart. Mrs. Miniver isn’t in the same league. In fact, Mrs. Miniver is as bland as an episode from a 1950s TV series.

6. This is the 10th Oscar-winning movie (the fourth one in a row!) to be an adaptation (a story based on a novel, a character in a novel, a short story, or a play). In this case, “Mrs. Miniver was a fictional character created by Jan Struther in 1937 for a series of newspaper columns for The Times, later adapted into a movie of the same name,” according to the Wiki entry. Four Oscar-winning movies in a row that are adaptations? Ten out of 15 movies? (67%) Rather formulaic, wouldn’t you say?

7. If the British really were this blase about war, it’s no wonder they got their butts kicked. Both Cavalcade and Mrs. Miniver featured buck-up-old-boy Brits talking cheerfully about going off to war. More witty, glib lines were uttered in these two movies by these pre-war Brits (for their patter changed dramatically after they were actually in the war) than Nick and Nora bandied in the entire Thin Man series.

This isn’t a movie I could watch more than a couple of times, which I did today. After today’s viewings, I doubt I’ll ever reach for it again. It’s not an important film. It’s not really even a very good film. In its day, it may have helped the Brits, as well as Americans, steel themselves to win the war. But, today, it’s merely lackluster in its subject matter, acting, directing, and dialogue.

God may have been able to save the Queen. But not even He was able to rescue Mrs. Miniver.


2 Comments so far ↓

  • Lisa

    I enjoyed the film but agree that it is NO Oscar winner. The last speech summed it up “We lost people but look at what you can do at home to help! So suck it up!”

  • Bill

    Thanks for stopping by again, Lisa. I appreciate your comments and insights.

    I probably agree with 50%-75% of the movies that were chosen as Oscar winners. Some were so incredible that they were jaw dropping. Others were so bad they were head scratchers. (For example, you need to watch the movie Tom Jones. Or Oliver. They’ll blow your mind they’re so bad.)

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