Friday, May 18, 2012

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: Mrs. Miniver (1942)

Let's talk about war movies for a second.

Wars are generally (and have historically been) fought by men. War movies are generally (and have historically been) about men, not to mention written by men, directed by men, and, please excuse my sexist attitude, enjoyed by men. That is why it is always refreshing to me--as a woman, don't forget!--to find a movie that has a backdrop of war with a female protagonist. Now, I know there are war movies that feature women beyond the roles of mother/wife/girlfriend or nurse, like Courage Under Fire and obviously any movie about Joan of Arc. But that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the home front. How do women survive during war time? Obviously, in these liberated times, women would be perfectly capable of surviving, so I am referring to ye olden days. And, quite obviously, women of yore were able to survive or else we wouldn't be here. But how? Luckily, fiction has presented us with a scattered few examples.*

A mere three years ago in the history of Oscar, we saw how Scarlett O'Hara dealt with those damn Yankees ravaging Georgia and now, in 1942, we watch how another woman copes with an enemy attack on her beloved homeland.

If you happened to catch the first half hour or so of Mrs. Miniver, you wouldn't have the slightest inclination that it's is a war film. It begins much like a 1950's sitcom; The Minivers are an upper-middle class British family living in the suburbs. Kay Miniver (Greer Garson) is a housewife with a fondness for couture hats. She loves her architect husband, Clem (Walter Pidgeon), and he loves her. They have three children, Toby (Christopher Severn), Judy (Clare Sandars), and an elder son Vin (Richard Ney) who has just returned from his first term at Oxford with a intellectual chip on his shoulder. On his first night home, he insults Carol Beldon (Teresa Wright), the pretty, nubile granddaughter of the aristocratic (re: snobbish) Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty). But the youngsters overcome their differences and fall in love at a dance...and then World War II starts. Vin joins the Royal Air Force. Clem helps with the Dunkirk evacuation. And lovely, glowing Mrs. Miniver--to put it bluntly--deals with it.

Mrs. Miniver is based on a series of newspaper articles written by Jan Struther for the British newspaper, The Times. According the Wikipedia, the articles were about the daily, suburban life of the fictional Mrs. Miniver. However, after the outbreak of WWII, the tone of the articles changed as the heroine was forced to deal with air raids and bomb shelters. And to directly quote Wikipedia, because I am apparently too lazy to paraphrase and have too much a conscience to plagiarize:
The U.S. was still officially neutral, but as war with Nazi Germany intensified in Europe, the tribulations of the Miniver family engaged the sympathy of the American public sufficiently that President Franklin D. Roosevelt credited it for hastening America's involvement in the war.
Just short of 6 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mrs. Miniver was released to the theaters.

So yeah, the film is pretty propaganda-esque: men should go fight, women should do what they can, freedom is worth fighting for, etcetera, etcetera. But should we throw it away? No, there is lots of good stuff here and many memorable scenes, including one where a wounded German pilot breaks in casa de Miniver. I can't help but make a comparison to Gone With the Wind here; in a similar scene, Scarlett boldly shoots the Yankee straggler in the face and takes his money. In MM, Kay is much more diplomatic and calls the police after she takes the passed out Nazi's pistol. Naturally, We want women more like Mrs. Miniver rather than that haughty O'Hara girl. Neither cries in the corner in the face of danger, but one keeps her feminine cool and grace and doesn't violate the sixth commandment. what does this say about women during WWII?

Sorry. Didn't mean to go all Feminist Film Theory 101 on you. And sorry to bring up Gone With the Wind again. This isn't about comparing the Best Picture Winners, damn it!

In all honesty, I'm pretty conflicted about Mrs. Miniver. At times I was really enjoying myself and invested in the story and other times I was just annoyed by one thing or another--such as Vin's characterization and horrendous British accent. Yeesh. What I took away from the whole experience was how the war was really happening in England. Duh, you say. Anyone who took U.S. History would know that, you say. Of course I knew that, but my thick American head never really thought about it. Thank you, Mrs. Miniver. If you do nothing else, you've helped me complete a high school history education.

What really baffles me is the film's 1942 release date. 1942. That was only halfway through the war for England. There were three more years of war, and of course, the world had no way of knowing how long it would go on. There is no real conclusion to Mrs. Miniver and how can there be? All though a buttload of stuff has already happened to the family, a buttload more will happen. Perhaps even young Judy and Toby will be sent to live with professor in the country and find a magical portal to another world. But until then, the Minivers and all the people of the Britain, must keep holding on, and not stop believing and fight the good fight until the bitter end.

Ah, Mrs. Miniver. How little I actually wrote about you. Whatever. This isn't one I really care about so you're lucky got this much out of me.


Impressions circa 2004
Negative. I really hated this one for reasons I can no longer remember or even guess at.

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
  • Best Director - William Wyler 
  • Best Actor - Walter Pidgeon 
  • Best Actress - Greer Garson 
  • Best Supporting Actor - Henry Travers 
  • Best Supporting Actress - Teresa Wright
  • Best Adapted Screenplay 
  • Best Cinematography, Black and White 
  • Best Film Editing 
  • Best Sound Recording 
  • Best Visual Effects 

1942 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen...followed by my opinion in 10 words or less.)

  • The Invaders 
  • Kings Row 
  • The Magnificent Ambersons 
  • The Pied Piper 
  • The Pride of the Yankees 
  • Random Harvest 
  • The Talk of the Town 
  • Wake Island 
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy 

What I Learned From...Mrs. Miniver
War affects everyone, even women.

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