“Mrs. Miniver” won six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director William Wyler, Best Screenplay, Best Lead Actress Greer Garson, Best Supporting Actress Teresa Wright, and Best Cinematography.
A highly popular melodrama in its day, based on the novel by Jan Struther, “Mrs. Miniver” was largely considered an ideal model of propaganda by the O.W.I. (America's Office of War & Information, initially set up as a vital liaison between U.S. studios and official government policy makers to present balanced and supportive depictions of anti-Fascist struggles.)
“Mrs. Miniver” is perhaps one of the best examples of a mainstream film dealing with an isolated population unaffected by the war (and to some degree, in denial) until the bombs exploded in their own private rose gardens. The film's prologue touts the British village home to average middle class families, but it's quite clear the Miniver family are part of the modern upper class; with a substantial disposable income, a housemaid, and a cook, they also maintain British reserve to sometimes irrational, and rather precious degrees.
Where the film excels, however, is director William Wyler's measured tone, which accepts the story's focus – of gradual changes and carnage on the home front – and uses lengthy sequences emphasizing actor reactions. The Miniver bomb shelter, and a lonely car trip with stalwart Greer Garson and Teresa Wright are two scenes magnifying emotional intimacy, and captures an awful fear without showing a single drop of blood.
The Minivers would enjoy some success on radio, their lives condensed in a 60-minute show; and a weekly half-hour program, which followed their evacuation to America. Garson and Pidgeon reprised their roles in the 1950 sequel, “The Miniver Story,” and Maureen O'Hara and Leo Genn took over the characters in the short-lived, 1960 CBS TV series.
“Mr. Blabbermouth” is a vintage war short that discredits the loudmouth mis-informationer, who grows like “skunk cabbage,” and instills fear in the nation's home front. (At one point, a subway big-mouth is given an approving grin by a nattily attired Japanese sympathizer, quietly reading a book titled “How to Kill Friends & Annihilate People.”) In the end it's just a stream of facts, meant to reassure the public that the Allied effort has enough raw minerals to create the right might and smite the Fascist plight.
“Stupid and happy, like all Americans,” spouts a blackmailing German to his “Oriental Aryan” colleague, while a poor American schmoe working in Chile is forced to work as a courier. “For the Common Defense,” a short Crime Does Not Pay Subject, features an introduction by MGM's “crime reporter” (!), and co-stars a very young Van Johnson as the U.S. liaison officer, who helps catch the scheming fifth columnists in this slickly produced crime vignette.
Closing the disc is a short snippet of Garson's acceptance speech, and reveals the importance “Mrs. Miniver” possessed for herself, a member of the large colony of British actors, many forced to watch the effects of war on England from afar.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan