Mrs. Miniver

Mrs. Miniver

Probably Mrs. Miniver will be called the best picture of 1942. It has all the things that win Academy awards. The Great Ziegfeld and GWTW were miles long and Miniver is so long it gets lost. Also it has Morality. So it is in the way of being an epic and I can’t remember an epic that didn’t win something, or why do they make them? But most of all this picture is not very good and was made by MGM and that clinches the argument, because the publicity department at Metro has already started the campaign.

Mrs. Miniver is about an English family which is prissy and fake like all screen families. The five Minivers are all very pretty and behave according to Will Hays and whoever wrote Little Lord Fauntleroy. Greer Garson makes motherhood seem the profession of impeccable taste and Walter Pidgeon acts a wise father by smoking a pipe, nodding his head knowingly and saying nothing (thereby losing every scene to Miss Garson). The older son is in the smiles tradition of Robert Taylor, a mother’s delight from Oxford, and the two little Minivers make those irritating and unchildlike smart cracks because it’s the one device known these days for comedy relief in family pictures. The difference between these people and their originals in Jan Struther’s novel is the difference between marshmallows and human beings.

The picture is entertaining enough, but its cloying goodness will make you yourself feel like a problem child. It is well acted, well photographed and well everything, technically. William Wyler directed and he is seldom in bad taste. If there is nothing in the scene to work with, he manages small details so that there is something to fill in the gap. Given a good script like The Little Foxes or Wuthering Heights, he will make it look good, on the solemn, deep side, somewhat uninspired. But the crowd of writers who worked on Jan Struther’s quiet and unmovie-like novel had nothing happen for the first hour of the film—Mrs. Miniver walking and talking but without the acute perception and feeling for living of the original woman. For the second hour these writers had a burst of invention that would fill two ordinary pictures: the son flies off to war, gets married, the father goes to Dunkirk, the mother captures a German aviator, the son’s wife is killed, the family house is bombed and a Mr. Ballard wins a prize for the best rose. It seems too much and too late.

There is a wonderfully exciting episode in which all of the small craft of England are commandeered for Dunkirk. First only a few boats are seen moving down an English river toward the Channel; others join in, and soon there is a huge flotilla of small boats. It is a director’s dream, with everything moving across the screen toward one mass scene, and that of great and thrilling heroism. Wyler gets the last bit of grandeur from it, with good camera work but particularly with as fine use of sound as we’ve had for a long time. Dunkirk itself isn’t in it, and the let-down is terrific as we return home to Mrs. Miniver. Perhaps it’s just as well, because Dunkirk will some day make a great moving picture.

The picture ends on a minister’s plea that this is a people’s war, and there is some effort to show why. But it’s hardly sincere. The commoners simper without really wanting a change, and the one who speaks of injustice is shown to be a fool. As in This Above All, the feeling is of someone shouting “Change!” while running to hell and gone away from it, and nothing like the kind of thing Vice President Wallace gives us.

Excerpt from Farber's text titled War Horses
June 15, 1942

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