Mrs. Miniver (1942)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Mrs. Miniver</strong> (1942)

(On DVD, January 2018) One of the reasons why I suspect it’s better to start watching older movies after a certain age is that you get to appreciate not only the movie but its place at the time in which it was made. It’s impossible to watch Mrs. Miniver today without thinking about 1942 America, watching aghast at the disastrous first few years of World War II in Europe but not yet committed to the war effort. Mrs. Miniver is a propaganda piece designed to sway public opinion toward supporting America’s entry into World War II, and it does so by presenting the life of an ordinary (well; ordinary upper-middle-class) English family before and immediately during World War II. That’s how we spend a rather dull first act with a family doing ordinary things, but as events evolve we see them react to news of the war, then be directly involved as their daily lives are disrupted, as their son enlists in the air force, as bombing raids destroy their house, as dad goes down the river to help the Dunkirk invasion, and as death strikes. After a slow start, the film gets progressively more involving up until a gut punch of a conclusion that still works surprisingly well despite the decades since the film’s release. A sequence between Mrs. Miniver and a German soldier is designed to infuriate the audience and reading contemporary accounts of reactions to the film, it’s clear that the film was deemed incredibly influential in rallying American audiences in the war effort. The film won the Best Picture Oscar that year (presenting an interesting counterpoint to the following year’s winning Casablanca). Even acknowledging its quality as propaganda doesn’t take away its emotional or narrative impact. Greer Garson is quite good in the title role, gradually showing inner reserves of strength as the war marches on and hits closer. Walter Pidgeon is also noteworthy at the husband, as are Teresa Wright and Dame May Whitty in very different roles. I defy anyone to listen to Mrs. Miniver’s closing speech and not feel even a little bit stirred toward Nazi-punching action even in a war won decades ago. It’s still that good.

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