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HTF REVIEW: Mrs. Miniver (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED).



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#1 of 7 Herb Kane

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Posted January 22 2004 - 04:14 AM

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Mrs. Miniver



Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1942
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 133 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Academy
Audio: DD Mono
Color/B&W: B&W
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $19.98
Package: Snap Case





The Feature:
Warner Brothers is kicking off the month of February with seven Academy Award winning films. The titles included on the February 3rd release date are: Grand Hotel, Mutiny On The Bounty (1935 version), Mrs. Miniver, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Gaslight (both 1940 and 1944 versions), The Great Ziegfeld and My Fair Lady (as a Special Edition two disc set). It has been a great couple of months for fans of classics and it’s been recently announced that there maybe as many as 200 catalogue releases this year by Warner Bros. alone.

Mrs. Miniver was directed by William Wyler and set in England during 1939 just before the start of WWII. The story revolves around a middle-class family, focusing on a woman who fights to keep her home and family safe during the war. She gives a moving performance as an exceptionally loving wife and an extremely caring mother. During the period, there were a number of propaganda films, none more influential in their effort than this one. In fact it was once said by Winston Churchill himself that “Mrs. Miniver was more vital to the nation than a fleet of destroyers”.

Mrs. “Kay” Miniver (played by the beautiful Greer Garson) is the perfect mother and wife. Mother of three children, Toby, Judy and Vin (played by Richard Ney, who would go on to marry the star of the film, Greer Garson a year later in real life). Her husband is Clem Miniver (played by Greer’s frequent co-star Walter Pidgeon), whose vocation as an architect enables the family many luxuries others don’t have during this difficult period. Vin, a recent graduate from Oxford University, returns home where he seems to struggle with sociological issues stemming from his youth and lack of life experiences.

The country is uneasy, waiting for the inevitable news that will see her off to war with Germany. During a church service, everyone in attendance receives the dreaded news they have all feared. With the implementation of air raid sirens and bomb shelters, life changes drastically not only for the Minivers, but for the entire nation.

Vin meets Carol Beldon (played by the lovely Teresa Wright) who is a young lady that doesn’t seem to be put off by Vin’s naive but opinionated idealistic views of society’s problems. Carol is the granddaughter of the local aristocrat, Lady Beldon (played by Dame May Whitty) who is exceeding imperious and stuffy, yet the viewer sees her character’s true qualities emerge throughout the film in a much more vulnerable way. Her gruff façade is easily penetrated by Mrs. Miniver as she seems to be able to get through to the stern but noble lady.

Eventually Carol and Vin fall in love but their biggest hurdle is convincing Lady Beldon that they are not only old enough but that he is good enough to marry into the blue-blooded family proud of their pedigree and heritage. Kay is up to the task and easily persuades Lady Beldon to allow the two to marry, particularly during a time when the future is so unpredictable.

Vin, eager to fight for his country, enlists with the R.A.F. and becomes a pilot, while Clem volunteers as a member of the citizen’s defense patrolling the waters.
Shortly after their marriage, Vin is called upon for service and Clem is called upon for his help with a boat rescue that will take him to the famed rescue of Dunkirk. While they’re away, Kay comes across a downed German fighter pilot who’s been injured and in need of help. Even though the young man holds a gun on her, we see her kindness and humanity in wanting to help him even though he has forced his way into her house at gunpoint. It’s only after he persists making comments of coming back and his country finishing the job that Kay finally loses her composure, striking the young man across the face. Knowing that her son and husband are away and putting their lives on the line, it’s amazing she’s able to keep her composure for as long as she does.

What happens next is devastating to the family, so I’ll stop there as not to spoil this for those who have not seen the film.

I’ll be honest; the only thing I found troubling with this film was the emphasis that seemed to be placed on extravagance and the “average family” aspect throughout the turbulent period. During the opening credits, we’re told that this is the “story of an average middle class family”. Somehow I doubt the “average” family had dad holding down the job of an architect, a son in Oxford University, a luxurious home, a maid and cook, a brand new convertible and daily shopping sprees. Sure, I understand they were making a point to allow us into a segue of disruption with the threat of war on the horizon but, Kay’s loving comfort and her desire to keep her family safe would have been no less convincing had her family been truly middle class (or totally impoverished, for that matter). Not really a big deal, but it was a point that I found myself thinking about during the course of the film which, at least for me, caused a slight distraction.

I’d also like to add that I can’t recall a single film where mere facial expressions elicited as much fear and concern as those in this film. Though we never really visually see any of the war scenes, we are left to hear and feel the danger around us. There is a true and imminent sense of danger and those thoughts and feelings are conveyed brilliantly by Garson & Pidgeon with seemingly little or no effort whatsoever.

As for this installment of Academy Award releases, Mrs. Miniver, was nominated for a whopping twelve awards and captured trophies in the following categories: Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actress In A Leading Role (Greer Garson), Best Actress In A Supporting Role (Teresa Wright), Best Cinematography – Black & White and Best Writing And Screenplay. While it would have been nice to have seen Pidgeon win in his category of Best Actor In A Leading Role, it would be hard to argue that Cagney wasn’t more deserving of the award for his part in Yankee Doodle Dandy.



Video:
After just having watched the soon to be released disc of Goodbye Mr. Chips, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t concerned. Thankfully, my fears were allayed rather quickly. I started off with the included theatrical trailer and can say that I would have been quite happy with the quality of the trailer. When the film started, I was quite impressed.

The blacks were as deep as coal and the whites had a rather stark contrast to them, looking very well refined. Although the image had a moderately sharp to look to it (almost filtered), it was for the most part exceptional. There were many occasions of specific detail sharpness (many of the facial close-ups for example) and they looked great… and typical of the period, many of the female close-ups were on the softer side.

The amount of grain present was moderate and seemingly appropriate offering a pleasing film-like image. There were occasions of film dirt and scratches but they seemed to be at a minimum and were never troublesome. Also present were instances of light shimmer and an occasional light speck but again, they were kept to a minimum. Thankfully, I couldn’t detect any signs of compression artifacting or enhancement haloing.

The film has a rather unique look to it with an almost soft - extremely slight, filtered look to it and I was extremely impressed with it. Great job…!!



Audio:
The original DD Mono track is provided here and it too doesn’t disappoint. Hard to get “excited” with the mono tracks but as long as they do what is expected, what more can we ask…? In this case, we can’t ask for anything else.

There was a slight amount of hiss – and it couldn’t be any slighter. And with what seems to be the norm with these WB soundtracks, there has been virtually no tampering with it. Its tonal qualities seem as raw today as they would have sixty two years ago.

The clarity of the dialogue was exceptional and always crystal clear. There were a number of action scenes, particularly during the bombing campaigns, and the dialogue never suffered.

This brings me to my next point. Rarely do we get a chance to describe mono tracks as being robust in the same sentence. Well, here we do. I was quite impressed with how deep some of the explosions sounded (certainly adding to the suspense while the family was locked in the bomb shelter). Equally impressive was the vast dynamic range that seemed to be exhibited during the action sequences, again particularly during the bombing scenes.

This is an absolutely perfect mono track that is flawless. Excellent job..!!



Special Features:
Considering the popularity of this film, I expected there would be several Special Features and this disc does not disappoint. First up is:
[*] Greer Garson – Academy Awards Footage is a brief look at the actress and her acceptance speech for her Best Actress role in the film. These Academy Award clips would be a nice inclusion to all award winning films. Duration: 00.55 Minutes.
[*] Up next is the Photo Gallery which contains 32 B&W photographs which were taken during the shoot.
[*] The next feature is entitled MGM Shorts. The first is called Mr. Blabbermouth which is a post Pearl Harbor propaganda war piece which warns of bad mouthing the government’s ability to protect its citizens against the Japanese and also comparing the various army’s and its capabilities. Also discussed are the various manufacturing processes of steel, aluminum, rubber copper etc. Duration: 19:19 Minutes. The second title is For The Common Defense from the Crime Does Not Pay series. It is a short feature which outlines how the war effort could be helped through cooperation of the Americas. This plays out like a great mini film noir and shouldn’t be missed and it stars Van Johnson, no less. I thought this was pretty cool… Corny? Sure, but cool. These shorts would have been shown in theaters with such films as Mrs. Miniver. Duration: 21:33 Minutes
[*] Finally, the Theatrical Trailer is included. Usually, these older trailers are in pretty rough shape and have seen little to no restoration work. While I can’t say for sure if this was worked on, I can say that it looks great. One of the better looking trailers from this vintage that I’ve seen for some time.



Final Thoughts:
The film might not necessarily be without its flaws, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining or moving. The performances by Garson and Pidgeon in particular were not only flawless but perhaps even necessary at a time in history when their efforts were needed. The film received many accolades all of which were well deserved.

You know by now from my enthusiastic report card that the A/V presentation on this disc is excellent as are the interesting assortment of Special Features. Movie mavens looking to complete their Academy Best Picture collections should have no reservations about picking up this disc.

Highly Recommended…!!




Release Date: February 3rd, 2004
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 7 Matt Czyz

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Posted January 22 2004 - 05:44 AM

I was required to watch this by my english teacher waaaaaaaay back in 7th grade because she was such a big fan and she felt we would like it, too. IIRC, most of us enjoyed it a lot, and I'm happy to hear that Warners came through with the dvd.

#3 of 7 Dennis Nicholls

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Posted January 22 2004 - 06:03 AM

What - no commentary track by Winston Churchill?
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#4 of 7 David Von Pein

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Posted January 22 2004 - 07:28 AM

Another informative Herb K. review. Posted Image

A fine piece of cinema too.

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#5 of 7 Haggai

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Posted January 22 2004 - 07:41 AM

Quote:
What - no commentary track by Winston Churchill?


What about a commentary track by Winston Churchill's parrot? HTF cross-thread referencing, baby!

#6 of 7 StevenFC

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Posted January 22 2004 - 09:36 AM

Thanks Herb. I trust your reviews implicitly. This is one that would have bummed me out had they just slapped a bad transfer in the case. As much of a fan as I am of the Warner DVD division, I'm still a little bit like a dog that has been hit with a rolled up newspaper over and over--I tend to mentally flinch almost by reflex when I hear that one of my favorites is coming out on DVD. I've been hit with that paper too many times.

I wish this had been a special edition, but I'll settle for a good video and audio presentation in lieu of a full blown restoration. Thanks again Herb.

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#7 of 7 DaViD Boulet

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Posted January 22 2004 - 10:21 AM

From someone who's seen almost all the "classic black and white movies", somehow I've managed to miss this one.

Very excited about rectifying that situation with this DVD!

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