Capsule/Summary****Mrs. Miniver, William Wyler’s cinematic adaptation of Jan Struthers’ novel of upper-middle class British life during wartime, was showered with kudos and Oscars upon its initial release by MGM in 1942. While the elements of propaganda inherent to the production prevent it from working as well for modern audiences as other similarly lauded films from the golden age of Hollywood, it still plays as an effective tribute to the Human Spirit and to the British national character exhibited during the horrific days of the Nazi Blitz of London. It is presented on Blu-ray disc with an outstanding transfer that improves on what was already a very good previous DVD presentation via increased audio and video resolution coupled with some skillful noise reduction that removes minor bits of previously visible film element damage. Extras, consisting primarily of vintage short subjects, are carried over from the DVD release with the addition of a Tex Avery cartoon and the subtraction of a stills gallery.
Directed by: William Wyler
Starring: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright, Dame May Whitty, Reginald Owen, Henry Travers, Richard Ney, Henry Wilcoxon, Helmut Dantine
| Studio: Warner Bros. |
Film Length: 133 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Subtitles: English SDH,French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Spanish(Latin), Spanish (Castillan), Korean
Release Date: January 8, 2013
Mrs. Miniver chronicles the lives of the Miniver family, an upper-middle class London family consisting of successful architect Clem (Pidgeon), his wife Kay (Garson), their college age son Vin (Ney), daughter Judy, and youngest son Toby. Beginning in the late 1930s, their biggest troubles appear to be hiding their extravagant purchases from each other. As England is drawn into War with Germany, they adapt and endure, contributing to the war effort in ways both conventional and surprising, enduring the terror, destruction, and personal tragedy brought on by the Nazi “Blitz”, and through it all going on with their lives with courage and resolve.
Mrs. Miniver was an effective piece of propaganda upon its original release in 1942. That being said, Director William Wyler’s involvement insured that it was far from artless propaganda. Wyler’s typical firm but nigh invisible hand steers the film through its episodic,emotional beats at a deliberate pace that builds viewer empathy to the Miniver family and their experience of life during wartime so effectively, that the occasional trappings of propaganda such as a fugitive Nazi flier (Danitine) who stirs himself from exhaustion and desperation to spout cocksure hate speech and a Vicar (Wilcoxon) who concludes the film with an extended sermon that Winston Churchill would be proud to call his own, feel more dramatically earned than disruptive (okay, it works out to about seven parts dramatically earned to three parts disruptive). Removed from its immediate wartime context, it still plays as a moving tribute to the human spirit in general and the concept of British “stiff-upper-lipped-ness” in particular.
Greer Garson is well cast, effortlessly embodying the grace, vulnerability, and resourcefulness of the title character who is at turns sweet and demure enough to inspire an amateur botanist to name a rose after her and steely determined enough to contend with fugitive Nazis and imposing future in-law Lady Beldon (Whitty).
As with many classic Hollywood productions set in England, the cast exhibits a gallimaufry of accents ranging from the familiar natural speaking tone of London native Garson, the natural Northumberland accent of actor Henry Travers (who routinely affected a convincing American accent in Hollywood productions), the stage-honed Lordly intonations of Dame May Whitty, the “comes and goes” attempt at a British accent by American Richard Ney, and the lack of any attempt at sounding British whatsoever approach of Walter Pidgeon and Teresa Wright. While by all rights, this should prove distracting, the actors are otherwise so well cast and have such a natural chemistry that such distractions melted away within the film’s first reel.
The weak link in the cast is Richard Ney, starring in his first feature film as the eldest son of Kay and Clem Miniver, but his performance noticeably improves as the film progresses. I do not know if the film was shot in sequence and this is a testament to his growth as a film actor over the course of production or if he was just better at portraying the young soldier and earnest suitor of Teresa Wright’s luminous Carol Beldon he becomes than the annoying know-it-all returning from college of his earliest scenes.
Video ****The film is presented via a 1080p AVC-encoded black and white transfer “pillarboxed” to its original 4:3 aspect ratio. The previous DVD release of Mrs. Miniver (reviewed for the Home Theater Forum by Herb Kane in May of 2001), exhibited exceptional contrast and a pleasing film-like transfer, and this high-definition rendering certainly still delivers in those departments. Matters are improved both in terms of increased resolution which allows for a more precise representation of the natural film grain of the source element and a noticeable reduction in previously visible minor film artifacts such as speckling. The presentation is free of distracting digital video artifacts and falls just short of perfection due to some slight contrast build-up that causes dark areas of the screen to fall off a bit quickly into total blackness in a few shots.
Audio ***½The film’s original English language soundtrack is presented via a DTS-HD MA lossless mono track. While the track rolls off a bit in the high frequency range and is more dynamically compressed than most modern tracks, it is an overall exceptional rendering of a track from its era, with a surprising amount of low-end punch, especially in the scenes depicting the horrific air Raids of the Blitz. Alternate language Dolby Digital mono tracks are provided in French, German, Italian, Spanish (Latin), and Spanish (Castillan).
All of the special features from the 2001 DVD release of Mrs. Miniver are carried over to this Blu-ray release except for a gallery of 33 behind the scenes photos that is MIA. In its place is a Tex Avery cartoon as described below. All special feature are presented in AVC encoded 480i video with 192 kbps Dolby Digital 2.0 audio unless otherwise indicated below.
Greer Garson Academy Award Footage (:55) features Garson receiving the Best Performance by an Actress for 1942 Academy Award from Joan Fontaine and includes a brief excerpt from her famously lengthy acceptance speech.
Blitz Wolf (10:39 including a 45 second title card with a disclaimer and notes on the context of the film’s politically incorrect elements) is a vintage Tex Avery cartoon (his first for MGM) in which the story of the Three Little Pigs is adapted into a rousing wild propaganda cartoon that sticks it to the Big Bad “Adolf Wolf”.
Mr. Blabbermouth (19:22) is a vintage 1942 propaganda short narrated by John Nesbitt encouraging viewers to refrain from buying into and propagating rumors about Japanese and German military prowess. Somewhat amusing vignettes in which “Mr. Blabbermouth” (an uncredited Ralph Peters) spouts rumors in front of fellow civilians are followed by extended narrated segments that dispel the rumors with counter arguments and statistics. It ends with a stirring speech by Franklin Roosevelt and a plug to buy War Bonds.
For the Common Defense (21:36) is a vintage 1942 short from the “Crime Does Not Pay” series promoting pan-American cooperation via a dramatic recreation of an incident in which an American agent cooperates with Columbia and Chile to thwart a German/Japanese plot to smuggle stolen ammunition from South America. It features the first MGM screen appearance by Van Johnson as the American agent. He is almost unrecognizable with his hair dyed black, which had been done for a role in the Warner Bros. film Murder in the Big House earlier that year. Prolific character actor Douglas Fowley is entertaining as a fast-talking American fugitive blackmailed into muling counterfeit cash and ammunition for the Axis agents.
Theatrical Trailer (2:39) kicks off by announcing the film as “..the most important attraction in a decade of motion picture history”, and then really starts to pile on the hyperbole.