The Best Picture Winners: Mrs. Miniver (1942)

07 Oct

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.

Time has never been the friend of movies that are “of the moment.”  Such was the case with Mrs. Miniver, which at the time, had so moved the American public that even FDR was regaling it as some kind of a masterpiece.  Legend has it that he was so moved by its closing dialogue that he ordered it to be written onto leaflets and air-dropped over German-occupied territory.  Later it was broadcast over the Voice of America, and printed in several magazines.

As stirring as it may have been at the time, today it seems a bit overly-melodramatic.  Sure, it is difficult to watch the story of a family suffering the bulldozing machinery of the Nazi expansion and not feel something but for me, it wasn’t worthy of an Oscar for Best Picture.

Even Greer Garson’s once-lauded performance in the title role seems, today, a little stiff.  Of course, it is impossible not to feel for a mother who tries to protect her family from the oncoming onslaught of the Nazi terror, but I find Garson’s character a little one-dimensional.  She is so noble that it is hard to find any real meat to the character.  Today, other films have come along that have surpassed Mrs. Miniver in importance about the time period, and Garson’s once-beloved performance is mostly remembered for that famous long-winded five-and-a half-minute acceptance speech – which remains today as the longest acceptance speech in Oscar history.

I guess, given the tensions of the time, I can see how the public would have been stirred by this film.  Here, in 1942, the American involvement in Europe’s war was only a year old and a positive outcome was by no means assured.  It is an emotional story but today, away from those tense times the drama comes off a bit overcooked. The impact it may have once had is long gone.


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