Mrs. Miniver (1942)

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Released 17-Mar-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Greer Garson Academy Awards Footage (0:55)
Gallery-Photo
Short Film-Mr. Blabbermouth (19:20)
Short Film-For The Common Defense (21:34)
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:33)
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1942
Running Time 128:08
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (66:41) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By William Wyler
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Greer Garson
Walter Pidgeon
Teresa Wright
Dame May Whitty
Reginald Owen
Henry Travers
Richard Ney
Henry Wilcoxon
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Herbert Stothart


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
German
Spanish
Dutch
Portuguese
Finnish
Hebrew
Swedish
Croatian
Czech
Greek
Hungarian
Turkish
Slovenian
Arabic
Romanian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    One of the upsides of my father's interest in films is that mixed in amongst the musicals are a bunch of classics films from the 1940's. As a result, aside from a diet of musicals (mostly excruciating), it was difficult to avoid films such as Random Harvest, Mutiny On The Bounty (1935 and best version), How Green Was My Valley, The White Cliffs Of Dover, Blossoms In The Dust and, perhaps the finest of them all, Mrs. Miniver in the family viewing environment. So when the release of a raft of classic films by Warner Home Video under the banner of Screen Legends was announced, you can bet that I rubbed my hands with glee! The initial titles include Gaslight, Grand Hotel, The Great Ziegfeld, Goodbye Mr Chips, Mutiny On The Bounty and the subject of this review. All of these are absolutely top drawer films that wear the Screen Legends banner with ease, although it is fair to say that as far as I am concerned the three really important titles are those with which I am the most familiar - Mutiny On The Bounty, Goodbye Mr Chips and Mrs. Miniver.

    It would be difficult to estimate the number of times that I have seen Mrs. Miniver. Suffice to say that the old CEL video tape that my father has is just about worn out from the number of times it has been watched. Of course it is one of those old tapes that formed the Bill Collins Movie Collection and is proudly emblazoned with the tag line "Voted the best movie of all time!" (it is also emblazoned with "Winner of 7 Academy Awards - when in fact it only won six). As a kid I always laughed at the concept of Mrs. Miniver being voted the best film of all time, but age brings wisdom (supposedly) and nowadays I can appreciate that the film is a terrific one indeed - although still not the greatest film of all time. For all that is blatant about the film, which includes the fact that it is perhaps one of the finest propaganda films of all time, there is also a lot of subtlety to the film and that is where the enduring value of the film can be found.

    On the face of it, this is simply the story of the Miniver family stoically taking on the Third Reich - and winning.

    That is of course a very simplistic look at the blatant veneer of the film, for it is so much more than that. This is the story of, rather obviously, Mrs. Miniver - but which Mrs. Miniver? The film starts in the pre-war period where Mrs. Kay Miniver (Greer Garson) is enjoying her upper middle class life in the country south of London, with the obligatory shopping trips to London. She is the absolute epitome of her class, even to the extent that she takes the time to exchange pleasantries with the stationmaster at her local train station, one Mr. Ballard (Henry Travers) who grows roses and names his latest creation after her. Her architect husband Clem (Walter Pidgeon) is obviously successful, given the house that they live in and the manner in which they live, and the perfect upper middle class family is rounded out by three children - Vin (Richard Ney, later Greer Garson's husband), Judy (Clare Sandars) and Toby (Christopher Severn). Vin (which is short for Vincent) returns from Oxford to disturb the peace a little with his intellectual discourses on the injustices perpetuated by the class system. This happens during the visit to the Miniver household of one Carol Beldon (Teresa Wright), granddaughter of the head of the local gentry, Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty), and thus the notional head of that class system in their village. Carol has a slight dig at the intellectually moral high ground taken by Vin - so the attraction between the two starts to blossom - while also demonstrating the element of such a system by requesting that Mrs. Miniver ask her friend Mr. Ballard to withdraw his rose from the local flower competition, which has been won for thirty years by Lady Beldon (usually without competition). All seems quite idyllic in the early part of 1939.

    Of course that is not where it stays and the sad news of the state of world politics is announced in a bitter-sweet manner at a church service. Bitter-sweet as it is the first time that Vin and Carol have seen each other after she spent the summer in Scotland and the joy of resuming their relationship is tempered by the realisation that war is going to impact their lives quite significantly. Of course it does, as the war impacts upon everybody's lives in some respects. While the veneer of ordinary life is maintained in that typically stiff upper lip British way, each member of the family has their demons to overcome and the sacrifices to endure. That is where the brilliance of the film lies - and that depends upon the brilliance of the talents of the cast.

    There is certainly an element of propaganda to the film. It was made shortly after the United States came into the Second World War, when Britain was still struggling terribly to overcome what seemed to be overwhelming odds to stave off invasion and occupation by the Germans. At the time there was a significant element of the American political machine that was still for abandoning Britain to its fate in favour of shoring up its own forces to protect itself from both East and West. So on the superficial level, this film certainly makes the plight of Britain more than obvious in the light of overwhelming odds against them, and makes no bones about the indomitable spirit of the British to persevere against those odds, whatever the cost. However, that superficiality is laden with an element of the unexpected. We all understand that sacrifices will be made but just who will make those sacrifices?

    The film garnered twelve Oscar nominations in 1943, which even by today's depressingly bloated standards remains a remarkable tally. It did not win Best Actor for Walter Pidgeon, it did not win Best Supporting Actor for Henry Travers, it did not win Best Supporting Actress for the incomparable Dame May Whitty, it did not win Best Effects, it did not win Best Film Editing and did not win Best Sound Recording. Watching the film sixty odd years on, it seems incredible that it did not win at least some of those Oscars. Henry Travers was just marvellous in the role of the stationmaster and just radiates a dignity and class that is rarely seen in acting nowadays. His performance has always been a highlight and is one of the very best things about the film. The incomparable Dame May Whitty falls into a very similar situation even though she on this occasion was overshadowed by others. Walter Pidgeon gives a sublime and deeply subtle performance that is very much based on a profound emotional plain. He made eight feature films with Greer Garson and they were the pre-eminent film couple of the era, and to this day are one of the undeniably great screen couplings of all time. Their chemistry was the core of this deeply emotive performance.

    Yet for all it did not win, the film still walked away with six Oscars, including the "biggies" - Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress. William Wyler made some great films, but this is arguably the best he ever did. He took that wonderful screenplay (itself an Oscar winner) and took the superb cast and turned out one of the most enduring films that you will ever see. There is little here that shows any evidence of age in a film sense (funnily enough, if anything does, it is some of those Oscar-nominated special effects!). The beautiful Greer Garson is one of only two actors to earn Oscar nominations in five consecutive years, and she walked away with the Best Actress effort in 1943 for her performance here. There is no doubt that it was a deserved win for one of the finest actors to grace the silver screen. Surprisingly perhaps, Teresa Wright beat out Dame May Whitty for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Certainly a superb performance, whilst the film also won Best Cinematography (Black And White).

    The nominations and wins reflect the fact that this is one of the great films of all time in my view. That it now appears with the Screen Legends banner applied to the cover is entirely fitting and the release only serves to bring this great film to a wider audience in a presentation that certainly looks a lot better than this sixty year old film has any right to look. The only downside to the release is that it makes the desire for more of Greer Garson's films to appear on DVD all the more urgent, for as good as she was here it is not the best she did. I truly hope that Random Harvest gets a release in this new series real soon, but in the meantime I am more than happy enough to sit back and enjoy Mrs. Miniver as I have never seen it before.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    With memories of that well-worn video tape not all that buried in my mind, and considering that we are talking about a sixty-plus year old film, the capacity for a rather poor looking transfer was quite large. While I would hardly call the transfer we have been given jaw-droppingly brilliant, it is certainly a lot better than I was expecting and even more certainly way better looking than most sixty year old films have any reasonable right to look. I have seen even forty year old films that look far worse than this.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which equates very closely to the original theatrical ratio of 1.37:1. It is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    Despite its sixty odd years, this is quite a sharp, detailed transfer in all respects. Of course it cannot match something made last year, but the extent of the detail to be found here is quite staggering at times. There is some grain present in the transfer but only on one occasion - around 31:15 - did I feel that the grain become a little intrusive. Surprisingly, shadow detail is very good and even in scenes in the bomb shelter, for instance, where problems could have so easily occurred, there was no issue whatsoever. There is no low level noise to worry about. In just about every way this is a fine transfer.

    The black and white tones are handled very well indeed too, with excellent definition across the scale. A little bit more solidity to the pure blacks might have been nice, but what we have certainly is good enough to present a nicely contrasted picture that is anything but muddied. Vibrancy is perhaps the one area where some improvement might have been very beneficial, but even that minor issue does in no way distract from what we can enjoy here.

    There is nothing obvious in the way of MPEG artefacts in the transfer. Quite surprisingly there is virtually no issue at all with film-to-video artefacts either. At worst, there is some very minor aliasing here and there, but rarely does it reach beyond the periphery of recognition. Perhaps the most obvious example is some issue with Clem's dressing gown at 14:55 but even this "most obvious" is still hardly an intrusion. The source print used for the transfer is an excellent one in most respects and so film artefacts are hardly an issue at all. Sure, there are the obligatory specks here and there, but compared to what might so easily have been, they are not much of an issue. Major film damage is quite noticeable by its absence and about the only real issue is a vertical black line that runs through the print for about forty seconds or so around the 56:40 mark.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 66:41. Given that the original specs sent to me did not mention a layer change and given that during playback I had no indication of even a hint of a layer change, you can take it that it is not really noticeable and certainly not an intrusion to the film.

    There is a fair selection of subtitle options on the DVD, although obviously I only checked out the English efforts. Rather disappointingly, they seem to have been done in America since they tend towards American spellings (center, color and so on). There are also a couple of places where I believe the wrong word has been used (patrol instead of petrol) suggesting whoever did the subtitles was not familiar with the language - most likely a North American as they don't use the word petrol.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three soundtracks on the DVD, all being Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtracks, with the language options being English, German and Spanish.

    Dialogue generally comes up quite well in the soundtracks, and there did not appear to be any issue with audio sync.

    The original music comes from Herbert Stothart. I cannot honestly say that the score did much for me but then again it was not required to do that much. Poignant silence is used well during the film to convey emotion and with almost everything else conveyed by dialogue, so what need was there for musical accompaniment? Not much.

    Since this is the original mono soundtrack, the source material used for remastering is probably not in terribly good condition. We therefore cannot expect miracles in what we have been given on the DVD. We certainly don't get them. There are no really obvious or annoying blemishes. At times you might get a bit of hiss if you have a higher audio level set during playback. While it lacks any sort of dynamic range whatsoever, at least the transfer is quite clear and what we have comes up well enough. As long as you are not expecting much, this is unlikely to cause any disappointment.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Despite the passage of the years, an effort has been made to include a very decent extras package. Some of it might seem to have little obvious connection to the feature but in fact make a superb adjunct to the feature if you understand the context within which the feature was made. All video footage included in the package is of course in a full frame format that is not 16x9 enhanced, and features Dolby Digital 2.0 sound that really is just mono sound split into two channels.

Menu

    Quite decent with some reasonable, if slightly too quickly looped, audio enhancement.

Featurette - Greer Garson Academy Awards Footage (0:55)

    Popular myth has it that Greer Garson rambled on for over an hour with her acceptance speech for the Oscar, but that is all it is - a myth. She actually spoke for "only" five and one half minutes, so what we have here is just a small part of the entire thing. No matter - having just endured the glitz of the 2004 Oscars, the rather austere view presented here makes an interesting comparison. The quality is a bit ropey obviously but nothing that prevents the whole being enjoyed. There are English, German and Spanish selectable subtitles.

Gallery - Photo

    Thirty three behind-the-scenes photos, all unannotated, taken during production of the film. It seems that all were enjoying the job judging from these photos and the only regret is that there are not more of them!

Short Film - Mr. Blabbermouth (19:20)

    Hiding under the title of MGM Shorts are two exceedingly dated propaganda films made during the Second World War. That of course is the connection with the feature - the propaganda nature of the films. As such, they do provide interesting and amusing contrasts in how to make propaganda films! Mr. Blabbermouth was made in 1942 and directed by Basil Wrangell and is very much along the "loose lips sinks ships" line of thinking, but aimed at the morale of Americans. Very quaint, unsophisticated stuff and dreadfully cringe-inducing sixty years on - you would have a hard job imagining that anyone really took much notice of this sort of stuff nowadays - but still quite entertaining in its own way. There is some obvious film damage at times, plenty of film artefacts and a fair bit of grain on occasions, but nothing that would be entirely unexpected given the original purpose, as well as the age, of the film. There are English, German and Spanish selectable subtitles.

Short Film - For The Common Defence (21:34)

    Also made in 1942, this was directed by Allen R. Kenward. This was designed to further bolster the paranoid Americans by explaining how cooperation between the governments of North, Central and South America was keeping the devilish Axis operatives out of America and preventing them from doing their worst. If it was not being done so seriously it would almost pass for a terrific spoof of the reality of espionage, far better than anything done recently in Hollywood. The technical quality here is much better and was surprisingly good in all respects. There are English, German and Spanish selectable subtitles, which include at least one shocking spelling error in the English efforts - riffle instead of rifle.

Theatrical Trailer (2:33)

    Dark, reasonably poorly contrasted, littered with film artefacts - there really is plenty of ways in which this makes viewing difficult. Yet in the overall scheme of things, it barely creates any issue and in the overall analysis this is pretty good all things considered. A vastly different style of trailer to what we see nowadays, with everything done by voice-over or titling over the images from the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This DVD is region coded for Regions 2, 4 and 5 so I am presuming that it is the same DVD that I saw available for sale in the United Kingdom recently - although that Region 2 release comes in a snapper case. There is a Region 3 release from Taiwan that has been available for some time which is well and truly surpassed by both this release and the recent Region 1 release. You can check the comparison between the Region 3 and Region 1 release at http://www.beaver.com. The Region 1 release seems to be virtually identical in all respects to the Region 4 release other than language and subtitle options (and video formats of course). The Region 1 release does however come in a snapper case. All things considered, there is little to choose between the Region 1 and Region 4 releases, so go with whichever is the cheapest - which would likely be the Region 4 which I would anticipate will have a street price around the $16-17 mark at the K-Marts and Big Ws.

Summary

    Any series devoted to the classic Hollywood films of the 1930s and 1940s was likely to get the big thumbs up from me and the fact that we have such a series at very reasonable price point is even better. That the series starts off with some truly great films means that my credit card will be very badly hit again shortly. If the quality of the rest of the initial releases is as good as we have here with Mrs. Miniver, then we shall all be very happy indeed. One of the truly great films of all times, there is virtually nothing of any substance that I can say to discourage this being included in any DVD collection. A very good transfer for a film of its age ensures that we can enjoy this film for many, many more years to come. I can only hope that the Screen Legends series is rapidly expanded to take in a whole raft of Greer Garson films, and in particular the superb Random Harvest.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Tuesday, March 09, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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