For Reel

Mrs. Miniver (1942)
March 5, 2016, 4:14 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: William Wyler
5 Stars
Mrs. MiniverPerhaps Hollywood’s best example of World War II propaganda, Mrs. Miniver is a beautifully crafted sentimental melodrama, complete with a final act sermon that works as a powerful rally in support of the war effort. Director William Wyler has become unfashionable in some circles over the years, but his one-two punch of Mrs. Miniver and The Best Years of Our Lives shows Hollywood studio spectacles at not only their peak artistry, but at their most personal. The desire to read the transition in the outlook of the two pictures from an autobiographical standpoint is irresistible, but barring that they exist themselves as amazing artifacts that demonstrate just what the war did to the average American citizen in just four years time. Mrs. Miniver, though ultimately more optimistic, also permeates with the same feeling of doom–watch the dinner table scene in which Vin (Richard Ney) proposes to Carol (Teresa Wright) just before being called away to war. Wyler takes an extra moment to pause on the empty, set dinner table, a melancholic image of a traditional household dynamic gone to ruins. The sequence later in the film where the family attempts to maintain their rituals while taking refuge in an Anderson shelter is, if not particularly subtle, hugely powerful in its mise en scene and the use of sound. Wyler’s penchant for deep focus cinematography is limited by the close confines of the shelter, resulting in his actors images overlapping each other, packing each plane of the space with either a body or a prop that carries the significance of a family relic. In retrospect, Mrs. Miniver’s very classicism might seem old hat coming just a year after Orson Welles’ breakthrough with Citizen Kane, but if Welles broke the rules of Hollywood in order to reconstruct a new cinema, Wyler in this period was a master of the classical form, having an uncanny ability to know just how long to hold a certain shot or how to organize the frame for maximum emotional effect.

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