Monday, February 19, 2018

Classic Films in Focus: FALLEN ANGEL (1945)

Otto Preminger directs this top-notch noir tale of misplaced love and murder, which stars Dana Andrews as a small-time grifter who falls for luscious Linda Darnell but woos wealthy Alice Faye. It's a love triangle with a couple of kinks thrown into it, and the title, Fallen Angel, might equally apply to Andrews or Darnell, both of whom exhibit the cynical worldview born of hard knocks and bitter disappointment. In addition to the trio of excellent leads, the picture boasts an impressive supporting cast that includes Anne Revere, Percy Kilbride, Bruce Cabot, Charles Bickford, and the always entertaining John Carradine as a traveling spiritualist who pretends to talk to the dead.

Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) blows into town on his last dollar and promptly gets an eyeful of Linda Darnell's sultry Stella, sometime waitress at the diner run by Pop (Percy Kilbride). Like every other mook in the joint, Eric goes for the dark-haired beauty but can't convince her that he's not just another two-bit loser. In order to get enough money to marry Stella, Eric courts the maidenly June Mills (Alice Faye), much to the consternation of her elder sister, Clara (Anne Revere). Eric intends to marry and divorce June, but when Stella turns up dead on his wedding night, Eric finds himself on the list of suspects being pursued by Mark Judd (Charles Bickford), another of Stella's admirers who happens to be a cop.

Harry Kleiner's screenplay is adapted from the novel by Marty Holland, who also wrote the story of The File on Thelma Jordan (1950), and it shades Stella in particular with more nuance than we often see in a femme fatale. She never encourages Eric or any of the other men who hang around her like flies, and she makes it clear that she wants a wedding ring and a home before she'll take any guy into her arms. She steals a little cash from Pop's till, but she's no monster; Eric is the one who hatches the plan to seduce and betray June, not Stella. Nonetheless, the film sets Stella up as the fallen angel, the beautiful but bad girl, especially in the way it introduces her. We're encouraged to think of her that way even as the picture slowly reveals how little Stella deserves her fate and how much more fallen Eric is than Stella has ever been.

Andrews is in fine noir form as Eric; it's the kind of role that lets him use both his charm and his edge of jaded ruthlessness. He talks his way into Professor Madley's spiritualist racket and then into June's good graces, but he has a lot more trouble sweet-talking the justly skeptical Stella. Perhaps that's why he likes her so much in the first place. The audience is left to wonder if June's virtuous love is enough to reform Eric, especially when we know he only marries her for the cash. Alice Faye, of course, is perfect as June; if Eric and Stella are both fallen angels, June is still wearing her halo in Heaven. Faye is one of the few actresses who can make such a good girl role appealing, and late in the film she gets a chance to reveal the sturdy spirit that Junes possesses in addition to her virtue. June might have married a man she barely knows, but when she takes a vow she means it, and that comes as quite a revelation to Eric.

Take time to savor the performances by Carradine, Revere, and Kilbride in their supporting roles; Kilbride has a particularly fine moment right at the end, when the depth of Pop's devotion finally transcends the pathetic. For more Otto Preminger noir with Dana Andrews, see Laura (1944) and Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950). Preminger also directs Linda Darnell in Forever Amber (1947) and The 13th Letter (1951). Alice Faye is remembered more for films like In Old Chicago (1938), That Night in Rio (1941), and the colorful wartime musical, The Gang's All Here (1943). You'll find Charles Bickford and Anne Revere in The Song of Bernadette (1943), while Percy Kilbride is best known today for his starring role as Pa Kettle in the Ma and Pa Kettle films, starting with The Egg and I (1947).

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Classic Films in Focus: ANOTHER MAN'S POISON (1951)

Adapted from a stage play by Leslie Sands, Another Man's Poison (1951) offers a wickedly ironic title and a chance for Bette Davis to sink her teeth into another maneater role, this time as the femme fatale protagonist of a devious noir plot. Irving Rapper directs Davis and her real-life husband at the time, Gary Merrill, as two unscrupulous people entangled in their own lies, and they do have a palpable - if violent - chemistry. Despite the location shoot at the brooding Malham Tarn Estate, the movie never quite shakes its stage roots, but Davis and Merrill make up for that in spades with their knack for driving each other into a rage. The lies and violence build to a pitch-black finale that will satisfy the most cynical film noir fan.

Davis schemes as Janet Frobisher, a mystery novelist occupying a grand home in a remote English village. When bank robber George Bates (Gary Merrill) comes looking for Janet's long absent husband, he finds that Janet has already dispatched her criminal spouse. George decides to fill the vacancy by pretending to be the man of the house, a plan Janet doesn't appreciate, especially when George suggests it's a permanent arrangement. Janet has her own plans regarding her secretary's handsome fiance, Larry (Anthony Steel), and she worries about keeping up the deception with her neighbor, Dr. Henderson (Emlyn Williams), who is constantly dropping by.

It quickly becomes apparent that Janet has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, which enables Davis to play her villainous nature to the hilt. There's no moral gray area here; the only thing Janet gives a damn about is her horse, Fury, and everyone else in the world can go to Hell for all she cares. She has no pity for her innocent secretary, Chris (Barbara Murray), from whom she steals the attractive Larry simply because she can. She poisons her husband not because he's a criminal and a terrible person but because she just doesn't want him around, and then she gets George to dump his corpse into the tarn. Later, she works hard to get rid of George, too. When karma catches up with Janet, it's a delicious bit of payback that the audience relishes, and Davis knows exactly how to exploit our loathing for her character.

Merrill's George is also reprehensible, especially in his sexist assumption that he can outfox Janet, but he's never as clever as she is. He develops a strange jealousy of Larry, seemingly buying into his own usurped rights as Janet's husband; he's furious that she keeps the door joining their bedrooms locked even though he's a total stranger. George is not quite as cold-hearted as Janet when it comes to murder; he first shows up because Janet's husband shot the policeman in the bank heist that went wrong, and George wants his name cleared in the killing. He pales when Janet suggests that her husband was actually alive when George pitched him into the tarn, and he's shocked when he realizes that Janet is trying to kill him, too. He even offers a little romantic advice to Chris to help her hold onto Larry, but that doesn't make him a good guy. When he takes out his anger on Janet's horse, he crosses a line with her and the audience's sympathy. We all know from there that there's no going back.

Enjoy the more subtle twists of Emlyn Williams' performance as the neighborly vet who keeps asking for his deadly horse medicine back; he's as close as we get to a detective in this film. Davis and Merrill made three pictures together; the other two are All About Eve (1950) and Phone Call from a Stranger (1952). Irving Rapper also directed Bette Davis in Now, Voyager (1942), The Corn is Green (1945), and Deception (1946). Look for Emlyn Williams in I, Claudius (1937) and Ivanhoe (1952), and see Anthony Steel in The Master of Ballantrae (1953)


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Classic Films in Focus: DODGE CITY (1939)

Michael Curtiz directs Errol Flynn in Dodge City (1939), the first of the swashbuckling star's forays into Western territory, with frequent costars Olivia de Havilland and Alan Hale along for the action, as well. Briskly paced and packed with excitement, Dodge City forgoes elegaic musings on the closing of the West and instead celebrates its taming as Flynn's cattle driver turned lawman fights to bring civilization to lawless Dodge. Flynn and de Havilland spark against a bright Technicolor backdrop while an excellent supporting cast fills out the archetypes of the genre, including Bruce Cabot as the ruthless villain and Ann Sheridan as his saloon singer girlfriend.

Flynn stars as Wade Hatton, a roving Irishman whose latest American adventure is running cattle from Texas to Dodge City. He meets Abbie (Olivia de Havilland) as a wagon passenger accompanying the drive, but the death of her feckless brother on the trail sours their budding romance. In Dodge Hatton finds an old enemy, Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot), running the town with the help of his murderous lackeys, and Hatton eventually agrees to take up the sheriff's badge in order to beat Surrett and make Dodge safe for frontier families. Surrett, however, will stop at nothing to hang on to his power; numerous innocent people die as a result of his corruption and greed.

Flynn's accent marks him as a recent arrival to the West even if he doesn't sound a bit like an Irishman, but the good looks and vigor that make him so compelling in derring-do serve him just as well in a cattle driver's saddle. His character pursues romance and justice in equal measure, leaving the dirty work of a huge, comic brawl to sidekicks Rusty (Alan Hale) and Tex (Guinn Williams). The heroic Hatton is well-matched by the villainous Surrett, played to cool effect by Bruce Cabot, who always looks at home in a Western setting. The women, sadly, have less to do. Olivia de Havilland's Abbie endures some egregiously sexist chatter from Flynn in a wrong-headed attempt at flirtation, but we still get the sense that she has a durable, pioneer spirit that attracts him just as much as her luminous beauty. Ann Sheridan turns up for a couple of song numbers but seems to be missing the good girl/bad girl subplot that would give her character more development. In Destry Rides Again (1939) and Stagecoach (1939), both released in the same year, Sheridan's type of character shines, but there's just no room left to explore her motivations or even her fate in the bustling pace of Dodge City.

Small roles in the film feature a number of memorable actors turning in fine performances, most notably Victor Jory as Surrett's saturnine henchman, Yancey. The sympathetic characters tend toward tragedy, but adversity gives the performers an opportunity to make their scenes resonate with the audience. Frank McHugh is excellent as the feisty crusading journalist Joe Clemens, whom Surrett hates for daring to expose murder and corruption in the local headlines. Amiable Henry Travers appears as Abbie's uncle, Dr. Irving, a figure of respectability and the kind of man Dodge needs more of instead of the wild ruffians who roam the streets. The tragic Cole family includes John Litel as the father, Bobs Watson as the precocious Harry, and Gloria Holden as the grieving Mrs. Cole. Holden makes the most of her one big scene in the newspaper office, investing her few lines with all the suppressed suffering and resignation we imagine she would feel. Also making the most of a limited role is William Lundigan as Abbie's wastrel brother, Lee, who is too young and stupid to understand the danger of his actions until it's too late.

Santa Fe Trail (1940) reunites director Curtiz with Flynn, de Havilland, and Hale, along with a number of the supporting players, for another Western adventure, but for the best of the Flynn-Curtiz collaborations see Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and The Sea Hawk (1940). For more of Flynn in Western wear, try Virginia City (1940) and They Died with Their Boots On (1941). Ann Sheridan has bigger roles in Kings Row (1940), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), and Nora Prentiss (1947). Look for Bobs Watson in Boys Town (1938) and Men of Boys Town (1941), and see Bruce Cabot in King Kong (1933) and The Flame of New Orleans (1941). In later years Cabot became a regular in John Wayne Westerns, with supporting roles in The Comancheros (1961), McLintock! (1963), and The War Wagon (1967).

More posts about Errol Flynn:

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)


Friday, February 2, 2018

Classic Films in Focus: MY FAVORITE WIFE (1940)

My Favorite Wife (1940) reunites stars Irene Dunne and Cary Grant after their first pairing as a comedic couple in The Awful Truth (1937), and once again there's both love and trouble. Grant plays a husband flummoxed by the return of his supposedly dead first wife on the very day that he marries his second, a situation that creates plenty of laughs as the original pair try to account for themselves and straighten out the mess that fate has handed them. While The Awful Truth might be the more perfect example of screwball comedy, My Favorite Wife has its own peculiar charms, especially in Grant's hilarious jealousy of Randolph Scott, who plays a rival for Dunne's affections.

Grant stars as accidental bigamist Nick Arden, who has his first wife declared legally dead seven years after her ship wrecked so that he can marry second wife, Bianca (Gail Patrick). The original Mrs. Arden, Ellen (Irene Dunne), is very much alive, however, and promptly turns up looking to resume her old life. Chaos reigns as Nick tries to figure out how to break the news to Bianca, who begins to think that Nick is suffering from psychological problems. Ellen, meanwhile, has neglected to tell Nick that she wasn't alone on that island for seven years, or that her companion, Stephen (Randolph Scott), is a paragon of masculinity who also has a romantic interest in Ellen.

The story focuses on the comedic opportunities in this setup, so we get only the faintest hints at the grief Nick must have endured after Ellen's disappearance or the heartache Ellen feels at missing seven years of her children's lives. It can't have been all bad, though, since Ellen and Stephen look more like they spent those years at some cushy island resort rather than scrounging for coconuts on a deserted scrap of sand. It was such a nice island, in fact, that Stephen wants to go back and take Ellen with him. Most of the suffering we really see in the movie is meant to be laughed at, with Nick and his new bride, Bianca, enduring the worst torments. Ellen worries about telling the children that she is their long-lost mother, but she primarily functions as a chaos agent to upend Nick's life and push Bianca out of her usurped position.

Dunne dives into a series of zany antics while Grant reacts to them, and the arrangement serves both of them quite well. Nick's reaction on first seeing Ellen alive is a quintessential bit of Grant hilarity, as is Nick's final bumbling effort to bed down in an uncomfortable attic room when he wants to be in the bedroom with his wife. Nick's jealousy of Stephen is especially funny if you know that Grant and Randolph Scott were great friends who lived together off and on for twelve years (there is some speculation that they were lovers). It's therefore rather provocative, and also truly delightful, to see the image of the scantily clad Scott somersaulting around Grant's head as Nick obsesses over the "Adam" to his wife's "Eve." The only weak link in the quartet is Gail Patrick as Bianca, who isn't nice to enough to feel really sorry for but isn't mean enough to hate, either. We need to see her threaten the Arden children with boarding school or flirt with another man in order to feel that she deserves her humiliation and defeat, but she comes across as a rather ordinary girl baffled by her groom's mad behavior. She never has a chance against Ellen, but it would be nice to see the competition at least be interesting.

My Favorite Wife picked up three Oscar nominations for writing, art direction, and score. Garson Kanin, who directed the picture, was primarily a writer but also directed the very funny Bachelor Mother (1939). For more of Irene Dunne, see Love Affair (1939) and I Remember Mama (1948) as well as her third and final collaboration with Grant, Penny Serenade (1941). Grant was busy in 1940; his other films that year include His Girl Friday and, of course, The Philadelphia Story. Rugged Randolph Scott is best remembered as the star of many Westerns, especially 7 Men from Now (1956), The Tall T (1957), and Ride the High Country (1962). Look for Alabama native Gail Patrick in My Man Godfrey (1936). Scotty Beckett, who plays young Tim Arden, was a popular child star whose other films include Kings Row (1942) and A Date with Judy (1948), but his biography is another tragic tale of early stardom's awful price.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Classic Films in Focus: EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (1949)

Adapted from the novel by Marcia Davenport, East Side, West Side (1949) is more melodrama than murder mystery, although there always seems to be a noir plot lurking beneath its surface. Surprisingly, star Barbara Stanwyck appears in good girl mode as a wronged wife enduring domestic discord. It's not one of Stanwyck's greatest performances - her heroine is too nice even to reproach her philandering husband for most of the film - but the solid cast makes the movie worth watching, most notably Ava Gardner as the truly ruthless siren who woos James Mason away from Stanwyck. Mervyn Leroy directs a cast that also includes Van Heflin, Cyd Charisse, Gale Sondergaard, and future First Lady Nancy Reagan, as Nancy Davis, making one of her earliest appearances on the big screen.

Stanwyck plays Jessie Bourne, a wealthy socialite who has already forgiven her husband, Brandon (James Mason), for a previous affair as the story begins. Jessie is dismayed, however, when the seductive Isabel (Ava Gardner) returns and immediately pursues Brandon again, refusing to believe his assertion that he has turned over a new leaf. As a result of Brandon's scuffle with Isabel's jealous boyfriend, Jessie begins a friendship with a young model named Rosa (Cyd Charisse) and her childhood crush, Mark (Van Heflin). Soon Mark reveals that his feelings for Jessie are more than platonic, but when Isabel is murdered Mark helps Jessie by working to clear Brandon from blame.

The murder and subsequent investigation occupy only the third act, while the majority of the story focuses on Jessie's misplaced loyalty to Brandon in spite of all the evidence that he's a faithless cad who relies on her presumed forgiveness to keep up his shenanigans. It only takes Rosa two minutes to figure out that Brandon is no good; "If I were your wife, I'd cut your heart out," she says, and the audience agrees with her. Jessie, however, clings to her optimism. "He'll change, you'll see. He'll change," she tells her friend, Helen (Nancy Davis), but even Jessie doesn't sound like she believes it. Jessie's mother (Gale Sondergaard) is polite to Brandon in front of Jessie but fervently hopes that her daughter will leave him. With every other character both overtly and covertly urging Jessie to dump her cheating spouse, it's frustrating to watch the heroine stick by him for so long, especially because we aren't used to seeing Stanwyck play doormats.

The bad characters have more fun, particularly Ava Gardner, whose Isabel prowls the Del Rio like a panther in a backless gown. She's a true femme fatale, and she knows it; she taunts Jessie with her power over Brandon, bragging that she can disrupt any effort to extricate him from her clutches. James Mason, handsome but too cosmopolitan to be trustworthy, has a smoldering, debauched look whenever he's in a scene with Gardner. His Brandon glares at Isabel with equal measures of lust and loathing, and we know she's right that the two of them are more alike than Brandon cares to admit. Isabel's circle includes much rougher characters, too; her boyfriend, Alec (Douglas Kennedy) is a bruiser who resents Isabel's interest in Brandon but has his own jealous side piece, Felice (Beverly Michaels), to amuse him when Isabel isn't around. This dangerous crew threatens to push the story into noir territory, and the audience perhaps hopes that they will, but Jessie and Mark are so resolutely moral that we know they'll never be pulled into anything so shady.

If you want to see Stanwyck and Heflin together in really heated noir, try The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). Catch James Mason in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), A Star is Born (1954), and North by Northwest (1959). Ava Gardner burns up the screen in The Killers (1946), Mogambo (1953), and The Barefoot Contessa (1954). Cyd Charisse also starred in Tension in 1949, but she's best remembered for musicals like Singin' in the Rain (1952), The Band Wagon (1953), and Brigadoon (1954). Mervyn Leroy's other films from the 1940s include Random Harvest (1940), Madame Curie (1943), and Little Women (1949). The Valley of Decision (1945), starring Greer Garson and Gregory Peck, was also adapted from a novel by Marcia Davenport.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Mrs. Miniver's English Rose

Warning: This essay contains spoilers for the film.  


The English rose features prominently in William Wyler's Oscar-winning 1942 film, Mrs. Miniver, where its symbolic value is, at first glance, fairly straightforward. The rose functions as a symbol for England; when the title character allows her name to be given to a rose, she also becomes a symbol for her native land. Mrs. Miniver is a rose, and Mrs. Miniver is England, for England is itself a rose. Through the connection with the rose, the heroine becomes the embodiment of her country, graceful and kind but possessing great resolve and courage, too. The rose has long held a special place in English national sentiment and symbolism, so its significance in Mrs. Miniver comes as no surprise. There is, however, a lot more going on in the film's use of this particular symbol than the suggestive syllogism that equates Kay Miniver, her country, and the flower that grows in the station master's garden. The rose is also a symbol of the dual truths of mortality and permanence, themes that the film works out in characters like Carol Beldon and James Ballard, both of whom have their own connections to Mrs. Miniver's namesake bloom.

The Mrs. Miniver rose and the flower show for which it was grown are major narrative elements in the film. The rose takes center stage as the most important flower in the village's annual show; Lady Beldon does not care who wins the prizes for the other flowers because only the rose is significant enough to matter to her. In fact, she associates herself with the rose in her aristocratic assumption that only she can even enter the competition for the rose category, much less win. Lady Beldon's appropriation of the rose harks back to the Great Chain of Being, a medieval worldview that places everything in a strict correlating hierarchy, with highborn people like Lady Beldon and roses ruling at the top. When the lowly Mr. Ballard enters his own rose, named for a middle-class housewife, he upsets Lady Beldon's old-fashioned ideas about the world in which she lives. England, to her, is a queen, an aristocrat, embodied by the white rose with which she wins the flower show each year. Mr. Ballard's red rose represents a new England, more egalitarian and approachable, grown with devotion but belonging to the people. As Mr. Ballard tells Kay, a rose requires breeding and budding but also horse manure; it can't exist without some earthiness in it. It might seem odd to an American film audience that the flower show goes on even when the village is being bombed, but the rose competition in particular symbolizes the cultural changes that are taking place all over the country and in the socially mismatched love affair between Vin Miniver and Lady Beldon's granddaughter, Carol.

Carol is herself another image of the English rose, just as she becomes another "Mrs. Miniver" when she marries Vin. A fresh and blooming girl, Carol has youthful vitality and great sweetness, qualities often associated with the "English rose" as it describes a lovely woman. Her first appearance in the film also connects her to the symbolic bloom; she comes to the Miniver home to ask Kay if she will try to talk Mr. Ballard out of competing with Lady Beldon in the flower show. Carol recognizes the contest as another sort of war of the roses for her grandmother, but she quickly decides that Lady Beldon is in the wrong for expecting her social position to entitle her to victory. She and Vin meet because of this visit and soon fall in love, but Carol is always keenly aware of the fleeting nature of life and happiness. She knows that Vin could be killed at any time, but she refuses to let that danger prevent a moment of joy. Ironically, it is Carol herself who is killed when she is struck by a stray bullet from an aerial battle. She becomes the rose that symbolizes transience and brevity, the same rose spoken of by Edmund Spenser in The Faerie Queene, by Robert Herrick in "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time," and by William Blake in "The Sick Rose." Fortunately, Carol understands the theme of carpe diem and makes the most of her short life, enjoying two weeks of married bliss with Vin before tragedy overtakes her.

While Carol embodies the rose as a figure of impermanence, the flower also appears as a symbol of endurance, something that lives on after its creator is gone. James Ballard dies the same day as Carol, just an hour after his moment of glory at the flower contest. He is an old man, a modest station master without much claim to importance, and the triumph in the rose contest is the high point of his life. His death after the show makes Lady Beldon's decision to award him the prize, in spite of her cowed judges having named her the winner, deeply meaningful, for Ballard's name and rose will live on after him in the annals of village history. The individual bloom lasts but a few days, and the gardener who grew it dies, but the Mrs. Miniver rose lives on in the memories of those who survive. Mrs. Miniver herself, the original, also lives on to remember both Carol and Mr. Ballard, for she is England, and England cannot die. Thus the rose is both fleeting and immortal; individual roses wither and fade, just as English men and women fall beneath the bombs, but the idea of the rose, which is also the idea of England, lasts forever. The connection is driven home when someone suggests to Mr. Ballard that "if war comes, it's goodbye roses." Mr. Ballard replies, "Don't talk silly. You might as well say goodbye England. There will always be roses." So there will also always be Mrs. Minivers, even after Kay Miniver lies sleeping in her grave.

In his or her own way, each of the film's most emotionally powerful characters is associated with the rose, and each embodies a different aspect of the English character. Within the context of the film, each of them must die sooner or later, but as characters they live forever, still unfolding their joys and sorrows to audiences some 75 years after the picture's original release. There is still Mrs. Miniver, there is still an England, and there are still roses growing in village gardens. Ironically, the film inspired the creation of a real Mrs. Miniver rose that was itself almost extinct by 2015, save for one plant surviving, in all places, in Germany. Now it is being brought back for fans of Mrs. Miniver and roses to enjoy. Mrs. Miniver and Mr. Ballard might be fictional, but the rose is real, and that seems a fitting conclusion to a story that invests so much of its narrative energy in the symbolic power of a lovely, fragile bloom.

Classic Films in Focus: MRS. MINIVER (1942)

As its twelve Oscar nominations and six wins attest, Mrs. Miniver was the right film at the right moment in 1942. Americans newly engaged in World War II flocked to the theater and took away a sense that they were fighting for people like the Minivers and their quaint English village. Even to director William Wyler, Mrs. Miniver later seemed naive in its depiction of wartime experience, but it remains an effective and emotional appeal to our sense of country, liberty, and the sweet fragility of life. The famous Wilcoxon speech, which ends the picture, is an especially stirring call to arms; it proved so powerful that President Roosevelt had copies of it dropped over Nazi-occupied Europe. For Americans looking for a reason to fight, Mrs. Miniver provided motivation in abundance, along with films like The Great Dictator (1940), Casablanca (1942), and To Be or Not to Be (1942).

Greer Garson stars as the title character, a comfortable English housewife whose domestic bliss is shattered by the arrival of the war. Her oldest child, Vin (Richard Ney), joins the RAF and flies into danger while falling in love with sweet Carol Beldon (Teresa Wright). Husband Clem (Walter Pidgeon) patrols the river and makes the journey to Dunkirk while Mrs. Miniver and her younger children endure air raids and the appearance of a downed German pilot. Village life goes on even as the bombs fall, culminating in a flower show where Mrs. Miniver has a prize rose named after her by the station master, Mr. Ballard (Henry Travers). When tragedy strikes, the family and their community must hold to their values in defiance of all they have lost.

Garson is very much the glamorous star in spite of her maternal role; she never looks dirty or bedraggled, and she certainly doesn't look old enough to be the mother of Vin. In real life Garson was only twelve years older than Richard Ney and actually ended up marrying him, though the union lasted just a few years. Garson's glamour is part of what makes Mrs. Miniver seem a little artificial and dated to a modern audience, but the actress does have tremendous screen presence, especially in closeup. Walter Pidgeon's Clem looks somewhat rougher after his valiant excursion to Dunkirk, but gritty realism is never the picture's aim. We get glimpses of that in the damage to the Minivers' house and the village church, but the most powerful scene of wartime fear takes place in the family's bunker, where the parents clutch their screaming children as the bombs rain down destruction from above. Wyler makes a point of showing us that war's victims are not just the soldiers who fight, but the women and children and old men, too. Youth and innocence offer no protection against such devastation.

A number of supporting performances deserve particular mention, including Teresa Wright's moving portrayal of Carol, who loves Vin even though she knows how easily he could be killed. Wright won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the role, but she had competition for it in Dame May Whitty, who plays her starchy grandmother, Lady Beldon. These two women, at opposite ends of life, create bookends around Mrs. Miniver and offer subtler commentaries on what is won and what is lost in war. Lady Beldon might, in fact, be the story's most dynamic character; she starts as an unlikable snob but slowly unbends to reveal her generous heart, and Vin's last scene with her shows how far they've come. Henry Travers is as genial as ever in the role of Mr. Ballard, the rose gardener who admires Mrs. Miniver's kindness and grace, and Henry Wilcoxon owns the final scene as the village vicar.

Mrs. Miniver won Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actress, Screenplay, and Cinematography. William Wyler, who was overseas with the Signal Corps when his picture had its big night, came back from the war to direct The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), which reunited him with Teresa Wright and took another look at the toll of wartime experience. For more of Greer Garson see Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), Pride and Prejudice (1940), and Random Harvest (1942). Walter Pidgeon starred with Garson in a number of films, but today he is probably best remembered for How Green Was My Valley (1941) and Forbidden Planet (1956). For more of the delightful Dame May Whitty, see Night Must Fall (1937) and The Lady Vanishes (1938). A sequel, The Miniver Story, appeared in 1950 with Garson and Pidgeon back in their original roles but with Vin cut out of the story following Richard Ney's divorce from Garson.