75 Years of Film: 1942–Mrs. Miniver

This is a continuing saga, watching one movie per production year and seeing how film and the world have changed. For a brief intro and links to other movies/years, click here.

World War II was still going on in 1942, so it seemed appropriate to choose a  film set in that time. Bring on Mrs. Miniver.

A British family struggles to survive the first years of World War II. In many respects, it’s like a British Gone With the Wind. A family starts in splendor, buying things they can’t afford because that’s the style. But when war hits, the oldest son goes off to fight, the father gets enlisted in the river patrol, and bombs go off all around them. The introduction says, that they “fight for their way of life and life itself.”

You bet! It won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1943 and for good reason. The family is likable and the tension is high. Several times, the family just freezes, waiting for the bomb to drop or for the sound of their son’s plane, and you freeze with them. We experience everything with the family inside the house or in the confines of a bunker. Much of the actual war is off-screen. We just wait…wait to see what happens.

Something hit me when I first put the DVD in. This film was written about World War II while World War II was still happening. It wouldn’t end for another couple years. No one knew the outcome for sure, so how do you end a movie like that? With a powerful speech about preservation, that’s what.

Oh, and a final screen telling viewers to buy stamps and war bonds for the war effort. How’s that for a flashback?

I tell you what, the British don’t get enough credit for how they handled World War II. We Americans like to think of ourselves as the harbingers of victory in that war. We make movies about Pearl Harbor and D-Day and we pat ourselves on the back for the atom bomb.

But just as strong as the man who can deal a punch is the man who can take one. The Brits got pummeled in this war, but they kept a level head, even as their homes were destroyed. They stood their ground when many others gave in or perished. That’s truly admirable.

This film is the epitome of “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Though war rages around them, the community still holds their annual flower show, young ones still marry, and church comes every Sunday whether there’s a building or not.

There’s a fantastic scene in a bomb shelter when the family hears planes going overhead and bombs dropping around them. They don’t panic. They keep reading or sewing, keep talking about life in general. Even when the bombs rattle their shelter and destroy their home, they don’t panic. They keep soldiering on.

In my post on 1941, I wrote about the bombastic music of a horror film. This time, I was surprised by the lack of music. So many scenes are dead silent. No kick-ass action score, no overblown terror theme, no sad violins when the family walks through a wrecked house. The silence is the key, and somebody back then knew it.

It’s very interesting as an American, ever taught the glory of fighting in World War II, to see a different perspective, to see a country whose very home was under attack. America’s experience was more offensive, the British more defensive. It’s inspiring, really. And the minister’s final speech about how this war is a people’s war, well, that’s downright moving.

Jan 1–US and 25 other countries sign a unified declaration of war against the Axis Powers.
Feb 9–Daylight Savings Time begins in US (darn it all).
Feb 19–FDR orders the detention of all West-Coast Japanese-Americans.
Apr 27–Belgian Jews forced to wear stars (More places did so afterwards)
Apr 28–WWII given its name.
May 12–1500 Jews gassed in Auschwitz.
May 29–Bing Crosby records “White Christmas.”
June 12–Anne Frank gets her diary as a birthday present.
June 14–First bazooka created (what I would pay to see that)
Sep 23–Manhattan Project begins, which would create the nuclear bomb.
Oct 7–United Nations established
Oct 8–Comedians Abbot & Costello begin a weekly radio show.
Nov 21–First appearance of Tweety Bird

The amount of Jewish persecution and war casualties is staggering.

Casablanca–Also set in WWII, but not as central.
Yankee Doodle Dandy 
A-Haunting We Will Go (Abbot & Costello)
Holiday Inn

PREVIOUS: 1941–The Wolfman

NEXT: 1943–The More the Merrier

2 thoughts on “75 Years of Film: 1942–Mrs. Miniver

  1. My favorite movies are from the 1930s and 40s. Unless you already have selections for 1944, 1945, and 1948, let me be bold enough to suggest a few. I’ll leave the analysis to you, but for the directors, plot devices, filming techniques, etc., these are some excellent films to consider.
    For 1944, one of the first “ghost” movies was “The Uninvited” starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey. It’s typical melodrama, but with some very unusual film techniques. A stellar 1944 film was Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat.” It stars Tallulah Bankhead, John Hodiak, Walter Slezak, and Hume Cronan. The screenplay was written by John Steinbeck. It’s a WWII film about the tensions between survivors of a ship sunk by a German U-boat. All the survivors are from Allied countries…except one who is from the U-boat. Very taut film that takes place only in the lifeboat.
    For 1945, I suggest another thriller, “A Place of One’s Own.” Stars are James Mason, Margaret Lockwood, and Barbara Mullen. It’s an often overlooked film that does a great job of utilizing Victorian era superstition as plot devices.
    Finally, for 1948 I’d suggest another Hitchcock film, “Rope.” It stars James Stewart, Farley Granger, and John Dall. It’s patterned after the Leopold/Loeb case. I believe it was the first film to use the continuous action device.
    Is this too much? Smile!


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