Art Vs Commerce: How Green Was the Golden Age? (1940s)


Well, that’s enough back-patting for World War One. In 1942, as America joined the fray in Europe, Oscars and audiences agreed: let’s have a movie about how the new war is going. Might… might have jumped the gun a little.

The Joint Champion

That sticker in the upper left is making a bold claim.

Months prior to Pearl Harbor, we had Sergeant York, a great big hoo-rah for American soldiers without actually being about the current war. Months after, we have Mrs. Miniver, our first movie to tackle World War II (I say our first, not the first, that was Confessions of a Nazi Spy in 1939, Americans just didn’t care as much). Sergeant York soft-sold “fighting for your country in Europe is Good, Actually,” and Mrs. Miniver comes from the other direction, saying “Look at what the Nazis are doing to nice people, they’re worth fighting.”

Mrs. Miniver, based on the novel of the same name, covers three Mrs. Minivers… the matriarch of the Miniver clan, a British family in a fictional town; the new rose a local flower salesman names after her; and the woman her eldest son falls in love with. The Minivers try to live their usual quiet, simple, pleasant existence, but their lives are made complicated by the declaration of war and the beginning of the Blitz. Father Clem Miniver (Walter Pidgeon from How Green, who should not have gotten so many gigs as Englishmen if he wasn’t even gonna attempt an accent) gets called to help with the Dunkirk evacuation; eldest son Vin Miniver risks his life daily as a fighter pilot taking on German bombers; and Mrs. Miniver just tries to keep life functioning for the family despite bombs, worry, and crashed German pilots.

They definitely make a point of demonizing the Germans. We see exactly one German and in terms of nastiness he’s somewhere above the one Yankee looter from Gone With the Wind but under the mean deacon from How Green Was My Valley. Maybe on par with the cruel teacher? Anyway, he’s a dick, so they’re clearly saying “Fighting the Germans: It’s Good.”

All of that said? Maybe 1942 was too early to do a movie about the war. And yes it’s based on a book but maybe it was also too soon to do a book about life under the Blitz. Like… right now? I do not, do not want movies or TV shows or what have you about COVID quarantine. I do not want to see Team Flash or the Supergirl Pals and Gals socially distancing and worrying about masks. Well– some of them have kinds of masks but– you know what I mean. As much as it’s important that, at time of writing, we stay home and wear masks when we go places and not have parties, and it’ll be like this for a while yet, I do not want my entertainment reflecting this as the new normal. I, and many others, need to believe this is temporary.

Now, I don’t know what it was like living through the Battle of Britain, wondering every morning if today was the day the Germans would invade properly, so maybe it was different for them. But it’s hard for the story to have an end when its primary source of conflict was still happening, and would be for three years. So it’s an interesting look at what trying to live a normal life during the Blitz was like, but as a story it falls a little short.

How Green Was Their Valley? So is every Oscar winner this decade going to be about idyllic times that went wrong for some reason, be it war, indifferent coal mines, or psychotic housemaids? Seems to be the trend. Anyway, their British-style stiff upper lips kept the Valley minimum lime Green even after the Miniver family house was bombed, right up until the last five minutes when some Bad Things had to happen to give the story a sense of conclusion.

And Rotten Tomatoes Says: It’s at #55/93, one slot over Wings. Don’t know that I agree with that. Chunks of it were just a little too easy to tune out.

Other Events in Film

  • Another Great Man Biopic celebrated Lou Gehrig, The Pride of the Yankees.
  • Bob Hope and Big Crosby did their first buddy movie, Road to Morocco. I should watch that one at some point. I’ve certainly enjoyed multiple homages to it.
  • Bambi began a proud Disney tradition of scarring children through parent murder.
  • Orson Welles’ follow-up to Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, came out this year. Shame he skipped town before the edit was done.
  • 1942 saw the film debuts of Gene Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, MASH’s Harry Morgan, and Tweety Bird.

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