THE DVD SHELF: Blu-rays of Oscar Winners "Grand Hotel," "Mrs. Miniver," "Driving Miss Daisy," "On the Waterfront"

By Steven Suskin
10 Feb 2013

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Ten years later came William Wyler's Mrs. Miniver [Warner Home Video], a propaganda piece which successfully accomplished its aim. The titular Mrs. M. (Greer Garson) is a suburban housewife who spends her days taking the train into London to buy expensive hats. In a mere moment, war comes and changes life for all, high class and low. She has an architect husband (Walter Pidgeon), who becomes a member of the civilian patrol; an 18-year old son at Oxford (Richard Ney), who becomes an Air Force Lieutenant with such speed that his parents are stunned with dire forebodings; and two younger children who gamely develop a stiff upper lip. They are balanced by the old Lady of the Manor (Dame May Whitty) and her heroine of a daughter (Teresa Wright), who deserts her class to marry young Miniver as he rushes off to war.

Thanks to Wyler and his screenwriters, what might have been a mild drama is at turns patriotic, humorous, heart-rending, and eventually wrenching. I have always considered Wyler's 1946 "The Best Years of Our Lives" — made just after he left the Air Force — to be the best of the WWII-related films of the war years; a true masterpiece it is. "Mrs. Miniver," which Wyler made just prior to service (and just prior to America entering the war), makes a worthy runner up. "Miniver" took six Oscars, including statuettes for Wyler, Garson and Wright. Wright made quite a splash in Hollywood, with nominations for her first three films — all released within two years. Her first (and only) win came on her third try, in which the competition included Dame Whitty as her mother. She was simultaneously nominated for Best Actress — as Mrs. Lou Gehrig in "Pride of the Yankees" — but lost to Garson. The other nominees that year were Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell; pretty impressive company for the 24-year-old Wright. Who started her career, by the way, as the Emily Webb understudy in the original production of Our Town.

And then there's the 26-year-old Richard Ney. He boosted his career the following year by marrying his screen mother, the much older Ms. Garson. He soon scuttled his career by treating her miserably, with accusations of abuse ending in divorce in 1947. Ney's other claim to show biz infamy was as producer of the 1957 Broadway fiasco, Portofino. This is the one about which Walter Kerr wrote that he would not "say that Portofino is the worst musical ever produced, because I've only been seeing musicals since 1919." Garson herself came to Broadway shortly thereafter, replacing the aforementioned Ms. Russell as Auntie Mame. She returned in 1979, as coproducer of On Golden Pond. Back in the days when Broadway plays could make do with only two producers.

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