The Miniver Story
M-G-M’s Mrs. Miniver (1942) was a classic war story that won six Oscars, including Best Picture. Directed by William Wyler, the film chronicled a middle-class British family’s struggle to survive the horrors of World War II. At the time of its release, Mrs. Miniver, adapted from Jan Struthers’s 1937 series of newspaper columns, helped deepen America’s understanding of the impact of the war on the citizens of Europe. Winston Churchill famously declared that the film’s influence was “more vital to [England] than a fleet of destroyers.”
The Miniver Story (1950), a sequel directed by H.C. Potter, focuses on the selfless, unerringly decent Kay Miniver (Greer Garson, reprising her Oscar-winning role) and her struggle to see her family at peace after the war has ended. When Kay learns that she has only a year to live, she keeps her illness a secret, determining to use her remaining time to resolve her family’s lingering conflicts: her husband, Clem (Walter Pidgeon), is disillusioned with England and considers moving the family to Brazil so that he can accept an architectural assignment; their daughter, Judy (Cathy O’Donnell), is infatuated with a married man, Gen. Steve Brunswick (Leo Genn), and has dismissed Capt. Tom Foley (Richard Gale), who is a better match for her.
Kay solves these problems with her typical gentle reasoning. She moves Clem’s office furniture to another room, one with a less depressing view of the war-demolished city—he instantly falls back in love with London. For Judy, Kay visits the temperamental Gen. Brunswick and tactfully convinces him that her daughter, who has no background in art or music, is not the right woman for his sophisticated tastes—Brunswick chooses to stay with his wife, and Judy instead pursues a relationship with Tom. Having remedied these issues, Kay confesses her illness to Clem. She dies in the spring, just after seeing her daughter married.
While Garson and Pidgeon fell back into their roles with ease, the film did not meet with the success as its predecessor. Critics cited the performances and stellar productions values as assets, but the film’s formulaic story and depressing ending proved serious drawbacks for audiences—including Struthers, the original author, who successfully sued the studio for killing off her beloved character.
Herbert Stothart’s score for the original film featured a lush string theme for the Miniver family, its warmth offering reassurance and strength amid scenes of destruction and heartbreak. Stothart would have been a logical choice to score the sequel, but he had passed away (from cancer) on February 1, 1949. Miklós Rózsa was assigned the new picture, with the directive that he incorporate Stothart’s themes. In a way, this score represents a “passing of the torch” from the M-G-M music department of the 1930s and ’40s—dominated by Stothart—to the M-G-M of the 1950s, where Rózsa was the pre-eminent dramatic voice.
Rózsa’s adaptation score reprises Stothart’s melody during the main title, gradually reintroducing other ideas from the first score, such as a tender triple-meter theme for Kay and Clem, and an alma mater-like hymn that recalls the tragedy of the Minivers’ oldest son, Vin (Richard Ney), whose wife Carol (Teresa Wright) was killed by enemy fire at the conclusion of the first film. Most of Rózsa’s original material centers on a melancholic, impressionistic tune for Judy and her failed relationship with the general. Rózsa’s other ideas grow almost subliminally out of the material Stothart introduced in the first score.
In his autobiography, Double Life, Rózsa recalled how the Miniver assignment overlapped his work on Quo Vadis, in particular a trip to Rome (where the biblical epic was filming and Rózsa was needed to supervise its music on set). “MGM had let me go to Rome only on the condition that I do an additional picture in London, to which I gladly agreed,” he wrote. “The picture was the second “Mrs. Miniver’—The Miniver Story—and I was going to have to use some of Herbert Stothart’s themes from the original. I didn’t care; I would have done a picture on the moon for the chance to return to Europe.”
The dates for Rózsa’s London recording sessions could not be determined from studio paperwork, but were likely in the spring or summer of 1950. Unfortunately, those tracks no longer survive. The few cues from this picture that exist today (and which are presented on disc 2 of this collection) are those recorded in Culver City: source music “pre-recordings” (recorded March 6, 8 and April 18, 1950, with which Rózsa had no involvement) and Rózsa’s rewritten and additional score cues (recorded August 29 and September 5, 1950).
The score in general is quite short—the missing London cues amount to only eight by Rózsa, adapting Stothart. The five-track suite presented here features the four surviving Culver City Rózsa score cues along with “The Girl That I Marry,” an Irving Berlin source cue with dramatic importance, mastered from ¼″ monaural tape of what were originally 35mm optical film recordings.
- 9. Rose 3M1
- Clem Miniver (Walter Pidgeon) has returned from Cairo. A nostalgic passage for woodwinds and strings—evoking Stothart’s Mrs. Miniver music while avoiding a literal quotation—underscores Clem’s appreciation of being home as he takes a moment to smell his wife’s prize-winning rose. Judy (Cathy O’Donnell), grown up and beautiful, enters her parents’ bedroom to greet her father and the score introduces her yearning, undulating melody. Rózsa develops this ever-flowing material as the two catch up and Judy explains that she is in love with Gen. Brunswick (Leo Genn). The writing becomes perturbed when she confesses that Brunswick is married.
- 10. New Hat 6M1
- After learning that her days are numbered, Kay Miniver (Greer Garson) goes to town and buys herself a hat, her first in six years. Rózsa underscores the scene with a pastoral introduction to Stothart’s main theme, the actual melody for which appears when Kay arrives at Clem’s office. Once the cue ends, Mr. Miniver goes on to admit his desire to leave Europe, with his wife offering gentle protest.
- 11. Conflict 10M1
- In an attempt to assuage Clem and keep the family in London, Kay moves his workplace furniture into an office with a view of the city that is bustling and alive. Initially upset, Clem looks out the window and stops protesting in mid-tirade, the score acknowledging his reaction to the city with a melting, reverent string line: he needs no further convincing.
- The scene transitions to the Miniver home, where a heartbroken Judy arrives, to the accompaniment of her theme. Kay has convinced Brunswick that he is still in love with his wife, and Judy is furious that her mother has interfered. Judy’s theme grows increasingly bitter (this development of the material does not appear on this CD) but Mrs. Miniver comforts her daughter, explaining that war can prompt bouts of passion among the lonely: Kay faced a similar temptation in the form of Spike (John Hodiak), an American colonel she befriended during the war while Clem was away. Rózsa reprises Stothart’s bittersweet triple-meter theme from the first film to emphasize Kay’s relationship with Clem, the true love of her life. The cue gently fades out when she reads Judy a letter in which Spike acknowledges that his meeting Kay has only deepened his love for his wife. Judy realizes that the same is true of Gen. Brunswick, herself and Tom Foley (Richard Gale).
- This track is not the complete cue as heard in the finished film; rather, it is the revised beginning and revised ending recorded by Rózsa in Culver City—the section in the middle was recorded in London and is lost.
- 12. The Girl That I Marry WILD
- At a formal dance, Judy rekindles her relationship with Tom, while Kay informs Clem of the severity of her illness. Mr. and Mrs. Miniver dance to the final song of the evening, an instrumental of Irving Berlin’s “The Girl That I Marry” (arranged by M-G-M’s Conrad Salinger and conducted by Johnny Green). Clem’s calm but stunned narration notes the strangeness of “how music bridges the years”—two decades of marriage spanning from a preceding Show Boat arrangement (“Old Man River,” not presented here) to this piece from Annie Get Your Gun.
- 13. New End to Finale 12M3
- Autumn arrives and Judy and Tom are married. Kay and Clem bid their priest farewell and the score offers a final reprisal of Stothart’s main theme as the couple enters their house (material that does not appear on this CD, as it was recorded in London). Kay walks upstairs and never comes back down. Clem’s narration explains that his love for Kay will live on forever, over a gently roving shot through the Miniver house, out to their garden and settling on the lake that borders the property. Rózsa closes out the score with a statement of Stothart’s wholesome hymn: in the first film this material was applied to the Minivers’ son Vin and his wife Carol (Richard Ney and Teresa Wright), but this time Clem is the bereaved husband and he inherits the consoling melody. —