HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY(director: John Ford; screenwriters: from the novel by Richard Llewellyn/Philip Dunne; cinematographer: Arthur Miller; editor: James B. Clark; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Walter Pidgeon (Mr. Gruffydd), Maureen O’Hara (Angharad Morgan), Anna Lee (Bronwyn), Donald Crisp (Gwilym Morgan), Roddy McDowall (Huw Morgan), John Loder (Ianto Morgan), Patric Knowles (Ivor), Richard Fraser (Davy), Evan S. Evans (Gwilym), James Monks (Owen), Irving Pichel (Unseen Narrator), The Welsh Singers (Themselves); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Darryl F. Zanuck; Fox Home Video; 1941)
“Beat out the much superior Citizen Kane for the Oscar for Best Picture.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It’s hard to believe this worthy work of great craftsmanship and touching social, economical and political drama, somewhat soiled because it’s grounded in sentimentality, beat out the much superior Citizen Kane for the Oscar for Best Picture. It won four other Academy Awards, including Best Director (John Ford, who also won the year before for The Grapes of Wrath), Best Supporting Actor (Donald Crisp), Best Art Director, Best Cinematography. It’s based on Richard Llewellyn’s bestselling autobiographical novel and is written with great love for the likeable characters by Philip Dunne. John Ford (“The Searchers”/”The Quiet Man”/The Horse Soldiers”) directs the Welsh colliery film as if Wales were his Ireland.
It tells the epic heartwarming mining tale, set at the turn of the century and told in flashback (an unseen Irving Pichel is the narrator), through an ongoing narration, of a large mining family in South Wales, as seen through the eyes of Huw-pronounced Hugh (Roddy McDowall). He’s now a 50-year-old and a resident of Cwm Rhondda, who is the youngest of six children, a pre-teen, in a family headed by an old-fashioned patriarch, strict and hard-working family man anti-union miner father Gwilym Morgan (Donald Crisp) and loving mother Beth (Sara Allgood), plus his sister Angharad (Maureen O’Hara) and his five older miner brothers–Ianto (John Loder), Ivor (Patric Knowles), Gwilym (Evan S. Evans), Davy (Richard Fraser) and Owen (James Monks). The men work hard in the mines and then march home at day’s end singing in unison and then get a good scrubbing at home.
It traces through Huw’s childhood memories of ‘the good ole days’ of living in a once pristine green valley that was nevertheless filled with narrow-minded people and follows through the family all the changes that occurred in the mining region and the number of melodramatic episodes they faced (including romantic conflicts, family traumas, conflicts over unions between the sons and father and the immigration of two of the sons to America). It follows how over time the Morgan’s hometown and its culture begins to slowly decline, as by the end the lovely valley is covered with black slag, waste from the coal mines, and is only green in memory.
Though contrived and hardly convincing, the high concept film still packs some wallop dramatically, is visually satisfying (though studio bound) and says things about pollution that moderns can still relate to. It’s more of an eloquent watch, a bit of British propaganda and an exercise in Ford’s more liberal views about the environment and his pro-union agenda than a film that will knock you on your ears with its outrage or stance against the WASP work ethos.
Walter Pidgeon is fine as the impoverished idealistic minister, while O’Hara is alluring as the object of his unacknowledged love who enters a loveless marriage with the mine owner’s son when the insecure minister fails to ask for her hand.
REVIEWED ON 3/17/2008 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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