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How Green Was My Valley (1941)

  • Review: *** ½ (out of ****)
  • Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp, Roddy McDowall, John Loder, Sara Allgood, Barry Fitzgerald, Patric Knowles, Welsh Singers, Morton Lowry, Arthur Shields, Ann E. Todd, Frederick Worlock, Richard Fraser, Evan S. Evans, James Monks
  • Director: John Ford
  • Screenplay: Philip Dunne (Novel: by Richard Llewellyn)
  • Length: 118 min.
  • MPAA Rating: Approved

In support of the working class, director John Ford bringsto the screen the celebrated novel HowGreen Was My Valley about the tribulations of a family of coal miners in asmall Welsh town.

Narrated by an older Huw Morgan looking back over his lifein the provincial mining town, How GreenWas My Valley remains a despised film by many who feel it robbed Citizen Kane of the Best Picture awardfor 1941. The Orson Welles classic is easily superior, one has to look back atthe atmosphere of the film industry at the time to understand why an inferior,though markedly good film like Valley could win the trophy.

An incredibly young Roddy McDowall plays Huw as he grows uptrying to make his family proud. The Morgans are well respected in theircommunity. The miners, who sing in unison as they march home from work eachday, often look to the family patriarch Gwilym (Donald Crisp) to settle anydisputes or grievances with the mine. Being in the unenviable position, Gwilymhas only the town’s best interests at heart but angers his sons by supportingthe mine’s decision to increase labor while decreasing wages.

The family schism impacts the entire community and as itbegins to crumble, so does the town. It falls to the youngest Morgan, Huw, tochange things. Although he’s an intelligent boy, he is nonetheless out of placegoing out of town to a school for more affluent kids.

Because of his upbringing, he’s immediately the target ofthe school’s other students. When he returns home bruised and battered, he’staught how to defend himself and fight for his own survival. His teacher evengets in the act blaming him for trouble that’s caused and caning him badly.

Believing his family needs him and not desiring to deal withthe world outside his community, Huw, despite his extremely young age, goesinto the mine to work for his family.

How Green Was My Valley is definitely a good movie. Its view of working class families and thetragedies that befall them is inspiring. Ford doesn’t follow Frank Capra’s lineof reasoning when it comes to filmmaking. Valley features plenty of happy occasions but much of the film is filled withdepressing and otherwise dreadful situations. While the conclusion has strandsof hope woven into it, the film refuses to conform to the happy ending.

With more performances under his belt than many of 1941’scrop of stars, McDowall displayed a great amount of depth in his role as theoppressed child Huw. Many of today’s obnoxiously cute child stars should takesome tips from McDowall as even at the young age of 13, he was able to createcharacters of stirring depth and amazing tenacity. Although Crisp, who iscertainly good herein, won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, it was McDowallwho gave the film’s best performance.

The film also features the immeasurable talents of MaureenO’Hara who plays the Morgan family matriarch Angharad. For a film whose cast ispredominantly male, O’Hara stands out starkly as the passionate and lovingmother. Nothing can deter her from standing up for her family, going so far asto risk her own life in a horrid blizzard by addressing a group of miners,including her sons, who are meeting to turn against her husband. After herrousing speech, she starts off home with Huw in tow but falls prey to aslippery bank of ice and crashes beneath its surface. These events help shapeHuw’s life and also help to strengthen their bond as mother and son.

Certainly Citizen Kane is the better film and had it not been so clearly a jab at the life ofnewspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, it might have won the award. Sufficeit to say that the press was against Kane and the Academy followed suit honoring the weaker, though still admirablepicture How Green Was My Valley.