Saturday, October 19, 2013

How Green Was My Valley (1941)

How Green Was My ValleyJohn Ford's 1941 film How Green Was My Valley tells the story of a Welsh mining family, the Morgans, through the eyes of the youngest member of the family, ten-year old Huw (Roddy McDowell). Mr. & Mrs. Morgan (Donald Crisp & Sara Allgood) have seven children and struggle to keep their family afloat. Mr. Morgan is a miner, but he refuses to join a newly formed union and join in on their strike. This creates tensions within the family and violence erupts. Through it all the family survives, but their hometown and culture begin to decline. Mr. Ford poignantly portrays the fading of childhood innocence and the good side and down side of life in a small town. The film is still relevant today as Mr. Ford shows how technology dehumanizes society as machinery that is more efficient and cost-effective starts to replace many of the mine's best workers and renders them unneeded and forces them into unemployment. The film beat out what is considered the greatest movie of time, Citizen Kane, to win the 1941 Academy Award for Best Picture and Mr. Ford beat Orson Welles to win his second consecutive Best Director Award (and the third of his total of four). The film won three other Oscars including Best Supporting Actor for Mr. Crisp. The film was to be shot in color on location in Wales, but due to the escalation of World War II, filming was moved to California and shot in black & white to help create the dreariness of South Wales. This worked out brilliantly as the lack of color helps create more a bleaker mood and Arthur C. Miller was rewarded with an Oscar for Best Cinematography.

Frankly, I had forgotten how excellent this film is until seeing it again recently. (It received the Academy Award for best film in 1941in competition with Citizen Kane and the other nominees.) The impact on me of a film at a given time is almost wholly dependent on how accessible I am when seeing it. I first saw How Green Was My Valley as a child and then again several years later. Probably because since then I have become a father and then a grandfather, I am much more appreciative now than I was before of what director John Ford achieves in his portrayal of a Welsh mining town and of a specific family there which struggles so courageously to enable one of its own, not only to escape from the mines but from the limits of a culture (albeit loving and supportive) to fulfill his human potentialities which would otherwise be denied. The film covers a 50-year period as an adult Huw Morgan recalls it (he is played by Roddy McDowell), with the primary focus on his ordeals as the youngest of several children. Donald Crisp received an Academy Award as best actor in a supporting role as Morgan family's patriarch. Many believe this is Ford's best film and I would be hard-pressed to disagree with them. It really has everything. With Philip Dunne's screenplay based on Richard Llewellyn's novel, How Green Was My Valley combines superior acting and cinematography with Alfred Newman's complementary musical score. For me, this film's greatness is found in its graphic portrayal of hardship and despair in a bleak mining town which are offset by a proud family's enduring faith in Huw and their determination to protect and support him. Ford affirms their essential dignity with a respect and admiration he invites us to share.

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Of all the unforgettable classic b/w films made in the 40's during the "Golden Age" of Hollywood, `How Green Was My Valley' released in '41 is my personal favorite. Who could ever tire of watching this timeless tale focusing on a poor Welsh coal mining community at the beginning of the 20th century. Done in narration style you will be transported back to a difficult, but simplier time to relive the life of young Huw Morgan (Roddy McDowall) and his loving memories of family, friends and assorted members of the township. His lifetime unfolds before the viewer, moments of happiness and hardship, triumphs and failures, life and death.

Directed by the legendary John Ford and performed by a cast which includes some of the finest actors and actresses of that generation it's no surprise this film won numerous Academy Award in '41, including the Oscar for "Best Picture".

Starring Roddy McDowall, Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Donald Crisp and a myriad of notables. This is a film that belongs in everyone's DVD collection.

Read Best Reviews of How Green Was My Valley (1941) Here

I was reluctant to watch this movie. After all, I am 21 and am used to seeing John Ford movies such as "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon". I was sure I would be bored with this movie. Was I ever wrong. This movie touches you in every way. It is quite possibly the saddest and most emotional movie I've ever seen. The cast is very solid: Maureen O'Hara, Anna Lee, Walter Pidgeon, and Roddy McDowall. There is something special about How Green Was My Valley that I cannot explain. I am glad it won Best Picture at the Oscars in 1941. I hope nobody tries to remake this film because no actor or director could do a better job. This is one of the best movies I have ever seen.

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It's an impressive line-up that doesn't disappoint. John Ford directs from the Richard Llewelyn book and there's fine acting from Donald Crisp (the father) and Walter Pidgeon (the local minister). Perhaps young Roddy McDowell's performance is a bit too sympathetic, but this is a coming of age film.

The story is set in Cywm Rhonda, the famed Welsh coal mining valley. Despite the gorgeous cinematography and a soundtrack just full of fabulous Welsh men's choral singing, "How Green Was My Valley" is a real tear jerker, almost infinitely sad. No good milestone in young Huw's life is untouched by grief. You'll smile in places, as when Ty Bando gives the ghastly schoolmaster a boxing lesson, but mostly you'll cry, starting about 15 seconds in, and lasting until the last moment. If you can handle a real tear-jerker, you've GOT to see this. A favorite of mine for a third of a century now and still I discover new glories in it. It's stunningly well-edited, I realized in my latest viewing.

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