Saturday, May 4, 2013

149. How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Running Time: 118 minutes
Directed By: John Ford
Written By: Philip Dunne, from novel by Richard Llewellyn
Main Cast: Roddy McDowall, Donald Crisp, Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Anna Lee
Click here to view the trailer


Yes, it's another Irish (well it's Welsh, but who's counting) piece by John Ford. Some of you may remember my complete dislike for Ford's "The Quiet Man" earlier this same season and while this one was a smidge better, I still wasn't too keen on it.

The film is a slice of family life in a small, Welsh village where the majority of the villagers are coal miners. We zoom in on a typical family, consisting of a father (Crisp); mother; five brothers, including the youngest Huw (McDowall) and a sister (O'Hara). Together they are the Morgan family and everyday the four elder brothers and their father trot off to work in the dingy coal mines. They come home each night singing songs (not unlike the seven dwarfs), put their wages in Ma's apron, which she folds up to act as a basket and wash the coal dust from their bodies. They then gather round the table, like any wholesome, normal, full of love family and break bread together, giving thanks for what they have. Things are peachy keen until the wages at the mine are cut to make way for new workers, who agree to work for less money and a strike ensues. Father resists the strike and the talk of unionization, but his four elder sons insist that it's a must. Eventually his elder sons, never showing disrespect, decide to leave the house. Meanwhile, Huw, the youngest, falls into an icy river (a la George Bailey) and messes up his legs. Doctors say he'll likely never walk again, but a pep talk from the new preacher (Pidgeon) about faith gives him hope. He ultimately makes a full recovery and goes to school, where he learns that a man must learn to fight with his fists. The strike eventually ends, father returns to the mines and life goes on, with it's ups and downs, as it always will. We continue to watch the progression of the Morgan family, through their specific ups and downs.

Apparently back in 1941, John Ford was doing some serious palm greasing, because that's the only plausible explanation for "How Green Was My Valley" taking home the Oscar for Best Picture, especially considering it beat out "Citizen Kane". Granted, "Kane" isn't a favorite of mine, but it's a favorite of everyone else and it's even obvious to me that "Valley" beats "Kane" zero times out of one hundred. This picture was a little too wholesome, goody-goody and of it's time for this reviewer. It didn't age well, to say the least and this is yet another film that I watch while envisioning my grandparents, wrapped under an afghan, watching and loving every minute of it, on a dreary Sunday afternoon, likely after church. I just don't share Ford's passion for these slice of life, countryside dramas, filled with family values and characters that we follow through years upon years of their lives. He obviously had ideals and interests other than mine and seemed to make pictures that would allow him to reflect on a simpler time, one that is basically non-existent today.

Of course, it wasn't all bad and I'll give credit where it's due. I was engaged about half the time, while the other half the time my mind wanted badly to wander and forget about the dull picture that was spreading itself out before me. Donald Crisp was excellent, as was Walter Pidgeon and certain scenarios were interesting. By the way, the answer to the math question that Walter Pidgeon's character poses to Huw, at about the halfway point is four (I think). At times the picture gave off a cozy aura and while I watched it in my TV room today, wrapped under a blanket (because the air conditioner was on a tad too high), there were times when I wanted to doze off, not because I was bored, but because I was comfortable warmth generating from the screen. I guess that's not bad at all. Also, the narration is great and I can only assume that the narration is read word for word out of the novel, because it's so well written that it must be from a novelist and not a screenwriter.

RATING: 5/10  Let's slice it right down the middle and call it an average affair. I felt that I griped just as much as I praised and therefore a '5' seems fitting.


May 4, 2013  9:17pm


  1. Cliche -how do I know thee? - let me count the ways...It's a mining community film.. so watch the come thick and fast..
    Respectable patriarch, hard working, kind,(But reuctant to show it) Set in his long held, maybe dated, ways, so will be in conflict with..
    Headstrong elder son, desperate to make his mark and see changes come..
    Long suffering, equally hard working and loving matriarch, holding the family together who will be torn between the family factions.
    Elder daughter will be 'wronged' by villainous son of pit owner and dumped once he has had his wicked way.
    Cute younger child has accident and only just avoids saying "am I going to die Mommy?"
    Pit disaster/accident

    .. and so on and so one.
    You could watch the clock and say "next misfortune due in the next two minutes".
    Even in the UK it is reckoned that this one got it's oscar boost as a vote of sympathy for poor bombed Brits struggling against adversity.

  2. A revisit to say they could have done MUCH better..
    'The stars look down' Carol reed, GB, 1939. At first glance could be thought to be similar - it village, family divided by differing ways to face problems, elder son has to leave.. and yes, you can even get a pit disaster... but that's it.. in just about every other way, a much better film. No where near as cliche ridden or sentimental. Grittier and more realistic, and e stronger for it.
    It is in the NYT 1000 films, so it may have made it to your 'next 1000' list. I hope it is, it is very good...

    totaly off topic Andrew, but please may i ask.. would you mind looking in your 'Life of Pi' cover edition, and telling me if 'Surfwise' (Doug Perry, USA, 2007), and 'Best of Youth',(Marco T, Giodana, Italy, 2003) are still in it. They were added at some time, but may have been dropped over the years. I'd rather like the answer to be 'yes' please, as they seem tricky to get and look very uninteresting to me. If they are not, I'm getting close to - I think, if I've got my lists correct, be nearing completion of the latest book. (I'm still hanging fire on doing the final 1 in my 'Psycho cover' edition for some weird reason)

    1. Nope, "Best of Youth" and "Surfwise" are both gone from the Life of Pi cover edition.


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