Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tonight's Movie: How Green Was My Valley (1941)

I successfully completed viewing all of the films on my 10 Classics for 2013 list on New Year's Eve, and I truly saved the best for last: John Ford's Oscar-winning masterpiece HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941).

Although I'm a great admirer of John Ford and many in the cast, I've always been reluctant to watch this film, as I knew it would be an emotional and probably tear-inducing experience. I found that although the story was, in many ways, very dark, that aspect was leavened by the film's beauty and the fact that it's simply an incredibly compelling movie.

When I teared up at the end I think it was not so much due to the story but my appreciation of the magnificent artistry of cast and crew. HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY is classic-era studio filmmaking at its finest.

Philip Dunne's screenplay for this 118-minute film was based on a novel by Richard Llewellyn. It tells the story of the Morgans, a close-knit family of Welsh miners, and the gradual disintegration of the family due to job loss and mining accidents.

Since I'm coming to this classic film relatively late, I suspect many of my readers already know the movie quite well. Suffice it to say that it's a deeply moving and absorbing film, anchored by a truly remarkable performance by 12-year-old Roddy McDowall as Huw, the youngest of seven children.

The film's loose narrative depicts the happy marriage of oldest brother Ivor (Patric Knowles) to charming Bronwyn (Anna Lee); the not-so-happy marriage of Angharad (Maureen O'Hara) to the mine owner's son, as her true love (Walter Pidgeon), the minister, will not marry her; Huw's travails, first an accident and then being abused at a new school; and a strike and accidents at the mine.

As life in the mining village grows more difficult and the family scatters, the picture itself grows darker and darker, yet the story of this loving, religious family never loses a sort of spiritual glow. The final lines of Mrs. Morgan (Sara Allgood) feel like a sort of benediction, conveying the hope and faith that although there may be earthly tragedy, in the end all is well.

One scene among many which has stayed with me comes after the sons part ways with their father (Donald Crisp) over unionization and move out of the family home; little Huw, left alone at the table, noisily clanks his silverware to gain his devastated father's attention. With bowed head the father says, "Yes, my son, I know that you are there."

I could cite many more such beautiful moments but instead I'd simply like to encourage any of my readers who haven't seen this film not to wait as long as I did to see it! The investment of time and emotion will be amply rewarded.

HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Donald Crisp), Best Black and White Cinematography (Arthur C. Miller), and Best Art Direction. (One of the film's many achievements was the construction of a very believable village on the studio backlot.) It received an additional five Oscar nominations.

HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY is on DVD in the Fox Studio Classics series. Extras include a commentary track with historian Joseph McBride and actress Anna Lee. It can be rented from Netflix and ClassicFlix.

It's also had releases on Blu-ray and VHS.

I enjoyed some great viewing thanks to this year's 10 Classics list, and I look forward to seeing what's in store in 2014!


Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

I had a feeling you were going to like this one.

I've never been one to cry easily at a movie, but I always get a lump in my throat during that final montage, when you see Huw and his father coming up the hill. It's partly the music—that song "Myfanwy" is so beautiful; I've been wishing I could find an orchestral recording of it for a long time.

11:23 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

If you don't "tear up" at the end of THIS one, FORGET IT! There's NO HOPE for you!!

Happy New Year to everyone!


11:31 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I think we all were pretty sure that you would like this best of the year's 10, Laura!

I really like Brad's comment--and Elisabeth Grace's too--as well as your own sensitive thoughts about the ending.

This kind of ending and the moving epiphany that comes with it doesn't happen, at least not in the way it plays here, for anyone other than John Ford. That's one reason among many why he is the greatest of them all.

I enjoyed your singling out the dinner table scene with Huw and his father, one Ford himself talked about--like Huw he was the youngest son and plainly he deeply identified with the character in so many ways. McDowall is indeed extraordinary in the role under Ford's caring direction--I don't believe there is a greater performance by any child actor to this age anywhere in cinema.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

I'm so glad you finally watched this. What a great way to end one year and began a new one! Absolutely love this movie to pieces and own the DVD. I'll have to pull it out and watch it again.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Love this movie, and the novel is one of my very favorite books.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

So many wonderful notes, thanks to you all! I'm catching up now after the holiday. :)

Elisabeth, the final montage reminds me of the end of Ford's later THE QUIET MAN or Capra's final shot at the end of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE -- one of the things that gets me in these shots goes beyond the story itself, it's the "curtain call" for all the great *faces* in these movies who are with us no more but live on in these films.

Brad, I LOL re your comment. My daughter and I both had misty eyes at the end. :)

Blake, you and everyone else definitely guessed correctly! Ford is truly a giant. I keep thinking back to Allgood's final lines, they were so stirring and made me very happy. And McDowall...just extraordinary.

Irene, I'm happy you own the DVD, that's wonderful! I'm looking forward to watching it again and listening to the commentary track with Joseph McBride and Anna Lee. Lee seems to have really connected with everyone on the film -- I've read that O'Hara named her daughter Bronwyn after Lee (because she wanted to honor her but didn't care for the name Anna), and I remember reading McDowall called Lee Bronwyn the rest of her life! And Ford was her son's godfather.

Jacqueline, my mother just read the book for the first time and loved it and is going to now watch the film as well.

Best wishes,

8:48 PM  

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