Monday, February 12, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Valley of Decision (1945) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Greer Garson stars in the family saga THE VALLEY OF DECISION (1945), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Garson received the fifth of her six Best Actress nominations for her role as Mary Rafferty, an Irish maid who goes to work for the Scotts, a wealthy Pittsburgh family in the steel business in the late 19th century.

Mary has much to learn in her new position, but before long she is a trusted employee and companion for both the kindly parents (Gladys Cooper and Donald Crisp) and two of their children, ambitious Paul (Gregory Peck) and flighty Constance (Marsha Hunt). Two more sons (Dan Duryea and Marshall Thompson) complete the Scott family.

Mary and Paul fall in love, but Mary believes it would be a mistake for Paul to marry her due to their class differences, and when Constance marries a member of the British nobility (John Warburton), Mary accompanies Constance to England in order to put distance between herself and Paul.

Paul has a disastrous marriage with Louise (Jessica Tandy), but eventually a legacy from Paul's mother to Mary may reunite the star-crossed pair.

This was a fairly pleasant though overly drawn-out 119-minute film chiefly notable for its excellent cast. Garson is always a pleasure to watch, though the fact she's 11 years older than her leading man is clearly apparent and made their romance slightly awkward at times.

Those who are used to seeing Cooper in her "dragon lady" appearances such as NOW, VOYAGER (1942) may find it enjoyable to see her in such a tender-hearted role; I definitely did. I also enjoyed Crisp as a man who wants the best for his company and his children, even if the choices are unconventional or unexpected.

This was the third and final film Marsha Hunt made with Greer Garson, following PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940) and BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST (1941). It's a very nice, good-sized part, with Constance starting out as a bit of a brat but growing and evolving over the course of the film, loving Mary even though Mary at times reins in her less appropriate behavior.

Preston Foster is somewhat wasted as Paul's right-hand man at the steel mill, though one might say his mere presence lends the film some gravitas. Lionel Barrymore is frankly tiresome in his patented type of role as Mary's cranky wheelchair-bound father.

The screenplay by Sonya Levien and John Meehan was based on a novel by Marcia Davenport. The film was directed by Tay Garnett and filmed in black and white by Joseph Ruttenberg.

The film is somewhat dark-looking; I'm not sure how much was the original shooting style or what might be attributable to the print. There are several fairly fake-looking matte paintings which do detract a bit from the film's overall authenticity.

Unfortunately the soundtrack of this early Warner Archive release is unusually muffled and variable; I found myself constantly adjusting the volume. The rough soundtrack combined with the many character accents makes for a challenging listening experience.

The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger barrylane said...

I do not wish to go into a any detail, but the novel, Valley of Decision by Marcia Davenport, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.'s sister, spent several years I Pittsburgh for research and perhaps other things. The novel covers the material portrayed above, but goes far beyond, after Paul's death and includes some serious reference to the founding of Czechoslovakia and back again. It is a love song to Pittsburgh. A romance that might have been the Gone With The Wind of western Pennsylvania. As wild as that might seem. As for the age difference between Garson and Peck, that did not bother me at all, she is might appealing, but in any film covering thirty or more years, casting is always problematic. In any case, while an enjoyable and worthwhile effort, it is a simplified, dumbed down variant on w hat might have been. Too bad.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hadn't made the connection with Davenport being Zimbalist's sister...knew he came from a multitalented very interesting!!

I noticed the book description mentioned Pearl Harbor which was definitely not in the movie. Does seem like they had to cut a lot.

Thanks so much for sharing that interesting background.

Best wishes,

8:32 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Without going into too much extraneous detail Marcia was the fiance of Jan Masaryk, the non-communist Foreign Minister who was, or was not, thrown from a window in 1948. This of course happened well after the publication of Valley Of Decision but the empathy for Czech immigrants and the parts they played, along with the more significant Irish contribution, in the creation of Pittsburgh is front and center. The novel concludes with the arrival of World War II.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I just saw this for the first time last month! I was especially intrigued by how it was the poor family who opposed the match, not the rich one -- sort of a reverse from what we usually expect from rich/poor romances.

I agree with you on the weird sound, though. I watched this with my parents after my kids went to bed, and I had to keep adjusting the sound because it got so LOUD sometimes. Irksome.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for the additional details, Barrylane, most interesting.

Hamlette, that's a good point, I liked that the story was unstereotypical in that regard.

The sound was so difficult, I would turn it up as it was so muffled and then, as you say, it would get very loud! I was turning the volume up and back down constantly. Fortunately that's a pretty unusual experience with a Warner Archive disc.

Best wishes,

11:42 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Just an added note that I did a little Googling today and noted that DVD Beaver also commented on the sound. A customer review at Amazon mentions it as well.

Sharing that info just so people will know it seems to be a consistent issue with this film and not a particular disc.

Best wishes,

3:57 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Regarding sound: I have had several Warner Archive discs with variable sound, but none of those issues requiring intermittent adjustment as you have mentioned seem to come with Fox or Universal releases. Some of these problems appear on Bluray as well, but certainly not all.

4:34 PM  
Blogger J E A said...

the book is a masterpiece. follows Mary through three generations of Scotts...through WW1 and WW11...quite brilliant. worth searching for...

3:57 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

You bet.

7:10 AM  

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