Sunday, August 18, 2013

#1,098. How Green Was My Valley (1941) - The Films of John Ford

Directed By: John Ford

Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Anna Lee

Tag line: "Rich is their humor! Deep are their passions! Reckless are their lives! Mighty is their story!"

Trivia: Darryl F. Zanuck originally intended the film to be a four-hour epic to rival Gone with the Wind

John Ford, the prolific director of such classic westerns as Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, won a whopping four Academy Awards for Best Director. 

Not a single one of which was for a western! 

Along with The Informer in 1935 and The Quiet Man in 1952, Ford was awarded back-to-back directing honors for The Grapes of Wrath (in 1940) and How Green Was My Valley (1941). Based on Richard LLewellyn’s popular novel of the same name, How Green Was My Valley tells the story of the Morgan clan, and how changes in their community threatened to tear their family apart.

Huw Morgan (Irving Pichel) looks back on his childhood in the small Welsh mining town where he was born. Told mostly in flashback, we meet a young Huw (Roddy McDowall) at a time when his father Gwilym (Donald Crisp) and his elder brothers all worked in the coal mines, earning just enough to support their large family. Huw’s mother, Beth (Sara Allgood), with the help of his sister Anghaard (Maureen O’Hara), always kept food on the table, and times were generally good. 

That is, until the mining company reduced wages. Unwilling to accept the pay cut, the workers go on strike. Gwilym doesn’t believe in unions, leaving his sons, who support the strike, to stand against their father. Meanwhile, Anghaard, who has developed feelings for the new preacher, Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon), is being courted by Lestyn Evans (Marten Lamont), the mine owner’s son and a man she will never love.

There are wonderful scenes scattered throughout How Green Was My Valley, from simple moments, like Huw, recalling, in great detail, what happened each evening when his father and brothers came home from work (one of their rituals was to go into the back yard and scrub the coal dust off their bodies). And then there was the wedding, when his brother Ivor (Patric Knowles) married the beautiful Bronwyn (Anna Lee), an event that brought the entire town together. Each of these recollections (and more besides) reveals the intricacies of life in a small, working class Welsh town, giving depth to both the characters and the community. 

But How Green Was My Valley also explores the differences between parents and their children, and how one generation’s standards aren’t always passed on to the next. When his sons talk about joining a union to fight for fair wages, Gwilym, who considers unions “Socialist nonsense”, stubbornly refuses to even discuss it with them.

How Green Was My Valley is both a fond remembrance of days gone by and an exploration of how a changing world can bring about the end of traditional values. As John Ford shows us, it’s nice to occasionally reminisce about the past, but awfully dangerous to stand still and ignore the future.

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