How Green Was My Valley Screen 11 articles

How Green Was My Valley

1941

How Green Was My Valley Poster
  • It was impossible for me to watch this without getting extremely frustrated by the lumpy, one-damn-thing-after-another narrative of what's clearly a massive book (651 pages!) funneled into a rush of disconnected incidents: romance here, schoolmaster bullying here, vignettes from the coal mines throughout.

  • The backlot mining village (impressive as it is) and the babel of accents hardly aid suspension of disbelief in this nostalgic recollection of a Welsh childhood, based on Richard Llewellyn's novel. An elegant and eloquent film, nevertheless, even if the characteristically laconic Fordian poetry seems more contrived here (not least in the uncharacteristic use of an offscreen narration).

  • The two things that give men their sense of purpose—God and work—both come home to roost in the place that gives women theirs, and if the dysfunction of the former invariably leads to the dismantlement of the latter (each of the Morgan sons sets sail for America or wherever else they can find work), it's the institution of home that allows everyone to soldier on through strife in the male-dominated arenas.

  • As in all the best Fordian cinema, though everything changes and most things die or disappear, what remains in memory and in spirit triumphs—and what on the surface is a tender and sad film becomes instead joyous and robust. Expert performances from Donald Crisp, Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, and a host of brilliant character actors enhance a magnificent movie experience.

  • A non realist evocation of life in a Welsh mining town a century earlier. This is not shot by Toland, yet note Ford’s composition and lighting at the same time as Kane was being shot. Allow yourself to be swept away by the sentiment. A complete contrast to [The Grapes of Wrath and They Were Expendable] and yet so clearly the work of the same director.

  • I happen to think the How Green is one of the very greatest American films... it’s not really the accents that bother people about How Green. No, it’s really the “beat Citizen Kane” part that grates on film fans. Quite possibly it has led them to dismiss or undervalue one of Ford’s greatest films. I’m going to be heretical and say that How Green deserved to win over Kane.

  • As it turns out, most of the stylistic breakthroughs in “Kane” — few of which are actually native to that film — are well represented in “How Green Was My Valley,” a film full of magnificent deep-focus effects, presented both in low-ceiling interiors (as with Welles) and in outdoor vistas, as in the carefully layered planes of the sequence in which the miners file out of the colliery...

  • No director is better at establishing context via landscape, dwarfing his characters while still granting them enough reflected grandeur to feel iconic. Emphasizing the natural features that surround it, he sets up this quaint Welsh village as a place of timeless recurrence, of small lives lived within a framework of specific tradition, even as the story he tells takes place at a very specific moment, amid the industrialization that will change these people’s simplistic lifestyle forever.

  • Ford depicts a working-class solidarity based on morality, tradition, and community; he conveys his nuanced and tender sociology with surprising sound effects and expressionistic tableaux that feature the sort of angles that made Welles famous (and which the younger man borrowed, in turn, from Ford’s “Stagecoach”).

  • It is a film whose overpowering sense of nostalgia is built into every frame, each an apex of classical formal perfection, visions that are inextricable from the eyes of the child through which these moving landscapes unfold. Ford is in full expressionistic mode here, employing the simplest of gestures to contribute to an unbearably affecting poetic whole.

  • The subjective nature of the visual storytelling explains why this child protagonist, portrayed by Roddy McDowell in one of cinema’s finest ever child performances, doesn’t seem to age even though the narrative spans many years. (Huw appears to be “too young” at the end of the movie in the same poignant way that John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart are “too old” in the flashback sequences of THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.)

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