#308 How Green Was My Valley

(1941, John Ford)

“They are with me still, real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever.”

Oh good, a John Ford movie. As evidenced by previous reviews of his movies that I’ve done, I’ve not been too fond of most of his work. But wait, most of that involved the bland acting of Mr John Wayne, who I’m definitely not fond of. But he’s nowhere to be seen in How Green Was My Valley, set in a Welsh coal-mining village. So perhaps I might be okay with this one? Let’s see!

The movie follows several years in the life of the Morgan family. Father Gwilym (Donald Crisp), along with his elder sons Ianto (John Loder), Ivor (Patric Knowles) and Davy (Richard Fraser), work in the surrounding coal mines, along with many other villagers who depend on the mine for their wages. Conflict comes when the miners find their wages being reduced, and when local preacher Mr Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon) falls in love with the Morgans’ daughter Angharad (Maureen O’Hara). Events are viewed mostly through the eyes of youngest son Huw (Roddy McDowall), with an older version of him narrating many of the events.

The first impression I got of How Green Was My Valley was that the whole movie is a reminiscing nostalgia trip back to the “good ol’ days”, where the valley was green and beautiful, and everyone left their doors open and everyone was friends and not a bad thing ever happened to anybody ever. And you know what, that’s what the whole movie basically is. It’s a trip down memory lane through rose-tinted glasses.

And that’s never a good thing. This overly idealistic view of the past never feels believable to me in any situation, and this film doesn’t buck that trend. It’s almost laughable how idealistic it is, to the point where every morning all the miners leave their houses at a synchronised time, kiss their wives goodbye and strut to work in formation singing their hearts out. It’s a laughable Disneyfied view of the world, and doesn’t start the movie on a good foot for this cynical viewer.

In fact, the point where the movie starts to become believable and actually interesting is when the politics enter the picture and the miners find their wages slashed. This added conflict and shattered the illusion of the rosy outlook. The problem is, the movie never really sticks with it.

You see, the problem with How Green Was My Valley is that it tries very hard to tell about five stories at once, and doesn’t do a good job of telling any of them. There’s a political drama about the effects a single unscrupulous employer can have on a small local economy. There’s a love story about the older sister and the preacher. There’s a drama about the sometimes judgemental nature of religious small-town communities. There’s a coming of age story from Huw’s perspective as he grows up, learns about the world around him and overcomes bullying.

However, all of these stories come and go throughout the movie’s duration. Sometimes plot points drop in out of nowhere, such as Huw and the bullies, while others appear early on and get largely forgotten, such as the miners’ strike. It makes the film just a series of events rather than anything consistent or interesting.

There are also two niggly things that really damage the movie further. The first is the accents. My god, was it that hard to cast actual Welsh actors? Maureen O’Hara fails to sound like anything other than Irish, while many of the English actors seem to have learned their “Welsh” accents in Mumbai. Don’t even get me started on Mr Gruffydd who, despite his Welsh name, sounds exactly like he just stepped off a plane from LA.

The second thing is Huw’s age. How old is this kid meant to be anyway? There are plenty of instances where his perceived age fits, such as the school scenes, but there are other scenes where I felt he was meant to be older, such as his infatuation with his older brother’s wife or the scenes where he’s seen working in the mines later on. I simply didn’t know what to make of Huw as a character because of these discrepancies.

The movie does have its good moments. After Huw starts getting bullied, he undergoes training with a local boxer, who later turns up at his school to beat up his awful teacher. The brief political intrigue surrounding the miners’ strike is…uh…intriguing. Mr Gruffydd calling out the stuffy churchgoers for their alarmingly stuff views of the world is a truly awesome scene. But these moments are few and far between.

Overall, How Green Was My Valley is a painfully safe movie where any semblance of conflict tends to be brushed aside for more nostalgic pondering. It’s a fairly dull film which isn’t sure what it wants to be most of the time. Also, the valley wasn’t that green because the film was in black and white. So there.

Starring Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp & Roddy McDowall
Written by Richard Llewellyn (novel) and Phillip Dunne
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography by Arthur C. Miller
Edited by James B. Clark

Favourite Scene: When the boxer training up young Huw decides to come into Huw’s school and teach his dick of a teacher a lesson – an awesome comedic moment all around
Scene That Bugged Me: Huw working in the mines. Either Huw was played by too young an actor or “the good ol’ days” were rife with exploitative child labour.

Watch it if: You like listening to people ramble on about their past
Avoid it if: You want any of the 12 plot points to stick

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Posted on September 18, 2014, in 1940s, Drama and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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