Saturday Night Cinema: How Green Was My Valley


It’s Oscar month, and what better way to celebrate than run Oscar winners from Hollywood’s golden age?

Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema looks back at Hollywood’s golden age — when it was great, moral, and deeply talented. The Hollywood of today lives off the fumes of this golden era. Today’s Hollywood is incapable of the goodness displayed in this film.

“Men like my father cannot die. They are with me still, real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever. How green was my valley then.”

Spanning 50 years, director John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley revolves around the life of the Morgans, a Welsh mining family, as told through the eyes of its youngest child Huw (Roddy McDowall).

Brilliant performances from Donald Crisp, Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, and a host of supremely talented actors make this an extraordinary movie experience.

Tonight’s film is about the “majesty of plain people and the beauty which shines in the souls of simple, honest folk.” The 1941 classic was directed by great American film director John Ford. The movie, based on the 1939 Richard Llewellyn novel of the same name, was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck and scripted by Philip Dunne. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards famously beating Citizen Kane for Best Picture, along with winning Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Supporting Actor.

A Beautiful and Affecting Film Achievement Is “How Green Was My Valley,” at the Rivoli
Published: October 29, 1941

The majesty of plain people and the beauty which shines in the souls of simple, honest folk are seldom made the topics of extensive discourse upon the screen. Human character in its purer, humbler aspects is not generally considered enough. Yet out of the homely virtues of a group of Welsh mining folk—and out of the modest lives of a few sturdy leaders in their midst—Darryl Zanuck, John Ford and their associates at Twentieth Century-Fox have fashioned a motion picture of great poetic charm and dignity, a picture rich in visual fabrication and in the vigor of its imagery, and one which may truly be regarded as an outstanding film of the year. “How Green Was My Valley” is its title, and it opened last night at the Rivoli.

Persons who have read the haunting novel by Richard Llewellyn from which the story is derived will comprehend at its mention the deeply affecting quality of this film. For Mr. Ford has endeavored with eminent success to give graphic substance to the gentle humor and melancholy pathos, the loveliness and aching sentiment, of the original. And Mr. Zanuck has liberally provided with the funds of his studio a production which magnificently reproduces the sharp contrasts of natural beauties and the harsh realities of a Welsh mining town. In purely pictorial terms, “How Green Was My Valley” is a stunning masterpiece.

If, then, it fails to achieve a clear dramatic definition and never quite comes across with forceful, compelling impact this must be charged to the fact that the spirit of the original is too faithfully preserved. Mr. Llewellyn was recounting the sessions of sweet, silent thought wherein an old man was summoning the remembrance of happy things past—the fond recollections of his youth and his cheerful home on a Welsh hillside, his father and mother and brothers and the joys and griefs of those who lived by the pit. His was a story told in reverie, episodically, running through a period of years.

And that is the form of the screen play which Phillip Dunne has prepared. With several alterations but no major changes in the tale, this is the story of the Morgans, a Celtic mining clan, as seen through the eyes of Huw, the youngest of the brood. It is the story of Huw’s “dada,” a strong but gentle man; his mother, a sweet and tireless woman who loved her large family with all her heart; his hot-tempered, fearless brothers and his beautiful sister who married not wisely but well; of the pastor, Mr. Gruffydd, who inspired Huw with spiritual zeal and a thirst for knowledge, but never gained his own desire. And it is, by implication, the story of a good people’s doom, the story of how the black coal wrung so perilously from the fair earth darkens the lives of those who dig it and befouls the verdant valley in which they live.

And that is the weakness of this picture. For in spite of its brilliant detail and its exquisite feeling for plain, affectionate people, it never forms a concrete pattern of their lives. Opportunities for dramatic intensity, such as that in which Huw saves his mother’s life, are deliberately thrown away. And the obvious climactic episode, in which Huw’s father is killed in the mine, is nothing more than a tragic incident which brings the story to a close. Apparently the intention was to have the film follow the formless flow of life. But an audience finds it hard to keep attentive to jerky episodes for the space of two hours.

However, you can never expect to see a film more handsomely played. Little Roddy McDowall, who has had only one previous small role in Hollywood, is superb as the boy Huw, with his deeply sensitive face and shy but stalwart manner. No one that we can think of could bring more strength and character to the difficult role of Gwilym Morgan than Donald Crisp, and Walter Pidgeon plays Mr. Gruffydd as a true, simple, forth-right man of God. Excellent, too, are Sara Algood as the mother, Maureen O’Hara as the beautiful Angharad, who marries the wrong man, Anna Lee as loyal Bronwen, and a cast too numerous to mention. Only Morton Lowry as Mr. Jonas, the teacher, and Marten Lamont as the husband of Angharad are permitted to overplay.

More than a word should be said for the perfect reproduction of a stone colliery, stone houses and chapel built in the Ventura hills of California especially for this film. And more than a mere nod accorded to the beautiful Welsh choral singing so generously spaced through it. If only the structure of the story were as sound as everything else, there is great (as the Welsh idiom has it) that this picture would be. As a matter of fact, there is fine that this picture is, anyhow.

HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY; screen play by Philip Dunne; based on the novel by Richard Llewellyn; directed by John Ford; music arranged by Alfred Newman; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck for Twentieth Century-Fox. At the Rivoli.
Mr. Gruffydd . . . . . Walter Pidgeon
Angharad . . . . . Maureen O’Hara
Gwilym Morgan . . . . . Donald Crisp
Bronwen . . . . . Anna Lee
Huw . . . . . Roddy McDowall
Ianto . . . . . John Loder
Mrs. Morgan . . . . . Sara Allgood
Cyfartha . . . . . Barry Fitzgerald
Ivor . . . . . Patric Knowles
Mr. Jonas . . . . . Morton Lowry
Mr. Parry . . . . . Arthur Shields
Dr. Richards . . . . . Frederick Worlock
Davy . . . . . Richard Fraser
Gwilym . . . . . Evan S. Evans
Owen . . . . . James Monks
Dai Bando . . . . . Rhys Williams
Iestyn Evans . . . . . Marten Lamont
Mervyn . . . . . Clifford Severn
Meillyn Lewis . . . . . Eve March
Evans . . . . . Lionel Pape
Mrs. Nicholas . . . . . Ethel Griffies
and the Chorus of the Welsh Presbyterian Church of Los Angeles

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