‘How Green Was My Valley’ is one of the year’s better films, a sure-fire critic’s picture and, unlike most features that draw kudos from crix, this one will also do business.
Based on a best-selling novel, this saga of Welsh coal-mining life is replete with much human interest, romance, conflict and almost every other human emotion to match up to cinematic standards for all audiences. It’s a warm, human story that Richard Llewellyn has wrought basically, and the skillful John Ford camera-painting, from a fine scenario by Philip Dunne, needed only expert casting to round out the job. In this respect the picture is extremely fortunate.
Performances are impressive all the way: fine yet forceful, punchy yet almost underplayed in their deeper meanings, gay and bitter, romantic and frustrated in properly arresting shades and moods, colors and contrasts. All the way it’s an exposition of the cinematic art that pars the best.
For one thing, Donald Crisp and Sara Allgood, as Pa and Ma Morgan, the heads of the Welsh mining family, are an inspired casting. Walter Pidgeon is excellent as the minister; Maureen O’Hara splendid as the object of his unrequited love, who marries the mineowner’s son out of pique; Anna Lee, equally expert as the soon widowed daughter-in-law.
And, above all, there is a potential new boy star in Roddy McDowall. The youngster may prove this studio’s boy counterpart to Shirley Temple, an inspired little performer who has been in English films. He’s winsome, manly, and histrionically proficient in an upright, two-fisted manner.
The transition from book to screen also utilizes the first person singular narrative form, with graphic delineations of how green, indeed, was young Huw (pronounced Hugh) Morgan’s valley as he recounts his life from childhood. Graphically and with full adequateness of scene and dialog there is unfolded the fullness of the Morgans’ honest, God-fearing, industrial life span in the Welsh valley.
There are four stalwart Morgans who, with Morgan, pere, each in his own generation works the coal mines. Domestic tranquility, love of home, romance, the new preacher, the lad’s hazing at school, the caning by the bullying teacher, his decision to forego academic advantages and follow in the bituminous footsteps of his nearest of kin, the buzz-buzz of meddlesome neighbors, the Welsh Singers (vocalizing as themselves) who are commanded to Court for a Queen’s concert, the ready tankards of ale for the entire Valley, the unionization moves against lowering wages and increasingly distressing working conditions, the departure of two Morgan boys to seek fortunes in America–all this, and more, is shrewdly, compactly, appealingly translated into celluloid.
It’s a film that holds much to remember and it is this reminiscent quality that should create a very valuable word-of-mouth.
The Welsh Singers’ rich and robust harmonics; the expert Welsh local color supplied by Rhys Williams (of ‘The Corn Is Green’ and doing a minor bit in this picture) the expert Alfred Newman musical setting and all the other technical ingredients totalize this production to an ultra achievement.
1941: Best Picture, Director, Supp. Actor (Donald Crisp), B&W Cinematography, B&W Interior Decoration (Richard Day, Nathan Juran)
Nominations: Best Supp. Actress (Sara Allgood), Screenplay, Editing, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture, Sound