Headline: One of the best coming of age stories ever made.
Synopsis: At turn of the century in a Welsh mining village, the Morgans, he stern, she gentle, raise coal-mining sons and hope their youngest will find a better life. (IMDB)
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Walter Pidgeon, and Maureen O’Hara
Writer: Philip Dunne
Director: John Ford
Rating: G (Canada)
Running Time: 118min
Based on the novel by Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley tells the story of Huw (McDowall), a young boy living in a coal-mining Welsh village in the turn of the 20th century. He is a curious and sweet boy, who sees his father and all his older brothers live the hard life of mining, while he is the vessel for their hopes that one of the family will be able to escape such arduous perspectives. While growing up, leaving childhood behind and entering adolescence, Huw witnesses the transformations happening with his town folks, who start uniting to fight the mining corporation and also participate in the changes happening inside his own family.
How Green Was My Valley has an almost unbearable weight to carry on its shoulder: this is the film that took the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars from Citizen Kane, considered the greatest movie ever made by a lot of critics. Kane is a remarkable technical achievement and a chilling story of malignant power of greed. But it was also a cold and emotionally distant film and, therefore, the total opposite of what How Green Was My Valley was going for. This is a heartwarming movie at its core and also great in the technical parts. One can argue that Citizen Kane was more cutting edge and stood better the test of time, but when you watch How Green Was My Valley you can totally understand why it got all the awards it has. It is truly a great film.
There is nothing ambitious about the story; it is just the tale of the Morgan family trying to live a meaningful life. That’s it. Nothing much, just everyday life. But, on the other end, there’s so much happening. And that is because everything is seen through Huw’s point of view, while he is discovering what the world is made of. All the situations and anecdotes are presented in the most sympathetic way, with Huw’s naivety playing a wonderful part in warming up all the drama and bringing out our tears naturally. This is probably the best coming of age story of the 1940s, going side by side with The Yearling.
Although How Green Was My Valley can’t really be compared to Citizen Kane’s outstanding technical achievements, it doesn’t mean it is not also great for it. It is. Arthur C. Miller, the cinematographer, creates great compositions and some are quite beautiful, like when the Mr. Gruffydd (Pidgeon) is seen as a shadow in the background while watching the love of his life, Angharad (O’Hara) leaving the church after her wedding. The Art Direction by Richard Day and Nathan Juran creates a beautiful and believable Welsh village, and the geography they designed is breathtaking in a lot of scenes. Topping it all up is the splendid and emotional score by Alfred Newman. But you couldn’t expect anything less from director John Ford, one of the most brilliant directors of the period. He was mostly known for his westerns with John Wayne but he was a master in any genre, from dramas (The Grapes of Wrath) to comedies (The Quiet Man). He is the one responsible for all the right choices presented here, from turning this into such a personal journey for the audience to the extraordinary casting decisions.
Although Huw is the protagonist here, a great part of our care for this film comes from us being completely invested in the Morgan family. All the actors are great, especially Sara Allgood and Donald Crisp as Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, who create such complex and loving characters as a mother and father. How can you not cheer for this family with such amazingly loving parents like these two?
Walter Pidgeon and Maureen O’Hara break our hearts as the couple that never could be and their love and sadness are felt throughout the entire film. But the standout here is Roddy McDowall. He is our guide into all the beauty of this story and we can’t take our eyes away from him. His face speaks volumes of emotion without him saying a word. The eyes are the windows of the soul and his were wide open, inviting us in for a very, very emotional ride.
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