How Green Was My Valley (1941)

















Who would have known that the a small film about a Welsh family struggling to overcome the various obstacles of life would become of the most hated movies of all times simply because of the company it keeps?
When "Citizen Kane" lost the Best Picture Oscar, no one really cared...it wasn't the popular choice of the masses in 1942, when the ceremony was held. In fact, rumor has it that every time one of the nine nominations of "Citizen Kane" was announced during the ceremony, the audience booed. They also didn't approve of Orson Welles's Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay and heckled the man.
Yet, looking back at film from a 21st century perspective, most critics agree that "Citizen Kane" is the best movie ever made. It ranks #1 on the American Film Institute's list of movies. On the other hand, "How Green Was My Valley" finds no place on this list.
I won't state my opinion of Orson Welles's classic because I'm convinced that I'm the only one with this frame of mind; but I was making comparisons with the two movies as I watched "How Green Was My Valley".
There's a family of six sons and one daughter. The oldest five sons work at a coal mine with their father and the daughter stays home with the mother and the youngest son. These are the Morgan's, a relatively happy and extremely traditional Welsh family who don't talk during dinner and most certainly will always win a fight. It's these traditions that make the movie a little off-putting. Women should always stay in the kitchen and men should always be testosterone filled—women are irrational and men are the scholars—all of these things pop up in the movie; but they are forgivable because of the time period in which the movie was made.
The film centers around a few characters in the Morgan household and one outsider: Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, whose dynamic relationship is actually really enjoyable; Huw, the youngest son; Angharad, the only daughter; and Mr. Gruffydd, the young minister.
The first trial the Morgans have to overcome is the unionization of the coal miners during financial problems. This is the main one, the center of the strife in the family that then ripples out and affects the outermost layers.
Huw is the main character who narrates the film as a man presumably middle aged. Roddy McDowall plays young Huw and he is extraordinarily annoying as this character. Besides Tatum O'Neal and a few other young actors of the age, not many children actors/actresses could pull off the weight of a movie from this time period on their own and McDowall is not one of them. His wide eyed constant expression is enough to turn everyone off of their popcorn. The annoying sing-song lines he is given are almost unbearable...it's really quite a train wreck for him.
So after the strike somewhat is ended, we morph in romance and then political statements and then we see the gradual decay of the valley and soon the movie ends.
It's a film of love and life...but it takes itself too lighthearted to do any good. We randomly change scenes from two men beating up a teacher (this is played out in a supposedly humorous way) to a death scene. I could see it working as a novel, which the movie is based on, but maybe not a film.
It's quite a downer too, but again it tries too hard to throw in some laughs.
The ending is good and carries the emotion that it should but you have to slog through some pretty dull scenes to get there.
"How Green Was My Valley" does have some very interesting moments that include watching a veil being whipped around by the wind and watching a man standing in the rain—they're simple yet effective shots.
All-in-all I think I would have rather just skipped this one...it's not bad, but it's not that good either. What's unfortunate about this movie is how it escapes the mind and does not fester. Movie makers should make films that stick with you and force you to reminisce about them..."How Green Was My Valley" was not one of those films. It evaporates from the viewer's mind leaving only a little condensation from where it was.


Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

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