A Ford and a Valley
Having lived a long life sixty year-old Huw Morgan thinks back over his life starting as the youngest son in the Morgan family, a traditional family from a small mining village in the Welsh valleys where his father and older brothers worked down the pits whilst his sister Angharad (Maureen O'Hara) helped run the house with their mother. There were ups and downs in the Morgan house as Angharad is in love with the new minister Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon) but as he feels he can't support her she ends up marrying the son of the mine owner. But as time passes and it becomes much harder to make a living from the mines it slowly causes the Morgan family to separate.
It's over 70 years since John Ford made "How Green Was My Valley" and in doing so ended up causing controversy when it went on to win the Best Picture Oscar at the 1942 Academy Awards, beating Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" in the process. "How Green Was My Valley" also won the director his third out of four Oscars in the Best Director category and I wonder whether if Ford hadn't already won 2 Oscars people would be more willing to look at "How Green Was My Valley" as a deserving winner of the Best Picture Oscar. Admittedly I am torn as I love both movies for different reasons and whilst "Citizen Kane" has more power and style "How Green Was My Valley" offers up nostalgia and warmth.
That is in truth what "How Green Was My Valley" trades on as we witness the ups and downs of life in the Morgan household through the memories of Huw, played by Roddy McDowall. The way the family stick together, handing over their wages to their mum to be shared out after expenses are taken makes us yearn for this past life, the sense of family and belonging in the community where everyone knows each others name and supports them in times of need. Yes there is drama and heartbreak but it has that yarn like quality which many an older movie had and frighteningly is lacking from modern cinema.
Now for me "How Green Was My Valley" comes a second to "Citizen Kane" when it comes to the technical aspects but it has one of the most impressive and gorgeous looking sets ever built which adds to the movie's charm. In many ways "How Green Was My Valley" feels like it is a John Ford movie where he didn't do much, yes there are some beautiful shots but he allowed the set, the story and the acting to do the work and it does so brilliantly. As such the acting throughout is first rate with Maureen O'Hara being an attention grabbing distraction in her first John Ford movie whilst Walter Pidgeon delivers what is one of his best performances. The thing is that the acting is a collective and it is as much to do with those playing the part of the miners in the village that the movie comes together so spectacularly.
What this all boils down to is that whilst many will say that "Citizen Kane" was robbed back in 1942 "How Green Was My Valley" was a deserved winner of the Best Picture Oscar but for different reasons to Orson Welles' masterpiece. But with its nostalgic tone and beautiful look "How Green Was My Valley" is a movie for those yearning for what the movie portrays.