Friday, May 11, 2012

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: How Green Was My Valley (1941)


Just thought you all should know.

See, that's pretty much all anyone knows about this film. Instead of dilly-dallying around it, I thought I'd shout it to the internet rooftops just in case you thought I wouldn't address it. Now I've addressed it. And now we can move on because we are not here to compare and contrast two films, we are here to dissect the winner which was How Green Was My Valley, no matter how badly the Academy and fans of the Oscars wishes it wasn't.

1941's winner is a simple little film about a simple little family who lives in a simple little mining town in Southern Wales. Huw Morgan (Roddy McDowall) is the youngest child of patriarch Gwilym (Donald Crisp) and devoted Beth (Sara Allgood). Huw has five elder brothers who work in the coal mines with their father and one elder sister, Angharad (Maureen O'Hara) who helps her mother. Over the course of the film, the elder Morgan brothers form a union, Huw and his mother become ill, and Angharad falls in love with the new preacher Mr. Gruffyd (Walter Pidgeon). Despite Huw's aptitude for learning, he refuses a scholarship at the university in favor of working in the mines and supporting his brother's widow Bronwyn (Anna Lee).

How Green Was My Valley is a good movie. It is an even better 1940's movie, which is my polite way of saying that it don't age so well. It's just so heartfelt and sincere with it's message of family, religion, and tradition--hallmarks of golden age Hollywood. But there is some darkness and realism here. (It is a John Ford picture and not a Frank Capra one, thank God). Due to the film being narrated by adult Huw who is looking back through the rose colored glasses of that bitch Nostalgia, the darkness and realism seem a bit diluted. Huw's youth and innocence makes everything seem less harsh than it really is. If HGWMV was made in the 1970's, I would say the film suffers for it. But this is 1941. The Hays Code rules the roost and it canít ever get really that dark. But it tries. For 1941 it tries. (That being said, I'm not sure how dark the 1939 Richard Llewellyn novel is in comparison).

Honestly, the best part of the movie for me is Angharad's tragic romance with the preacher, Mr. Gruffyd. And it really is tragic because they can be together. Mr. Gruffyd is not a priest. He can get married but he tells Anharad that he wonít have her living the somber, pinchpenny life of a preacherís wife. She settles for the son of the mine owner and has a miserable existence henceforth. Unfortunately this little romance is just a slice of the HGWMV pie. A small slice that maybe takes up twenty minutes of the running time. I wish it was longer. I wish it was the whole movie.

And that's pretty much all I can say. As I conclude this far too short review, I would like to reiterate what a good film How Green Was My Valley is. It deserves a fair shake. It's not for everybody, myself included. I don't think I'll be watching it again for a loooonnnngggg time. But it is not a bad film and one of the better winners from the first third of Oscar's history. Just give it a chance. At the very least, you can make an educated argument on why Citizen Kane was robbed.

Impressions circa 2004

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
  • Best Director - John Ford 
  • Best Supporting Actor - Donald Crisp 
  • Best Supporting Actress - Sara Allgood 
  • Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Best Cinematography, Black and White 
  • Best Art Direction, Black and White 
  • Best Film Editing 
  • Best Sound Recording 
  • Best Music, Original Score 

1941 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen...followed by my opinion in 10 words or less.)
  • Blossoms in the Dust
  • Citizen Kane - The greatest movie of all time? I liked it fine. 
  • Here Comes Mr. Jordan 
  • Hold Back the Dawn 
  • The Little Foxes 
  • The Maltese Falcon 
  • One Foot in Heaven 
  • Sergeant York 
  • Suspicion 

What I Learned From...How Green Was My Valley
Ah, the good old days when times were bad...

1 comment:

Andrew Testerman said...