1941 / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor / Best Supporting Actress

Film #96: How Green was My Valley (1941)

Pub trivia time now and if I were to ask you which film beat Citizen Kane to the Oscar at the 1942 ceremony I’m sure most wouldn’t have a clue. The answer is John Ford’s Welsh mining drama How Green was my Valley which triumphed over a number of other classics including the Maltese Falcon and Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion. Initially I was willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt but after watching it I don’t believe it deserved any of the four Oscars it ultimately received.

The film deals with the Morgan family as narrated by the youngest son Huw who is recalling his childhood and the various entanglements that his siblings got into. The main theme is old versus new as the stuck-in-ways old school miner father Gwilym refuses to go on strike his sons, who are fed up of being paid pittance, so the majority of them move out. We are also told the story of Huw’s sister who falls for the local preacher who shows kindness to her younger brother, but as he is a man of God and because of the scandal it would cause she marries and older man. However the rumours of a relationship between the two, which are started by her husband’s new housekeeper, sees the sister’s good name being besmirched and the preacher moving away. As Huw grows up he briefly loses the use of his legs after rescuing his mother from drowning but soon recovers and goes away to a school for upper-class boys. Due to his humble origins he is bullied by both the other pupils and the teachers and is taught to stand up for himself by members of his town. The film ends with a large mining disaster in which all members of the family band together to rescue the father from the mine. Although they do pull him out of the mine he dies soon after and Huw recounts his funeral before the adult Huw leaves his family home once and for all.

To give the film its dues, How Green Was My Valley is directed well by Ford who won the Oscar that year and it does have a coherent narrative. There are some impressive set pieces with the mother’s drowning and the final mining accident well-crafted and the scenes of family life around the dinner table are also well done. There are also some decent performances Donald Crisp won Best Supporting Actor for his role as the family’s patriarch and, as the preacher Mr Gruffyd, Walter Pidgeon was also mightily impressive as was Supporting Actress nominee Sara Allgood as Huw’s sister Beth. However the film just didn’t wow me and I found it incredibly ordinary, Roddy MacDowall’s Huw got the lion’s share of the screen time and wasn’t that interesting and the camera work was also fairly mundane. There was nothing very memorable about the film and almost seventy years on from its release it isn’t heralded as a classic and isn’t even considered one of Ford’s best. Also a lot of members of the cast do struggle to get the Welsh accents down with some of them just using Irish instead. I do feel this is a major downfall of the film as it takes away from the quality of the film and I believe that Ford should have cast actual Welshmen or at least people who could pull off a convincing Welsh accent.


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