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I'm not a film critic, but I'll tell you what I think about the movies I watch. I enjoy understanding the history behind the movies we watch, as well as the collaborative effort necessary to produce movies.

How Green Was My Valley

How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Directed by John Ford

Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, Anna Lee, Roddy McDowall, Donald Crisp

It could be argued that John Ford is the best director in film history. The list of classics he directed include The Grapes of Wrath, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Stagecoach, The Quiet Man, and The Searchers. He won four Academy Awards and numerous other accolades throughout a career that spanned over 50 years. When he directed How Green Was My Valley in 1941, he earned his third Best Director Oscar. The movie also won Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actor (Crisp), and Best Art Direction.

The movie stars Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, Anna Lee, Roddy McDowall, and Donald Crisp. Walter Pidgeon starred in movies like Funny Girl and Forbidden Planet. During his career he was nominated for two Oscars. Maureen O’Hara will always be remembered for her role in Miracle on 34th Street, but she was also featured in Ford’s The Quiet Man opposite John Wayne. O’Hara’s career has spanned six decades and numerous other films. At the height of his career, Donald Crisp won an Oscar for his role in How Green Was My Valley. His other credits would include National Velvet and Lassie Come Home (1943). Roddy McDowall will always be remembered from the classic science-fiction film series started with The Planet of the Apes (1968).

This movie is the story of the Morgan family, who work in the mine in a small Welsh town. The story is told by Huw (McDowall), the youngest of the Morgan children. Throughout his childhood he’s forced to watch as the mines take their toll on the health and happiness of those he loves. As the family struggles, they attempt to get Huw an education to help him succeed where they have failed. Despite their hopes for Huw to have a better life, he’s determined to follow in the footsteps of his father and brothers who work in the mine. The story is an excellent view on the trials and triumphs of this modest family.

This is a movie with a powerful message. The story seems to be driven by the family’s constant hopes for something better. John Ford does amazing things with the setting and the actors. Each scene feels well composed and captures every bit of the emotion needed. During a time when films could often stray into melodramatic, Ford manages to keep his film feeling genuine.

The set design and camera work also assist in making the movie feel authentic. With the technology of the day it’s amazing to see how much detail went in to making this movie. From the homes to the mines the movie never feels like a sound stage production. Initially the film was going to be made in Wales, but due to the war Ford had a replica of the entire mining town built on the Fox Ranch in Malibu Canyon.

This movie is wonderful to watch, and seems to be as relevant today as it was when it was released. The only criticism I might make is that the story seems to lose focus at times. It seems like the movie is intended to be about Huw, but the lives of those around him take interesting turns that fell unnoticed. This might have been intentional and certainly doesn’t take away much from this great film.

I would recommend this one to anyone who’s a fan of classic cinema. This could even make you a fan, if you’re not one already. I give this one 4.6 out of 5 stars.

Rating: Approved

Running Time: 118 minutes


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24 Comments on “How Green Was My Valley”

  1. Morgan R. Lewis March 3, 2012 at 5:01 PM #

    I’ll be honest, I tried to watch this once before I started blogging, and found myself nodding off a short while into it. I’ll probably give it another chance eventually, but my expectations aren’t very high after the first time.


  2. Colin March 4, 2012 at 7:02 AM #

    Well done. A beautiful film that’s a kind of more soulful primer for Ford’s later The Quiet Man; it’s been commented before that the family and inhabitants of the Welsh town are very Irish in their outlook and behaviour.


    • jeffro517 March 4, 2012 at 9:05 AM #

      I could see the Irish comparison in the way the characters were portrayed. This definitely showcased Ford’s abilities.


      • Colin March 4, 2012 at 9:10 AM #

        If you get a chance to read Joe McBride’s biography of Ford – highly recommended – it has a nice, informative passage (10 pages or so) on the making of this movie.


      • jeffro517 March 4, 2012 at 9:17 AM #

        That’s a great tip. I’ll need to get my reading in on Ford.


      • Colin March 4, 2012 at 9:31 AM #

        McBride’s book is large, but highly readable – authoritative but not the least bit stuffy.


  3. Brandon March 4, 2012 at 11:08 AM #

    Like Dances with Wolves, a film that is unfairly criticized for winning Best Picture over a “director’s vision” masterpiece (in this case, Citizen Kane). I still say this is a top notch John Ford film. And who doesn’t love Maureen O’Sullivan in this?


  4. Brandon March 4, 2012 at 11:11 AM #

    Check that – Maureen O’Hara, not Maureen O’Sullivan.


    • jeffro517 March 4, 2012 at 11:42 AM #

      I figured you meant O’Hara. It’s funny to see how we look at films in hindsight. Citizen Kane is more widely talked about, but in the moment it would’ve been interesting to see what the people were saying about the two films.


  5. Brandon March 5, 2012 at 11:47 AM #

    Well, both were well received, but Kane had the misfortune of making Hearst furious…


    • jeffro517 March 5, 2012 at 3:03 PM #

      Some people aren’t worth making mad… Hearst is a prime example of someone not to be messed with.


  6. Colin March 9, 2012 at 2:38 AM #

    Just thought I’d offer this link – http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2012/03/06/john-ford-and-the-citizen-kane-assumption/ – a well written and passionately argued piece on why How Green Was My Valley doesn’t deserve to be trashed at the expense of Kane.



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