Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How Green Was My Valley

Howdy readers, sorry for that week of silence (what have you done without me I wonder?). But now that Finals are finally almost over, I can finally focus on blogging more regularly... expect more updates in the coming days. Here's a review I wrote for my friends over at IMDB:

Men like my father cannot die. They are with me still, real in memory as they were in flesh.

It’s unfortunate that if John Ford’s only Best Picture winning film (can that be right?) is remembered for anything nowadays, it’s for topping a film classically acknowledged as being among the best of the 20th century, Citizen Kane. From a modern perspective it might seem hard to understand how an occasionally mawkish tale of a proud Welsh family won the trophy. Nonetheless, to my mind, this melodrama about a Welsh mining town, and how the Industrial Revolution transforms this town and its people, is a classic in its own right, more than worthy of the lofty status inherent in being a best picture winner.

Gwillym and Beth Morgan teach their youngest to be dignified in the face of adversity.

At the center of this story is the youngest son of the proud Morgan family, Huw Morgan, who is finally leaving the valley after 50 years. The landscape, once pristine and barely touched by soot, has been obliterated. The few miners that remain no longer sing jauntily, like his father and brothers used to. As Huw leaves, he remembers happier and more prosperous times, when simple people like his family could flourish. This film is told from his perspective, seen through the eyes of a young Roddy McDowell (too young at times, though several years pass he never looks a day over 10). The valley of his childhood is idyllic, as memories of one’s childhood are wont to be. Huw’s narration provides the film’s most powerful moments: the quotes on his father which bookend his reminiscence, the unrequited, unreturned love he feels for his brother’s fiancée.

The memories of a child were the perfect way to tell this story, the nostalgia inherent in those memories helps make the labor struggles of a small Welsh town seem universal. This is a film about a family, tested through the passing of time and how they must acquiesce to the changes time forces upon them. When their wages are first cut at the mine, a mere sign of the problems to come, the patriarch, Gwilym, is reluctant to accept his sons's calls to unionize. In his mind, he has dealt honorably with his employers and so they shall do the same to him. But these simple values are slowly eroded by the obvious truth that he and his family are being exploited.

The idyllic memories of childhood.
Despite the many tragedies that befall them, the many disappointments and unfulfilled hopes and dreams of the Morgans, John Ford's simple and honest style always allows them to keep their decorum. However, a large share of the credit must also go to the actors. Donald Crisp and Sara Allgood, as the mother and father of the Morgan Family are both outstanding. The dignified love they have for each other, as well as their reserved strength are the highlight of the film. Walter Pidgeon as the idealist preacher, confronted with the inadequacy of his faith in the face of a corrupted township has perhaps the best-acted moment in the movie, when he indicts the mining town for their false piety. Maureen O’Hara, as the beautiful Morgan sister whose love he rejects, also has some great moments.

What makes this film a classic is its superb cast and how ably it plays upon the universal themes of memory and love, family and loss. With the coming and going of time, things inevitably change… sometimes time and time again for the worst. It is in how we deal with those changes that our value is measured. How Green Was My Valley is a tale made ubiquitous by the family at its core, who through their dignity in the face of hardship, prove to be invaluable.

Gleenneen16's rating: ****1/2/*****

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