Life is hard in a Welsh mining town and no less so for the Morgan family. Seen through the eyes of the family's youngest, Huw, we learn of the family's trials and tribulations. Family patriarch Gwilym and his older sons work in the mines, dangerous and unhealthy as it is. Gwilym has greater hopes for his youngest son, but Huw has his own ideas on how to honor his father. Daughter Angharad is the most beautiful girl in the valley and is very much in love with Mr. Gruffydd, who isn't sure he can provide her the life she deserves. Times are hard and good men find themselves out of work and exploited by unseen mine owners. Written by
There has been a tendency to downgrade How Green Was My Valley recently
because it beat out Citizen Kane for Best Picture of 1941. It turned
out to be John Ford's only win in that department. Because Citizen Kane
now is lauded as the best film EVER, How Green Was My Valley lost a bit
of luster. Yet on its own merits it's a fine film and can be seen again
and again without any boredom.
It's like Ford's Liberty Valance in that it shows the progress that the
world's first industrial society, 19th century Great Britain as
reflected in that Welsh valley, just like the settling of the American
West in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. It's the reverse here, the
valley is a place people leave, or at least a lot of the good ones.
Nearly all the Morgan children and Walter Pidgeon who plays the
1941 and 1942 marked the high point in the career of Walter Pidgeon. He
never quite made the top rung of actors at his home studio of MGM. Yet
in those two years he happened to star in both the films the Academy
designated as Best Picture, this one and Mrs. Miniver in 1942. He's an
outsider, arriving full of ideals and then forced to leave to stop
gossip about him and Maureen O'Hara.
Maureen O'Hara made her John Ford debut in How Green Was My valley as
the lovely and fetching Angharad. She and Pidgeon are in love, but
Pidgeon does not want to inflict is life of denial on her. They give
each other up and later their relationship is the cause of gossip.
Arthur Shields the lesser known brother of Barry Fitzgerald is the head
of the deacons at Pidgeon's church. A narrow, bitter man he's one of a
string of religious hypocrite characters that Ford has in his films.
Offhand I can think of Willis Bouchey in The Last Hurrah and Grant
Withers in Fort Apache. Barry's in this too, playing the comical
The center of the film is the Morgan family headed by Donald Crisp and
Sara Allgood. Playing Morgan patriarch Gwyllym Morgan, Crisp gets the
Best Supporting Actor for this wonderful portrayal of strength and
dignity. Sara Allgood matches him every step of the way.
Besides Pidgeon and O'Hara, the rest of the film revolves around the
generational conflicts between the conservative father and his more
broadminded sons who want to get a union started. In 1941 America that
was a timely theme as our American Labor movement got its first backing
from a friendly government in the New Deal. The labor troubles that the
Morgans and the other Welsh coalminers in the valley deal with was a
One of the great things about this is that Ford never takes sides here.
Donald Crisp is never shown as a reactionary fool for his opposition to
unionization. Indeed Ford puts him on a pedestal for sticking to his
All this is seen through the eyes of young Hugh Morgan, played by Roddy
McDowall in his first major part as a juvenile and narrated in
flashback by British actor Irving Pichel as the adult Hugh. McDowell
has his own troubles here, he and Sara Allgood fall in a freezing river
and both have health problems afterward. McDowell is the first of the
Morgans to go to school and he's bullied by both pupils and a snobbish
teacher. Young McDowell is taught to box by Rhys Williams to take care
of the kids and later Rhys Williams as Dai Bando, an ex-pugilist takes
matters in his own hands with the teacher in the films most hilarious
As we move into the post industrial age, the labor themes of How Green
Was My Valley seem quaint. But the family travails, and heartaches, and
triumphs with that 19th Century Welsh Coalmining family are timeless.
This is the real genius of John Ford.
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