Friday, November 24, 2017
2017 Blind Spot Series: How Green Was My Valley
Based on the novel by Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley is the story of a Welsh family dealing with hardship in the 19th Century where a mining town in Wales is going through hard times. Directed by John Ford and screenplay by Philip Dunne, the film is a look into the life of a family from the perspective of a young boy as he sees a family deal with changes and a way of life becoming obsolete. Starring Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp, Roddy McDowall, Sara Allgood, Barry Fitzgerald, Patric Knowles, John Loder, and narration by Irving Pichel. How Green Was My Valley is an evocatively rich and touching film from John Ford.
Told from the perspective of an old man recalling his time as a child in mid-19th Century Wales, the film revolves around a family in a small mining town where they deal with hardships and changing times that would affect their community. It’s a film that plays into a world that had a system and ideal that has worked with them for many years but little things would make some changes for this family and those they know as it would mark the end of innocence for a young boy. Philip Dunne’s screenplay follows the life of the young boy in Huw Morgan (Roddy McDowall) who sees the work that his father Gwilym (Donald Crisp) and his older brothers do as miners with his mother Beth (Sara Allgood) and older sister Angharad (Maureen O’Hara) do every day in making sure there’s soap and hot water available. It’s a system that’s worked as one of them in Ivor (Patric Knowles) would marry a young woman in Bronwyn (Anna Lee), whom Huw is fond of, who would do the same for Ivor. Yet when changes made over wages occur, the Morgan siblings hold a strike with Gwilym stepping back as he doesn’t want to cause trouble where he, Beth, Angharad, and Huw watch to see its outcome.
It would be in the town’s new pastor Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon) who would make sense of everything as it would create an uneasy compromise that would start the beginning of a sense of decline in the town. Even as certain things occur where Mr. Gruffydd’s time with the ailing Huw, following an accident that left him temporarily paralyzed, has him being around Angharad who is falling for him. Yet, Mr. Gruffydd is aware that being seen with Angharad is forbidden as he would also see some of the trouble among some of the town elders over some of the immorality where Angharad would end up marrying the mine owner’s son Iestyn Evans (Marten Lamont). It would add to this sense of change where there’s tragedy but also this reality that Gwilym is forced to accept while he realizes that Huw should look for a future away from the mines though Huw does want to follow in the footsteps of his father and brothers.
John Ford’s direction is quite vast in terms of the setting that he creates as well as showing a world that was very simple only to be changed by modernism and this growing sense of morality. Shot on location at the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu, California, Ford would use the landscape to recreate the world of 19th Century Wales at a time when the actual location was unavailable due the events of World War II. Nevertheless, Ford’s usage of the Santa Monica Mountains would allow him to capture life in a mining town where miners would sing traditional Welsh songs after work or for a ceremony as Ford would capture the vastness of this town and valleys with some gorgeous wide shots. Even in the moments of tragedy of how a town would react toward an emergency whistle to emphasize something has gone wrong while Ford would also capture a few wide shots to play into the moments such as the tense meetings at the church and Huw’s first day attending a national public school miles away from home.
Ford would also use close-ups and medium shots to get a look inside the Morgan family home as well as the way some of the characters interact. Notably the moments between Mr. Gruffydd and Angharad as they know their feelings for each other is forbidden with the former making a choice that he knows would protect him from some of the troubles he would endure from the elders. The film’s third act isn’t about Gwilyn facing reality as he becomes concerned for Huw’s future but also Huw making a decision to help the family where he learns about hypocrisy from some of the community as it relates to Angharad and Mr. Gruffydd. It would culminate with another moment of tragedy that would force the older Huw, via narration, to see what had been lost with Ford gazing into a moment in time where it was peaceful only to become corrupted by greed, deceit, and ideals that never did anything good. Overall, Ford crafts a somber yet rapturous film a boy coming of age in a small Welsh mining town in the 19th Century.
Cinematographer Arthur C. Miller does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography to capture the gorgeous beauty of the exteriors in the day along with some naturalistic lighting for some of the interior scenes set at night. Editor James B. Clark does excellent work as it is straightforward with a few dissolves and rhythmic cuts to play into the drama. Art directors Richard Day and Nathan Juran, along with set decorator Thomas Little, do amazing work with the look of the town including the mining tower and the chapel where many in the community meet on Sundays. Costume designer Gwen Wakeling does fantastic work with the costumes that is true to the period including the dresses that the women wear. The sound work of Eugene Grossman and Roger Heman Sr. do superb work in capturing the atmosphere of the mines as well as how they’re heard from the outside. The film’s music by Alfred Newman is wonderful for its sweeping orchestral score that is a mixture of soaring string arrangements as well as vocal choirs with some traditional Welsh music.
The film’s incredible cast feature some notable small roles from Clifford Severn as a school bully who goads Huw into fighting him, Lionel Pape as the mine owner Mr. Evans, Marten Lamont as Mr. Evans’ son Iestyn who would marry Angharad, Ethel Griffies as Angharad’s housekeeper at the Evans estate, Frederick Worlock as the town doctor, Arthur Shields as the local deacon Mr. Parry who is an ultra-conservative figure in the town, the trio of, Richard Fraser, Evan S. Evans, and James Monk in their respective roles as three of Huw’s older brothers in Davy, Gwilym Jr., and Owen, and Morton Lowry as Huw’s cruel schoolteacher Mr. Jonas who looks down at Huw for being Welsh and working class. Rhys Williams is terrific as the boxer Dai Bando who teaches Huw the art of boxing while confronting Mr. Jonas over his cruelty. Barry Fitzgerald is superb as Bando’s friend Cyfartha as a man who is often drunk but is always friendly to everyone.
John Loder and Patric Knowles are fantastic in their respective roles as the eldest Morgan brothers in Ianto and Ivor as two men who become aware of the changes in the mine as they try to fight for what is right. Anne Lee is wonderful as Ianto’s wife Bronwyn whom Huw has a crush on as she deals with life as a miner’s wife as well as dealing with some of the chaos as she is able to get help from Ianto’s family. Sara Allgood is excellent as Beth Morgan as the family matriarch who is a very old-school woman with old-school values as she is baffled by the idea of mathematics and geography though she eventually realizes about the bleak future that is to come. Donald Crisp is brilliant as Gwilym Morgan as the family patriarch who is a miner that is dealing with changing times as well as sensing the decline in the world of mining as he urges Huw to focus on a life outside of mining.
Roddy McDowall is marvelous as Huw as the youngest child of the Morgan family who looks up to his brother as well as he cope with the changes around him as well as new environments in his life. Maureen O’Hara is amazing as Angharad as the sole Morgan daughter who helps her mother run the house as she is in love with Mr. Gruffydd as she is torn in being with him but also not cause any sense of immorality. Finally, there’s Walter Pidgeon in a remarkable performance as Mr. Gruffydd as the town’s new pastor who arrives to the town with a sense of morality yet is torn in his devotion to God and his feelings for Angharad where he helps out the Morgan family and sees the growing hypocrisy in the town toward things they don’t understand.
How Green Was My Valley is a spectacular film from John Ford. Featuring a great cast, a compelling premise, gorgeous visuals, and a sumptuous music score. It’s a film that explores a boy seeing a way of life go into decline as well as coping with changes that would destroy everything that made a community he grew up on become obsolete. In the end, How Green Was My Valley is a sensational film from John Ford.
© thevoid99 2017