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A John Ford Masterpiece
gbheron25 December 1999
John Ford's film of social and familial change details the chilling effects hard economic times have on a large, but tight-knit Welsh coal mining family around the turn of the last century. Told in narrative flashback by the youngest of seven children (5 young men and a young lady) it begins when the coalmines are new, the valley still green, and the village cohesive and close-knit. As economic times worsen, the family and community fray and slowly disintegrate. The backdrop village becomes darker and smokier as the family fights valiantly to remain together. But unlike the treatment the story would probably get today, the family does not lose its dignity.

There is not much, if anything, to criticize in this movie, it's one of the best ever.
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A Family Film In Every Sense Of The Word.
bkoganbing16 August 2004
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 minister.

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 Cynfartha.

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 very relevant.

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 beliefs.

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 scene.

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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A Welch valley
jotix10031 August 2004
John Ford was a director with a vision bigger than life, as demonstrated by his films. Richard Lewellyn's novel must have been one source of inspiration for bringing to life this story about a small town in Wales. The director had the good fortune to have Arthur Miller as his cinematographer for this tale about the stark conditions about the miners' lives. The small town comes alive by the vivid account one sees on the screen. At times, what we are witnessing before our eyes, remind us of the work of great photographers such as Margaret Bourke-White, whose pictures for the old Life magazine parallel Mr. Miller's stark photography in the film.

Mr. Ford uses songs in most of his films. In this movie as well as in The Quiet Man, this device enhances what we are watching. The songs are diversions for the stark reality in the miners' lives. Their every day misery is somehow eased when they sing with clear voices ancient folk melodies they, and their forefathers, have always known.

The Morgan family is at the center of the story. We hear the narration from Huw, the youngest member of this family. All the men work in the mine; they are all disillusioned by the working conditions and meager wages that they give without hesitation to the matriarch when they are paid. They appear content at the beginning of the film, but we watch them gradually abandon their village in search of a better life; who can blame them?

The cast assembled by Mr. Ford is first rate. Donald Crisp, as the patriarch of the Morgan family outdoes himself in this film. Walter Pidgeon as the local church pastor is excellent. The young and radiant beauty of Maureen O'Hara was so powerful, we can't stop watching her for a moment when she is on screen. Roddy McDowall as the youngest child of the clan in his first appearance is also a magnetic presence that holds the viewer's attention all the time.

The rest of the actors do incredible ensemble work to support the principals. Anna Lee, John Loder, Barry Fitzgerald, Anne Todd make us believe they are the characters they are playing.

Ultimately this is a John Ford's triumph. He is the force that welds everything together and in spite of all the bad things that happen to the family and the town, he seems to be telling us there still is hope and life will continue.
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Very moving
perfectbond11 December 2003
This movie tugged at my heart strings like few others. I was thoroughly immersed in the lives of the Morgans and found myself especially drawn to young Huw's trials, tribulations, and triumphs. The scene where he taps his fork twice and sneezes before he is acknowledged by his father was poignant beyond belief. Despite the hardships and tragedies there is also warmth and humor such as when family friends of the Morgans visit the schoolmaster after he had been especially harsh with Huw. The romantic aspect of the film is also well done by its primary principles, Angharad and the pastor. All in all the films does a magnificent job of capturing the lives of a family in a bygone time and place. There is no doubt that this is a great film and the fact that it beat out the likes of Citizen Kane for Best Picture is a testament to that fact. 9/10.
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How Green was my Valley was the greatest film of all time.
Ed-68327 February 2006
Greatest movie of all time. I saw this first during World War II, and it made such an impression upon me that I had to go back time after time. Now 60 years later it lingers in my memory over any other movie I have ever seen. No movie before or since has left such a lasting impression upon me.

It could easily be brought back to the modern screen as a classic film that will never die. I wish I could own it on DVD, but I have no idea where I can obtain it. It would be at the top of classic films of all time as an asset in my library. It appeared at a time in our history when the world was being torn asunder and we did not know what tomorrow would bring. It was so uplifting at a time when we needed that uplift.
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Lost paradise?
dbdumonteil26 April 2004
The story is told by an adult who remembers his childhood:Roddy McDowall gives a very sensitive performance in this part,he's simply the best actor of a topflight cast (to think that nowadays McDowall is remembered by the young generations mainly for his part of Cornelius the ape)All the scenes which involve the boy are simply wonderful,particularly the one with the daffodils (it 'd have been shot in color!),and the one with his father in his arms at the end.John Ford ,as usual , is a master when it comes to depict a small community who's got to stand together to survive.And he does not spare us the tragedies ,the bigotry ,the slander,but he adds humor,joie de vivre (the men,turning their nose on tea and wanting beer).

But sometimes it seems too good to be true:the boss's offspring marrying a miner's daughter,even when she's a beauty like Maureen O'Hara?The boss asking the poor father's permission?We are far from Emile Zola's "Germinal" :both stories happen about during the same era ,both with the miners' life both are radically different.Zola's world is a bleak,desperate world ,his depiction of the families' houses and meals (when there is food) and the pictures of Ford's movie are worlds apart.But the biggest difference is the omnipresence of the Lord's will:in "how green" the minister is a cool young handsome man (Pidgeon),in "Germinal" ,the priest's only a silhouette,but a selfish cruel one,unconcerned to man's plight:Zola's miners do not put their trust in a God anymore .

Wales and the east of France ,were they that much different?You can only say they were novels and movies,and reality is probably somewhere between them.
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What a Magnificent Movie!
claudio_carvalho17 October 2005
In Wales, Huw Morgan recalls his childhood fifty years ago, in the end of Nineteenth Century. In a green valley, where the colliery is the unique economical activity, Huw (Roddy McDowall), his brothers and his sister are raised by his beloved parents, Mr. Gwilym Morgan Sr. (Donald Crisp) and Mrs. Beth Morgan (Sara Allgood). In times of changes and exploitations of the worker class, the young workers try to gather their power in a labor union and fight against the unemployed reserve army with a strike, while Mr. Morgan is against their movement. Along the years, the situation of the dwellers gets worse and worse, with poverty, while the coal mine blackens the hills of the valley with the slag.

What a magnificent movie "How Green Was My Valley" is! This is the first time I see this movie, and I am really excited with such masterpiece. The outstanding and awesome direction of John Ford certainly deserved the Oscar he won in 1942. The story is excellent, with drama and romance in a period of economical and political changes in the world. There are many important and strong characters, built with heart by the cast, and I was particularly impressed with the touching performance of Roddy McDowall, in the role of a boy with strong personality and moral qualities. The awarded black and white cinematography is also remarkable. The wonderful metaphoric title completes this classic. My vote is ten.

Title (Brazil): "Como Era Verde Meu Vale" ("How Green Was My Valley")
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Unforgettable Film
harry-764 April 2004
This moving film has become part of the all-time American classics, and rightly so. It is a beautifully conceived and executed adaptation of a beloved novel.

One of John Ford's finest hours, it is magnificently staged and shot, with a lovely score (by Alfred Newman) and rich performances, headed by Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara and Roddy McDowall.

That it was made on a fairly limited budget and filmed entirely on the 20th Century back lot is little short of amazing. Its truly great, sprawling set seems to be the real thing: a actual coal mining town.

Ford's attention to careful group blocking and staging of tableau adds to the artistry of the work. Its political subtext corresponds with America's stance regarding European policy at the time. Other issues such as women's rights and religious bigotry help to likewise bolster the tale.

I agree that "How Green Was My Valley" is a fine achievement, now gloriously restored to dvd for many future viewers to enjoy.
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Every time I hear the lines
vitaminmika22 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Every time I hear the lines "Men like my father cannot die.They are with me still, real in memory as they were in flesh." near last scene,I cannot help from my tears flood out. Huw's two teachers of his life,Mr.Gruffydd and his father are both very attractive.Despite his position ,I move Mr.Gruffydd's indirect expression of his passion for Angharad.I also like the scene when Mr. Gwilym Morgan says "Call Dai Bando!" and following the scene Dai Bando teaches Huw how to fight. The scene Sara Allgood's speech protecting her husband reminds me (not actually saw)John Ford's famous speech in the middle of the McCarthy era Communist witch-hunt "My name is John Ford.I direct films...."
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Yes, You Can Almost Feel The Grime
ccthemovieman-127 March 2008
This movie is a little long at times, but this is still a powerful story about the many stories that came out of the coal mining families in Wales, Great Britain. One of the top aspects of the movie is the cinematography, under the direction of John Ford. It is very effective. You can just feel the grime and dirt of the mines and cobblestone town. It looks really good now that's it out on DVD.

Walter Pigeon is the likable minister, and lead character, "Mr. Gruffydd." He's likable because he doesn't judge people as the head deacon does. The latter is portrayed ludicrously by Barry Fitzgerald, much to the delight of secular-minded film critics, who loved his performance. Nonetheless, there is a lot of "religion" pictured positively in this film, a lot of spiritual scenes and most were done well.

Roddy McDowell plays the most memorable character, I thought: "Huw," a young boy who went through some really tough times, as did most of the townsfolk.

If you are used to modern films, be warned this film does drag in spots. It is a fine movie, to be sure, and a powerful and emotional story.
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The best and the worst is the music
richard-178726 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
It's hard for me to separate this movie from the story, to talk about the qualities of the movie as separate from those of the book.

For me, the best and the worst of this movie lies in the music. The male choruses, often sung in Welsh, are truly beautiful. The story - there is no plot - is at best episodic. The only thing that gives it any coherence is the choral music, and that is very beautiful.

On the other hand, a lot of the background music is far too sentimental, and takes the movie over the edge. Had there been no music whatsoever, some of those scenes would have been far more powerful. The music, frankly, trivializes them.

The thing that most struck me with this movie, however, were the differences from Germinal, Zola's novel about miners not far from Wales, in northeastern France. Zola could find no nobility in their suffering; he depicted them over and over as bestial animals. This movie gives their suffering a nobility that no amount of sentimental music can lessen.

Men and women such as these are not perfect. Who among us is? But their suffering deserves respectful treatment. Zola did not believe that; John Ford, the director of this movie, did. The difference is telling, and it is what makes this such a moving movie.

Postscript written after having read the novel:

I read the novel after writing the above review and then watched the movie again. Frankly, I don't recommend that to anyone. The novel is long, 500 pages, and the movie, of necessity, condenses some of it and simply omits other parts. After you have read the novel, you see just how hastily some things are condensed and what is left out or, in some few instances, changed. I would not say it is a particularly good condensation.

The most striking change is the end. In the movie there is another mine cave-in and a party of miners, led by the preacher, finds the elder Morgan, who dies in the still very young Huw's arms. It is, of course, moving, but since the movie closes on the images from his past that Huw subsequently recollects we are left, at the end, not with the dying father but with Maureen O'Hara smiling and waiving at a smiling Walter Pidgeon. A romantic end.

The novel's end is far more somber. During a particularly bitter strike Huw's father goes down in the mines to see if they are starting to flood. Cyfartha is also down there working. Both men get caught in a cave-in. Dai Bando, almost blind, goes down with Huw to find them. (The preacher has by then left for South America and is no longer in the picture, so to speak.) After much digging they first find Cyfartha, whom Dai Bando, weeping, carries to the surface. (We are left to wonder if the very deep bond between these two men had been more than just a deep friendship, but the text never says more.) Then Huw finds his father, and holds him until he, too, dies. It is a very painful scene.

Other than that, the chronology is sometimes changed from the novel to the movie, prompted in part, perhaps, by the fact that since Huw is always played by the young Roddy McDowall, he never grows into the very adult man that Huw becomes in the novel. The two brothers who leave for America do so much earlier in the movie than in the novel, for example.

Huw's one sexual encounter, with Ceinwein up on the mountain, never takes place in the movie, perhaps because Roddy McDowall doesn't look old enough for sex, perhaps just for the morals code of the time. In the same sense, Huw's subsequent unrealized desires for Bron are never introduced.

The preacher never leaves for South America, probably because he is played by the lead actor. It is also hard to understand why the town condemns him and Angharad, as in the movie he does not visit her every evening at her home. More morals code, no doubt.

The disputes between the minors and the owners are played down in the movie, perhaps because, during the war, unions were expected not to strike "for the war effort."

Llewellyn's efforts to convey the Welsh his characters are speaking by using a similar syntax in English are almost completely erased in the movie. Indeed, the very fact that these characters are usually speaking Welsh and not English is largely ignored. It's a very important part of the novel and the world that Llewellyn described, which saw itself very much put upon by outsiders=Englishmen, so it is a shame all that is lost. Some of the Celtic folklore is also lost. Beth's claim that Ivor came to speak to her, very much a part of the Celtic belief in visitations from spirits of the dead (présignes, in French) is completely changed in the movie.

A movie should be not judged on how well it adapts the material from which it derives, unless it is some sort of documentary. Taken as is, this is a good movie. But once you have read the novel, you see that its story is more somber, and it is hard not to regret that some of that was lost in the conversion.
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"A classic is it."
rick_711 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Ford's lyrical masterpiece of Welsh mining life will forever be regarded as the film that robbed Citizen Kane of its deserved Oscars. This is understandable but unfortunate, for How Green Was My Valley is such a joy in so many ways. From the impossibly moving opening voice-over - one of the finest beginnings in cinema history - to the closing montage, it's pure poetry.

Like the director's later masterpiece, Liberty Valance, How Green Was My Valley is the story of a vanishing world. We see the world that was through the memory of Huw Morgan, departing his hometown. In the present the soot-scarred landscape no longer holds his family, nor his heart. In his memory, though, his childhood remains. "Strange that the mind will forget so much of what only this moment has passed, and yet hold clear and bright the memory of what happened years ago; of men and women long since dead," he says unforgettably, "There is no fence nor hedge around time that is gone. You can go back and have what you like of it, if you can remember."

How Green Was My Valley is a film about memory, loyalty, love and loss, reconciliation, honour and family. It is a timeless, flawless story - perfectly presented. Thank you, John Ford.
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Says much about America during WWII
alrodbel7 October 1999
Even for 1941, this film is flawed. It's depiction of social and psychological reality is distorted to fit the story. The home of the coal miner family- large, bright, clean and cheerful....Nah. It was a mean existence for unskilled laborers in that time and place. The cheerful workers singing as they went off to work, come on, were these the seven dwarfs? And then there is the lovely daughter who married the stuff shirt scion without a scintilla of humanity. If the father was so loving and supportive, why would he have allowed it.

This film has great significance as a reflection of America during the War. Its artistic and mass acclaim, affirmed by academy awards and the results of this boards votes, says something about the American people's desire for something that has been lost. When this misty, dreamworld is depicted in any manner, and with any number of defects, it is still embraced by many. Perhaps, with the great depression just ending and the mass slaughter of the great war about to begin reality was not too popular.
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Beautifully crafted saga set in a Disneyland version of a Welsh valley.
BOUF31 May 2010
Not for a moment did I believe in the Disneyland Welsh mining village as presented in this sweet old family saga. But the pictures are beautifully manipulated by one of Hollywood's most expert storytellers. John Ford always seems to place the camera and his characters in ways, which say far more than any dialogue could. In fact, this is the kind of film which may well work better with the sound muted, because the dialogue is old-fashioned and the characters' accents peculiar. (The most prevalent accents were Irish, and a kind of mid- Atlantic rural) I was particularly impressed by Maureen O'Hara's performance in the first half of the film. I don't think I've ever seen her better, or better photographed. If you're looking for a stirring, authentic story of miners' struggles in the days before the unions, this isn't it; but if you want to see some masterly direction photography, montage, and mise en scene, this is well worth the trouble.
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An epic deception!
sabre_pg3 April 2011
I live in Liverpool, England, a 40 minute drive from the Welsh border. Over the years I have spent quite a lot of time exploring Wales and I still take my family there five or six times throughout the year. I think I've seen pretty much most of the picturesque beauty that Wales has to offer. As a child growing up in the 1970's I never really watched many films, even kids movies bored me. I much preferred to be out with my friends doing stuff and having my own real life adventures.

So it was not until recently that I saw this movie on TV. Having read the book at school I thought it would be nice to see how they had pieced this epic story together as a film.

Shock, horror, disbelief, are just a few of the words I could use to describe my confused feelings towards this film. Could this possibly be a movie based upon the same book that I read all those years ago? I called up the info text on my TV expecting to see Mel Brookes mentioned somewhere in the description, but no, it claimed to be the very same story I had read.

It was obvious to me that this movie was made by people who had never set foot in Wales, for people who were never likely to set foot there either! The mostly American actors were all speaking at best with some kind of soft Irish accent, and at worst what can only be described as some kind of pseudo Swedish dialect. Wales is NOT Ireland and Welsh people do NOT speak with an Irish accent, as well as their own language they have their own accent, its called Welsh!

Ford makes a lot of effort trying to make the movie NOT look like a western, yet while watching I kept getting the impression that the whole Sioux nation was about to chase John Wayne over the hills in the background before they all promptly fall into the mine!

I am sorry if my review has offended any of the Americans who love this movie, I know you have probably grown up with it and every time its on TV it takes you to your happy place, which I am sure is very nice and comfy, but for people who have read the book and know Wales inside out it gives us the same feeling that I can imagine Americans would have if they were to watch remakes of 'The Waltons' filmed in South Africa with a Canadian cast all speaking with Australian accents!

Its strange to think that Fox lied, even back then!

I have scored this film with 3 stars because of its awful transition from book to film, but if I had never read the book or even heard of a place called Wales I would have given it 7 stars for its blind entertainment value.

Put that remote down and go to the library. You'll find it quite an experience!
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Earliest case of Oscar baiting I've seen. Not bad though.
Sergeant_Tibbs17 September 2013
How Green Was My Valley. The film infamous for beating Citizen Kane at the Oscars. Not only that but The Maltese Falcon and Sergeant York too. Although it's known that it this was due to a public affairs issue at the time, How Green Was My Valley is one of the earliest cases of Oscar baiting I've ever seen. Perhaps this was the film that shaped the mould? It has everything the Oscars dream of and in the most sentimental doses too. As all Oscar baited films, it feels like it skims the surface of its story and its sequences feel more like a checklist rather than organic storytelling. Singing, disability, kindness, hardships. Even today, it feels forced, especially the character archetypes. That said, the performances are pretty good given the contrived platform to work with. The overall drama about the strikes and the family conflict is quite interesting and engaging, but the depth of the film is rather laughable. Its triumphs and tragedies are just too romanticised to be convincing, especially the depiction of Wales which is just far from the truth. That said, the cinematography is really great and definitely the best part. Its story can be trite, but it's very watchable and entertaining. But that's all its trying to be anyway. That and a good cry from sensitive hearts.

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Don't bother with this movie if you've read the book
MetroMike4 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I'm sure this is a very fine movie for people coming to the story for the first time, but those of us who have read and enjoyed How Green Was My Valley in book form will find the movie so superficial that it's hardly worth it. As lewis-51 points out in his review, the movie skims the various aspects of the plot, leaving many of them a mystery. As a single example, the movie reveals that Huw Morgan decided to join his father in the coal mine rather than becoming a solicitor, but there's no obvious reason for that, and the sight of what looks like an eight-year-old Roddy McDowell going off to work with grown men is absurd-looking.

The book explains that, by this point, Huw has grown to his mid-teens, had become a VERY good boxer, and had beaten up the sadistic teacher who tormented Welsh children at his school. The school authorities pardoned him for that, but he was later expelled from school when he saw the same teacher tormenting another Welsh child and beat him up again -- so savagely that he nearly killed him. Thus, Huw's decision to join his father in the coal mine was partly because continuing at school was no longer an option for him, and when he did so, he was old enough to do such work.

The book gives the same comprehensive detail for many of the other areas barely skimmed in the movie, including union/management issues in the mines, the lives and fates of the various brothers, Huw's love for his brother's widow, Dai Bando's blindness, and many other areas. Using Roddy McDowell as the only actor playing Huw meant that other parts of the book had to be excluded entirely, such as Huw's own romantic adventures in his teens (including his near-lynching after an affair on the mountain with a local girl).

Nowadays, a book as complicated as How Green Was My Valley might have been made into a series of films, the way Peter Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings. Ford did not have that option, but he could have treated a small part of the book in detail, the way Kazan did with East of Eden. Instead, he decided to skim the highlights of this enormously complicated story, and the public apparently liked it. Maybe they never read the book either, but if you loved this movie, you should.
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A Superb Classic Film
jkucharik27 August 2007
I rented this movie yesterday on DVD. Although I had seen it many years ago, I have a new-found "favorite film". The story is excellent and believable and what really holds the piece together is the non-stop beautiful music backing up many to most of the scenes. It is a haunting melody that continues to repeat itself in my head today...and if any of you readers watch this film I forewarn you to have a box of tissues handy as the end of the picture nears. The final scene of Beth Morgan's close-up shot and brief dialogue - along with the often-repeated compelling melody throughout the film will absolutely tear your heart out. A guaranteed "good cry" if any of you need one! This classic is a "must see" for any emotional sappy suckers who love old movies as much as I do. If you're a guy - like me - be sure to watch this movie ALONE - to avoid your otherwise sure-to-be tear-stained embarrassment!
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billcr1215 March 2017
I finally watched this film after hearing about it for many years. John Ford was well respected for "The Searchers", "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", and "The Grapes of Wrath" and several others. The black and white imagery is breathtaking, filled with shadows, reminding me of "Citizen Kane" by Orson Welles. Roddy Mcdowall is the narrator as an adult and he tells the story of his close knit Welsh family of his mother, father, and three brothers and sister. The men all work in the local coal mine and his sister, played by Maureen O'Hara, helps around the house. As happened here in America, the workers banded together to form a union in order to gain fair wages and work conditions. Along the way, there are love affairs and heart break involving the boys' sister and a local well meaning minister of the local church. Ford keeps it all moving as a compelling tale of family love and loyalty. A wise choice for best picture at the Academy Awards for 1941.
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Interesting look at life in a Welsh coal-mining town
grantss15 July 2015
Interesting look at life in Welsh coal-mining town in the early- 1900s.

The story of a family, the Morgans, who live in a Welsh coal-mining town, told through the eyes of the youngest son, Huw (played by a 12-year old Roddy MacDowall). The father and four oldest sons all work in the colliery. Pretty much everything centres around the colliery - it is the life blood of the town, and the source of pain, ill-will and death. In addition, we see the relationships between the people in the town, how they develop and change.

An interesting drama, showing the social impact on a town when it is dependent entirely on a single industry. The relationship side is interesting too.

However, in trying to cover as much of what happens in the town as possible, there is a lack of focus. While the ending is reasonably profound, a much greater point could have been made. The landing is a bit soft.

Great performances all round.

How Green Was My Valley went on to win the 1942 Best Picture Oscar, beating out Citizen Kane (amongst others) to the award. Not that it is better: it can probably thank William Randolph Hearst's campaign against Citizen Kane for the award.
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3rd dimension
krebstar20 September 2001
other than the strong plot and the professional acting, another important factor is the visual structure of this film that made it a classic. the s-rule was perfectly done in the extreme long shots of the valley. this gave the picture a whole lot of depth and made me forget that i was watching a 2-dimensional thing. the diagonal lines in the mine and in the church, use of foreground objects, these factors all gave the picture depth. other than depth there was art in those frames. every piece of frame in itself was like a photograph taken with great care. each character was put in the frame according to the rule of thirds thus making every single inch of the frame useful. also lighting was changing according to the plot. when the big boys decide to go to america, there are lots of shadows in the house thus making it unable to see the mother's and father's faces clearly. probably in a situation like that, they would not have wanted their faces to be seen clearly either. so John Ford acted in accordance to the personalities of his characters. i think these are the underlying factors which made this movie a whole time classic.
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Get it right! It's God Save THE Queen
guyburns5 February 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The only film reviewer I have any faith in is Halliwell, 7th edition or earlier (lesliehalliwell.com). I'm collecting Blu-rays of the movies he rated as 4-star (153 attained that rating), but when my partner suggested the three-star, How Green Was My Valley, I purchased the DVD without bothering to read Halliwell's review. Upon receiving the DVD, I noted with interest a quote on the back cover "this Hollywood milestone (Halliwell's Film Guide)", and thought: We're in for a treat tonight!

I should have read Halliwell's full review before buying this disappointing tearjerker. Halliwell states: "Prettified and unconvincing, but dramatically very effective tearjerker… a Hollywood milestone despite its intrinsic inadequacies."

Halliwell was being kind. Or maybe he just made a mistake. On Halliwell's scale (0-4 stars), and comparing it to other movies he has reviewed, this movie might rate 2-stars. He doesn't explain why he considered it a milestone, and on a critical second and third viewings, I couldn't find any qualities that would elevate this movie to milestone status. But it has plenty of "intrinsic inadequacies". Hereafter I'm referring to the "Studio Classics" DVD, NTSC Region 1, with Walter Pidgeon and Maureen O'Hara in sepia tones on the cover.

1. Soppish voice over, which on the DVD is occasionally muffled and smothered by the music.

2. Overpowering, mawkish, virtually non-stop score.

3. Blurry image quality. Contrast is quite poor, with shadows almost totally blocked. The image constantly flickers in brightness and has a very pale magenta cast. The cast is not because of my setup: "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning", for example, plays in perfect grayscale.

4. Too many cutesy, inane feel-good moments litter the beginning: wife pouring water over the husband while he washes off coal dust and smokes a pipe (6.10); a boy taking a slice of bread at the dinner table while his father makes a corny frown – then grins at the naughty boy (6.30); likewise, a son in his twenties is rapped on the knuckles when he also makes a grab (6.55). This type of nonsense is repeated at 11.10 (son pushed towards wife-to-be), 11.50 (groom slapped by father), and 46.00 (son pushed forward by mother). This first part of the movie sees the director going out of his way to put the audience in a happy mood. Everyone has smiling faces with plenty of teeth. The lowpoint is the first appearance of a new wife-to-be of one of the sons. She stands at the gate with a prolonged, forced, artificial smile (9.30) – audience manipulation at is most blatant.

5. All the jollity comes to a sudden end at 16.50. The music darkens and nobody smiles for the next 11 minutes except for one lone smile at 22.00. This section lurches from one drama to the next: a brick thrown through a window, a menacing crowd, the wife berating the coal miners, and then she and son fall in an icy pool of water and are bedridden for several months.

6. Sentimental Section (27.40) – replete with birds that fly into the boy's bedroom at the start of spring ("Spring?" asks the boy).

7. The preacher never wears a dog collar, probably because as daring as this film tries to be in raising moral issues, it can't bring itself to show a preacher who has a love interest, as a preacher. Was it going too far in 1941 to offend the church? Equally as jarring (for a movie set in Wales) is the preacher's American accent. Regarding accents, I will leave that to others to criticise (see "How bad were our accents", 24 December 2009 and "An epic deception!", 3 April 2011).

8. Unbelievable sequences. A dorky son and his choir mates are invited to sing before the Queen. Really? Then follows a rendition of God Save The Queen – with the wrong closing lyric (49.07). The choir sings "God save our Queen". The real lyric is "God save THE Queen". Mr Ford, you forgot to check the words of a National Anthem.

The above critique only covers the first 50 minutes or so. There are, of course, some quality scenes where the director stops pandering to his audience (or backers) and concentrates on honest human interactions, but those scenes of integrity are a rarity.

For me, this film is a disappointment. Where did it go wrong? It had a first class director (John Ford made the classic western, Stagecoach, only two years before). It had a quality cast, and money available to be to spent. But something went awry. What could have been a decent movie became lost in a mire of cheap laughs, forced drama, false accents, bloated music, and jerking of tears. Amidst the pandering to a variety of forces (including, I assume, monetary constraints and audience satisfaction), Ford lost sight of the goal of excellence.

Several days after watching this movie I watched the Blu-ray of "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning", a 4-star Halliwell film, as a check of my criticisms. I saw no magenta cast, no blocked shadow detail, and no falsity of any kind – just film making at its finest. In comparison, the DVD of "How Green Was My Valley" was a disappointment.
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Never watch this film without a box of tissues!
MartinHafer27 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of the best films of the 1940s but I've gotta warn you that it might take quite an emotional toll on you to see it! That's because the film is about a family of Welsh coal miners who experience many, many tragedies. And, because the acting, direction and writing are so superb and they must have had a genuine love for the material. As a result, you feel a very strong connection to the characters and it is truly painful at times to watch. But, given that the film seems so real and the film was so lovingly made, you will also most likely find yourself glued to the screen. It truly is an amazing and must-see film.

The film is told my Roddy McDowell's character after he is grown and is reminiscing about life in his small Welsh town when he was just a boy. For his first acting job, McDowell did an amazing job. The only problem at all is that several years were to have passed in the film, but poor old Roddy always looks the same age! But this is such a minor problem that it can be overlooked. At first, the valley where he grew up in seems very idyllic. It's still beautiful despite the coal mine and the family enjoys a certain level of comfort. But, as the years pass, the wages begin to drop and the once lovely locals show that down deep they aren't so lovely--though all the while, the focal family in the film maintains its dignity and decency. I actually liked this aspect of the film, as in the beginning things just seemed too perfect--slowly exposing this undercurrent was marvelous and seemed awfully real.

In addition to all the sad moments, there were some wonderful and happy moments as well (though in general, there seemed to be more sad ones). I particularly enjoyed the scene where the two local men went to Roddy's school and beat the man up in front of the class. He really, really deserved it and the scene was handled very well.

The most amazing thing about this movie is when and how it was made. The film originally was to be made in Wales and in color, but WWII came and spoiled all that! So, the movie was actually made in a set constructed in Malibu--but it looks just like Wales! I know, because I have visited Wales and it was spot on! But, given that Malibu isn't the same lush green color but more of a yellow-green, this forced the film to be made in black and white--which I think actually works better in this film anyways. To learn more inside information, try watching the AMC short film "AMC BACKSTORY--HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY"--included on the DVD of this film.

By the way, I feel compelled to throw in my two cents worth concerning the controversy over this film beating out CITIZEN KANE for Best Picture. A lot of people love KANE and it's a great film, but I have read some knuckleheaded comments online about "how bad HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY was". Perhaps the wrong decision was made (though I would have voted for HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY), but you can't rationally say that this isn't a great film--and probably John Ford's best--it's THAT good!!! It IS possible to love both films!
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Sentimental drivel
Qanqor3 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I just finished watching this film for the first time, as part of my quest to see all the Best Picture films.

Feh. Feh, feh, feh. Dreadful. Just dreadful. I hated this movie.

First off, it's from a school of film which I've always hated: no plot, just a bunch of episodes strung together. The ultimate example of this: the whole movie is a flashback to the childhood of the narrator, who, in the opening scene (prior to flashing back), tells us how after 50 years, he's leaving the valley. Then we go into flashback. And so we go on this movie-long flashback of his life and times growing up in the valley... but NEVER get CLOSE to filling in the actual, non-flashback story: WHY is he leaving the valley? What was up with that? I claim the right as a viewer , that if you're going to announce a momentous event and then slip into a flashback, that the flashback better damn well explain the momentous event! But of course, that would require a plot, and this movie can't be bothered with that.

OK, so that's my complaint about the form; how about the content? Plain and simple, this movie reaches the point of bathos. In its endless sequence of episodes, we move from one tragedy to another, with the severity increasing as we go. Before the movie is over, everybody either loses their job at the mine, gets killed in the mine, has to forgo the love of their life, or gets beaten up and whipped by preposterously sadistic teachers and classmates. I won't give away the "ending", such as it is, because you'll see it coming a million miles away anyway: it's the only tragedy left that hasn't happened yet. By an hour into this thing, I was looking at the clock to see how much more I had to endure.

All this travail is set against a backdrop of such sappy, syrupy sentimentality that you're likely to get your hands sticky just handling the DVD. Apparently we're supposed to feel some kind of great love for these characters; I didn't. For the most part, I found them sketchy and one-dimensional. The father, the mother, and to some extent the preacher, aren't too bad, but everybody else, you're apparently supposed to find lovable because everybody talks about how lovable they are. For instance, the great tragedy of Ivor: when he dies, we're supposed to be all devastated and all-- except I couldn't remember which one he WAS. All you could really say about him was, he was the one who got married. Did he have any personality? If so, I missed it. Did he say or do anything memorable? If so, it escaped me. He was as cardboard-cutout as the rest of the brothers. Actually, did ANYBODY in this movie have a personality, aside from the 3 principals I mentioned? And let us not forget to pause and reflect upon the townsfolk. Part of the sentimentality is supposed to be about the wonderful people in this miner town, that we're supposed to identify with. The noble good workers and all that the narrator lovingly looks back on. Except that they are a total prop, and change like the wind to suit the plot (such as it is). They're good, wonderful people-- except when they're narrow-minded and nasty. And somehow we're not supposed to notice the inconsistency of them flip-flopping, by my count, SIX times in the movie.

But the nadir, the absolute nadir of the movie, the moment when it lost me irretrievably, was when the boy, who has now become an honor student (and how did that happen? His teacher was a sadistic bastard who hated him, yet somehow gave him honors marks. But since we were done with that episode, no reason to bother explaining what happened! After all, we can't be bothered with plot!) and has the chance to climb out of the harsh, filthy mine life and become a doctor or lawyer, really rise and make something of himself-- decides, no, he WANTS to work the mines. This is the central character, the protagonist with whom we're supposed to identify, and he's an absolute blithering idiot. I couldn't respect him a drop after that.

Awful, awful, awful. I got no enjoyment out of this movie at all. I gave it three stars, because the performances weren't bad (given what little most of the actors had to work with), and the cinematography was pretty good. But I truly hated it and hope I never have to look at it again. I WANT MY TWO HOURS BACK!
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How Disjointed Is This Movie
bigverybadtom15 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Admittedly I watched this with the idea that this movie was such a classic and had great performers in it. It wasn't quite as good as I had expected.

People have panned this for the performers not having proper Welsh accents or the scenario looking too much like California. But the truth is that even without World War Two going on, the Hollywood film industry was actually in bad financial shape during the Great Depression like everybody else, and it would have been too expensive and difficult to make everything properly look and sound like Wales, let alone go on location. The idea was to show essentially a poor mining town, even if the settings didn't match the interiors of actual Welsh houses.

I have not seen the book, so I cannot say how well the movie follows it. Admittedly the major problem was that the script was rather disjointed. It starts off with the protagonist talking about leaving his village and describing how it was when he was growing up. The first part has the miners going on strike when their wages are cut, and the father denounces the idea of his sons joining a labor union (though not explaining why). Later on, the mine owner's son wants to marry the family's daughter, and she is in love with the local preacher but marries the son anyway. Huw, the son who tells the story, is sent to the local school, gets bullied by classmates and teacher, fights back, and eventually graduates with honors, but chooses to work in the mine. That is never explained either.

The movie's fundamental problem is that things happen one after another, but without explanations about people's attitudes and why they are what they are, or why people make certain choices which seem illogical. In the end, we don't even know why the protagonist finally leaves the valley when he does, or what he plans to do.
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