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How green was my valley
So many years back!
No paychecks to tally,
No perils to track,
When people seemed good
And the future seemed bright,
Before my childhood
Had receded from sight.

How green was my valley,
How grand the coal mine,
How buoyant my sally
Beneath the sun’s shine!
Now I view the same scene,
As every man does,
Wishing it were as green
As I know it once was.
___________________

MPAA rating:  G

Time again for one of my Blindspots, this time going back to the Best Picture of 1941, which I chose in all honesty because Alex Trebek has said several times on Jeopardy! that it’s his favorite film. Based off a popular book at the time, How Green Was My Valley has never been on my radar for some reason, despite its status as an all-time classic and the fact that it beat Citizen Kane for Best Picture that year. And despite a somewhat excessive length, it’s a moving opus that deserves its accolades.

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What How Green Was My Valley most reminded me of was The Waltons, the classic ‘70s show about a Depression-era family in Virginia. Just as The Waltons had periodic narration detailing the poetic remembrances of Earl Hamner, Jr., the narrator of this film (voiced by Irving Pichel) fondly recalls his large family and town life in a 19th-century Welsh mining village. That narrator is Huw Morgan (played by a very young Roddy McDowall), who as a child watches the changes in his town: the labor strike when the miners rebel against lowered wages, much to the chagrin of his traditional father Gwilym (Donald Crisp); the romantic yearnings of his sister Angharad (Maureen O’Hara) and the new preacher (Walter Pidgeon); the dangers of mining accidents and the unforgiving elements; the religious hymns sung as the miners return home; and the indelible memories and scars all these events leave.

While melodramatic at times and honest about the unsatisfying turns life can take, How Green Was My Valley has an undeniable sweetness to it, both from the familial love among the Morgans and the frequent camaraderie of the townspeople. Individual vignettes stand out, such as a local boxer flippantly defending Huw against a cruel schoolteacher or the village rallying at the recovery of one of their sick members. Of course, there is also small-minded meanness to contend with, suitably denounced by a brilliant speech by Pidgeon’s Mr. Gruffudd, but what remains beyond the heartache are the sweet moments, made bittersweet by the film’s end.

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I’m glad to check this film off of my Blindspot list, another classic I probably should have seen long ago. While John Ford’s composition and the cinematography (both Oscar-winning) is stunning, my VC and I agreed that we really wished it had been shot in color (you know, so we could see how green was the valley), especially a scene with a daffodil field, but shooting in black-and-white was a logistical sacrifice since World War II prevented actually shooting in Wales. California works as a colorless substitute, though, and it certainly feels authentic otherwise; oddly enough, the village itself reminded me of the one in Hayao Miyazaki’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky, which isn’t too surprising since the animators based its architecture off of a Welsh mining town. While I think I appreciate Citizen Kane a touch more, How Green Was My Valley deserved its win too.  I’ve heard that, whereas Citizen Kane represented the head, this film represented the cinematic heart of that year. I like that comparison and might have been persuaded to vote the same way back in 1941; classic is classic, after all.

Best line: (Mr. Gruffudd, pre-dating the similar sentiment of Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben) “But remember, with strength goes responsibility, to others and to yourselves. For you cannot conquer injustice with more injustice, only with justice and the help of God.”

 

Rank:  List Runner-Up

 

© 2019 S.G. Liput
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