Friday, August 24, 2012

How Green Was My Valley (1941)




“It is with me now, so many years later. And it makes me think of so much that is good, that is gone.”

            How Green Was My Valley was originally bought by 20th Century- Fox with intentions to make it a four hour rival to Gone with the Wind. While I liked How Green Was My Valley I thank God that this film was not made into a four hour epic like Gone with the Wind. At two hours and fifteen minutes the film with its subject of unionism and poor people working at a mine in Wales in the late 1800s was long enough to drive me a little crazy after a while.
            The story is told as a flashback by Huw Morgan (voiced by Walter Pidgeon). He is leaving his small Welsh town where so much happiness and heartbreak has happened in his life. Huw (younger Huw is played by Roddy McDowell) was the youngest of seven children with three much older brothers and one older sister named Angharad (Maureen O’Hara). His older brothers work with the father in the local coal mine. The first memories Huw recalls are of his older brother Ivor (Patric Knowles) getting married to a young woman from the next village named Bronwyn and the new pastor of the local chapel, Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon), and Angharad locking eyes at church. When Huw first sees Bronwyn he immediately falls in love with her he thinks she is the prettiest thing he has ever seen. At the church after the wedding Mr. Gruffydd throws rice at Angharad to get her attention.
            At the coal mines the wages have gone down. The older brothers say that the wages will continue to go down because men are coming from other areas where they cannot find work. They say there needs to be a union but the father does not want to hear it. Since the father will not listen three of the older brothers leave the house to live in a local inn. The men in the mine go on a strike of the mine that lasts for twenty-two weeks. The men oppose Mr. Morgan because he opposed the strike. Mrs. Morgan hears of a workers meeting on a hill. The weather is terrible with snow blowing furiously but she goes to the hill and lets everyone know that if they so much as harm her husband they will have her to deal with. On the way home Mrs. Morgan and Huw fall in a small lake. Mother and son are saved and survive the bitter coldness but both are laid up for months because their legs were frozen solid. Mr. Gruffydd comes to the house and tells Huw to have faith that he will walk again. In the spring time the mother finally comes downstairs after being in her bed for months and Huw is finally ready to go outside. Mr. Gruffydd comes to take the boy out for a walk in the valley.
            With the help of Mr. Morgan and Mr. Gruffydd the strike ends and the men go back to work. Unfortunately there are more men looking for work than there are positions. Wales is in a bad economic situation. Two of the older brothers see that this bad situation will not end soon and they tell the family they are traveling to America to seek work.
            One day the head of the coal mine comes to the Morgan house. He asks Mr. Morgan if it is alright if his son can come and call on Angharad. Mr. Morgan says that the son can come and ask for his daughter himself. The son comes over and he is an arrogant ass. Angharad does not want to be with the son she loves Mr. Gruffydd. She goes to the pastor to talk to him. He loves her deeply as well but he tells her he does not want her to live in the poverty he lives in where he depends on the kindness of the community. He does not want their children to have to wear worn old clothes from other children. He tells her he chose to live in poverty she did not and she does not have. Very unhappily Angharad marries the son.
            Huw gets into a national school and is the first of the family to do so. His first day of school does not go well. As soon as he walks in the young arrogant teacher is awful to him snobbily picking on him for being late and for being from a coal mining town. An older boy picks on him and beats him up. When Huw gets home his father calls two of the neighbors to come over to teach him boxing. The boxing works but the teacher comes out during yet another fight Huw has gotten into and beats the poor kid until he faints with his walking stick. Huw tells his brothers not to go to the teacher but the two men who taught him boxing go to the classroom the next day and pretend to be giving boxing lessons to the class and knock the bastard teacher out teaching him a good lesson.
            An accident at the mine happens one day. Unfortunately Ivor was caught in the cave in and he died. He left behind Bronwyn and a new baby. Huw not much later is asked by his father if he wants to go on to the second level of school where he can have a proper education and go to college. Since the death of Ivor he has chosen to work in the mines. Mr. Morgan is so upset he goes out drinking all night. As Bronwyn is leaving she says aloud how lonely she in the house without Ivor. She says that every night she lays out his clothes like he still alive. Mrs. Morgan has Huw go over the Bronwyn’s house and proposes that he live with her so she is not so lonely anymore and she can lay out his clothes. As he speaks to her his voice cracks because he is trying to act like a grown up but he is still the little boy with a crush on his sister-in-law.
            The two older brothers still left in the house are left go from the mine because they had some of the highest wages. They too decide to leave to seek jobs outside the country. Huw takes a map and draws lines from Wales to where the brothers are scattered all over the world. One brother is in New Zealand, another in Canada, and another in a far off remote country. Angharad has been in Cape Town with her husband but has come back to Wales by herself. The head maid of her husband’s house has been with the family for thirty-seven years and makes poor Angharad nervous beyond measure (she is remarkably like Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca). The wicked old maid spreads rumors that Angharad and the husband are most likely getting a divorce and that she is in love with Mr. Gruffydd. As time goes on the rumors turn to poison and spread throughout the valley. The deacons call a meeting at the chapel to throw Mr. Gruffydd out of the church and to denounce Angharad. Mr. Gruffydd who is a spiritual man more than a preacher winds up denouncing the deacons and the parishioners for their sins of not being kind to others and only seeing the worse in people not the good. He is furious that the villagers have the nerve to accuse him behind his back but not to his face. He walks out of the meeting and so does Huw.
            In the dark night the whistle at the mine screeches and screeches a warning call that something is terribly wrong in the mine. Even Angharad comes running from her house beyond the hills. All the villagers run out at the sound and they see a huge explosion coming from down below. Mr. Morgan went down into the mine. He does not come up with the rest of the men. Mr. Gruffydd, Huw, and two other men who are loyal to Mr. Morgan go looking for him in the flooded mine. They mind him trapped between rocks and debris. Huw goes to his father and Mr. Morgan winds up dying with his arms around his boy.
            The ending of the film has Huw reminiscing to the times when his family was all together when his brothers and sister still lived at home and they were all happy. He pictures all four of his older brother walking across the valley to come and greet him.
            This film was so beautiful in so many ways. All the actors were excellent in their roles. Maureen O’Hara is barely in it and she is on the cover of the DVD. Whatever scene no matter how small it was she was radiant. O’Hara was twenty-one years old when she made this film and goodness was she beautiful. Walter Pidgeon played such a wonderful character and did such a magnificent job I cannot think of anyone else that could have done better. I really liked how Mr. Gruffydd was a more spiritual preacher he was not a traditionalist he saw God was everywhere and loved everyone no matter what their sins were which was very unusual for the time. Patric Knowles is not in the film very much he plays the oldest brother Ivor. He did not have many lines either but good lord when he was in a scene he was so handsome! The moment he came on the screen I could not get over how good looking he was! His character was very sweet and very nice. He ran the town choir and was invited to perform in front of the Queen in London and when he reads the note he is adorable. Donald Crisp and Sara Allgood played Mr. and Mrs. Morgan. I liked both of them a lot. Again the casting was excellent. And just to think if the film had been made into the epic proportions it was originally intended to be Tyron Power was up for a main part and Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Oliver were considered for parts. THANK GOD all three were not cast!
            John Ford got some beautiful shots and made such a moving film. Shot I could not get over is when Mrs. Morgan finds out that Ivor died. She just leans against the doorway with the saddest blank stare. Ford filmed her in full body shot and then he pans the camera down and films her looking up. The shot and Sara Allgood’s acting just made an incredible shot it was so sad that I found myself tearing up a bit.
            How Green Was Valley is a good film but I felt it a little bit too long with its subject of unions and a once large happy family growing apart from the coal mine. I mean I understand it was long to get the whole story in and it the screenwriter did a great job but for me it was a little too long. I did like the theme of this family going through so many hardships and always managed to move along to another day. How Green Was My Valley is an excellently directed and acted film that is definitely worth giving it a try if you can find it.