Much like the previous year’s winner, it’s hard to believe that John Ford only had one film in his storied career win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The distinction goes, not to one of his classic westerns, but to a heartfelt story of family and home How Green Was My Valley. And what a year it was for this film to win! It beat out the always-lauded Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon. I can’t say that it’s altogether undeserving because we grow to love the Morgan family and that’s not a bad thing, I think. Nonetheless, How Green Was My Valley (HGWMV) is a testament to Ford’s sense of storytelling– earnest and true.
The film follows the lives of the Morgan family, as remembered by the youngest Morgan, Huw. Led by a young Roddy McDowall, the youngest Morgan boy narrates the struggles and triumphs of the coal-mining Morgan family in Wales. The men of the house all work in the mines, despite poor wages and conditions on behalf of the mine owners. Patriarch Mr. Morgan serves as a foreman with some of the tiniest bits of power a non-owner can have. When his eldest sons decide to go on strike, the elder Morgan receives push-back from other miners when he continues to go to work. After a year without a job, the eldest boys travel to America, hoping to find a better way of life. Upon their departure, Huw attempts to carry his weight by working for pennies a day in the same mines. Whether it’s the ill-fated marriage of daughter Angharad, the lost childhood of Huw, or the deaths that befall the men of the village, How Green Was My Valley focusses on the love and bounty of family, instead of the hardships that seem to plague the Morgan family.
The one glaring issue I have with the film is that it’s in black and white. Maybe it’s because of the color in the title. Maybe it’s because of scenes like the one above, where Huw, trying to recover from a serious illness climbs the Irish hills near his home. The lushness of the green grass, trees, and yellow daffodils yearns to be captured in color… or so I think. I can understand that the drabness of a Welsh coal-mining village may not have warranted such expenditures by Twentieth-Century Fox, in 1941, so I’ll merely imagine the overpowering beauty we miss out on.
How Green Was My Valley (1941) 118 minutes. Dir. John Ford. Starring Roddy McDowall, Maureen O’Hara, Walter Pidgeon, Sara Allgood.