"Timeless",is perhaps the best word to use in describing producer Darryl F. Zanuck's beautifully assembled tribute to the Welsh Coal Mining Family that became a well deserved winner of five Academy Awards including Best Picture in 1941. I never fail to be totally moved by this quite simple story of love, devotion to one's family, and pulling together in times of adversity. Those are indeed timeless themes just as applicable nowadays as they were when Richard Llewellyn first wrote his acclaimed novel. Among the many things that make this film a viewing experience to treasure is to see 13 year old Roddy McDowall, give a subtle, beautifully wrought performance way beyond his young years as youngest son Huw Morgan through whose eyes the story unfolds. The film indeed has something for everyone from a fine literate script, low key believable performances and one of the finest outdoor sets from Hollywood's heyday where an entire Welsh village was constructed on a hillside in California. The film is rightly still regarded as one of Hollywood's greatest achievements in storytelling and has a rare sensitivity about it despite the often harsh themes explored during its running time.
"How Green Was My Valley", unfolds through the thoughts of sixty year old Huw Morgan and we are taken back to the time of his childhood in the small Welsh village that is dominated by the Coal Mine that is the chief source of survival for most of the men in the town. Huw is the much younger son of no nonsense "salt of the earth", parents Gwilym and Beth Morgan (Donald Crisp and Sara Allgood), who have raised their brood of five sons and one daughter to be honest, non complaining, God fearing pillars of the community. Integrity of the soul and a belief in the basic good of mankind are the mottos by which the Morgan's live their everyday lives. The film traces the various happy and tragic occasions that colour the families life in the valley from the marriage of oldest son Ivor (Patric Knowles)to sweet Bronwyn (Anna Lee), to the tragedy and divisions caused to the community by a crippling strike that turns friend against friend and in the Morgan's case, Father against son. We also witness young Huw's adjusting to going to a school outside the valley were he must contend with bullies and a sadistic teacher, on his journey to eventual manhood. All the characters encounter either physical or emotional heartbreak along the way as we see Ivor killed in a mining accident widowing Bronwyn with a young child, many of the Morgan boys being forced to seek work else where as the mine retrenches more of its workers, and Huw and Mrs. Morgan almost dying after falling into a freezing river. We witness the budding romance of daughter Angharad(Maureen O'Hara ), with the local minister Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon), being destroyed when Angharad is forced into a loveless marriage with the son of the mine owner. The story ends on the final sad note with the death of Morgan family head Gwilym in another mining accident. All is not gloom in this story however as it never is entirely in real life and along the way there are many joyous celebrations of the human spirit and of people supporting others in need. Mr. Gruffydd's devotion to young Huw inspires him to overcome his accident in the river and to walk again which in turn inspires Mrs. Morgan in her recovery as well. Town hypocrisy and gossip are also tackled when vivous rumours about Angharad's affection for Gruffydd despite being married, raises the preacher's indignation to the level where he turns it back on the "un christian", individuals spreading the gossip during a church service.
In "How Green Was My Valley", we constantly see the human spirit rise above adversity to go on and face the next challenge. John Ford directed this film with an eye for detail, sentiment and human emotion without sacrificing the strong themes present here. He does a masterful job with the individual performances he gets from the actors who deliver some of the best work many of them ever did. Donald Crisp as the stern but loving head of the family richly deserved his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor that year and Walter Pidgeon and Maureen O'Hara as the illfated lovers are nothing short of brilliant with every emotion expressed by the two being of a sincerity and believability that comes from assured playing and strong direction. Character actors Anna Lee, Barry Fitzgerald and especially Sara Allgood are also superlative in their work and are immortalised in these roles forever for their fine work. Roddy McDowall is of course the very heart and soul of "How Green Was My Valley", and rarely has a child's part been so centrally placed as the "emotional crossroads", of a story as here. McDowall displays a maturity in his playing that never fails to amaze me and he brings to life the sensitive youngest son of the Morgans who loves his home and family, like no other could. Twentieth Century Fox paid great attention to detail to make this film one of their biggest productions for 1941. The recreation of Welsh mining life is done with great attention to detail right down to the use of the famous Welsh Singers to provide the voices for the men singing on their way home from another day in the mines. The recreation of the Welsh Village also still stands as one of the outstanding achievements of Hollywood technical know how in it's heyday.
For a journey to a simpler and seemingly more sincere time then John Ford's classic "How Green Was My Valley", is unsurpassed entertainemnt of the old Hollywwod school. The phrase, "they dont make them like this anymore", could most definately be applied to this classic. It will bring tears, laughter, and inspiration as no modern film possibly could and this is what makes viewing this film such a special experience. Treat yourself to a viewing of it soon, you wont regret it.