A Family struggles to endure hard times in a Welsh mining town.
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”It makes me think - so much - of that which is good that is gone.”
By 1941, John Ford, was quickly establishing himself as the Great Poet of American cinema. With a string of impressive journeys into the American Experience, such as Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln, and The Grapes of Wrath – Ford decided to make someone else’s past the subject of his latest work. Richard Llewellyn’s, How Green Was My Valley was a bestseller, but could a film about Welsh miners be as endearing, heart wrenching and unforgettable as his other American Myths?
Fox had Gone With The Wind aspirations for How Green Was My Valley and spent 300,000 dollars for the rights to the book alone. The original director, William Wyler, was going to film the movie in color and on location but, due to the War in Europe, filming had to be done in America – the Santa Monica Mountains to be exact. Wyler backed out and Ford stepped in –while color was an important factor in the look of the film – California just doesn’t look like Wales, so the filmmakers had no choice but to film in Black and White. Many critics, including myself, feel that the film benefits without color. It makes the film sadder and its characters more desperate. It also makes the film a nice companion piece to Grapes of Wrath – another unforgettable tale of sadness and desperation.
There’s a juxtaposition of struggle as Huw’s father trying to keep his together while Reverend Gruffydd tries to keep his congregation united. Both endeavors prove fruitless, because the Morgan boys ultimately have to leave home to make their own lives – even Huw leaves home to take care of his widowed sister-in-law. The hypocrisy of the church proves too much for Reverend Gruffydd who leaves his position, not before exposing his congregation of whisperers to their true natures. The congregation had forgotten the love of God just as Green had forgotten the valley. Hardened hearts had darkened their souls just as soot from the mines had stained their land.
How Green Was My Valley, like much of Ford’s work is about the end of an era – in this case the transition between pastoral life and the rise of industrialism. The film is not melodramatic but there is such a strong, underlying sadness to the entire film – one feels so badly for the people on screen. Their struggle becomes our struggle. This is not my culture – not my history - but I’m just as moved and emotionally invested as I am by any of Ford’s great American Myths. In Huw’s final epilogue we are treated to a montage of memories – simple, beautiful moments. Moments of Good that are now gone. The film may be downbeat but it is not nihilistic. As immensely sad as their experience may be - the miners, the Reverend, and the Morgan family all hold on to hope – hope that good moments, good people - never truly leave. They live on in the heart and mind just as strongly as they did in flesh.