In Cwm Rhondda, Wales, the Morgan family consisting of the patriarch Gwilym, his wife Beth, six sons and a daughter, struggle to survive hard times and life in a mining community. A major conflict occurs when Gwilym leads his fellow coal miners in a strike against C. Evans, the owner of the mines, over a forced wage reduction, resulting in near starvation and poverty for the villagers. The youngest son, Huw, is almost crippled for life following the rescue of his mother from an icy river but recovers slowly and becomes the family's hope for a better life when he is accepted as a student in the national school. Huw later abandons his education to work in the mines instead but has a life-changing experience after a group of miners, including his father, are trapped in a mine cave-in.
Director: John Ford
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay: Philip Dunne
Based on the novel by Richard Llewellyn
Cinematography: Arthur C. Miller
Editing: James B. Clark
Art Direction: Richard Day, Nathan Juran
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Walter Pidgeon (Mr. Gruffydd), Maureen O'Hara (Angharad), Anna Lee (Bronwyn), Donald Crisp (Gwilym), Roddy McDowall (Huw), John Loder (Ianto), Sara Allgood (Mrs. Morgan), Barry Fitzgerald (Cyfartha), Patric Knowles (Ivor), Arthur Shields (Mr. Parry), Rhys Williams (Dai Bando), Ethel Griffies (Mrs. Nicholas), Minta Durfee (Bit), Mary Gordon (Gossiper), Gibson Gowland (Bit), Mae Marsh (Miner's Wife), Irving Pichel (Huw Morgan as an Adult, Narrator).
Why HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY is Essential
How Green Was My Valley
is one of the most touching of John Ford's films on a recurrent theme, the way old traditions are destroyed through time in order to make way for the future. The changing life of the mining village is viewed objectively as a fact of life that makes some happy and others miserable. Faced with a story filled with tragedy, Ford tempered the inherent sadness by focusing on the strengths of the Morgans' family ties.
This was one of the first Hollywood films extensively narrated by one of its characters (albeit, the adult version of young Huw Morgan). It was only the second Ford film (after 1925's Kentucky Pride
) told from a character's point of view and the first with voiceover narration. He would return to that device in eight more films, including The Quiet Man
(1952) and The Long Gray Line
With Ford's directorial viewpoint -- his objective view of history, superimposed upon Huw Morgan's more nostalgic rendering of the story -- How Green Was My Valley
offers an example of the unreliable narrator, a critical concept not identified until the '60s (by critic Wayne C. Booth), but apparent as early as the 1920 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
, in which the storyteller is later revealed to be a madman. The transition from dismal, desolate countryside in establishing shots to idyllic village in the flashbacks, the juxtaposition of Huw's elegiac descriptions with the horrible events that fill his family history, the distortion of lighting and sets to reflect his point of view and even the staginess of some of the scenes have been singled out by critics as signs that Ford imbues the character's memories with a very pessimistic, even ironic outlook.
How Green Was My Valley
was the film that beat Citizen Kane
for the Academy Award®, as much for its own qualities as Hollywood's resentment for Orson Welles's wunderkind status and his appropriation of details from the life of star Marion Davies, mistress of publisher William Randolph Hearst. It won Ford the third of his record four Oscars® for Best Director and, following on the heels of The Grapes of Wrath
(1940), made him the first director to win two Oscars® in a row.
The film introduced several actors to the John Ford Stock Company, the group of actors he carried with him from film to film that contribute to the unique texture of his work. Among those starting their associations with him here were Maureen O'Hara, Donald Crisp and Anna Lee.
by Frank Miller