OBPC #14: How Green Was My Valley, 1941

Rating: 2½ stars (out of 4)

How Green Was My Valley (1941):  Dir. John Ford.  Written by: Philip Dunne.  Based upon the novel of the same name by Richard Llewellyn.  Starring: Roddy McDowall, Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, Donald Crisp, and Anna Lee.  Unrated.  Running time: 118 minutes.

Originally conceived as an epic to rival Gone with the Wind, John Ford’s portrait of an early twentieth-century Welsh mining community doesn’t exactly touch the scope of the 1939 film, but it does have own unique flavor and vision.

Told from a young boy’s perspective, the film displays the family dynamics and community drama that unfold as a result of increased industrialization (as well as the hardship that follows).  As such, a large cast of characters flit in an out of the story.

Much of the film’s strength comes from its direction.  Ford, best known for his American westerns, assembles his material in a fashion that both recalls his own directorial style and feels authentic in its own right.  Ford’s sure touch is on display here, portraying his characters as tiny figures dwarfed by the hulking behemoths of both nature and industry.  Yet he always remain invested in his protagonists, and we see different sides to each one.  Unfortunately, his antagonists are relegated to caricature.

For as grand and moving as the film aches to be, it suffers a bit in its translation from novel to screen.  Two hours is fairly short, at least by epic standards, which means certain characters fail to complete their arcs.  On top of that, the narrative strains for focus.  It aims to be a story about disillusionment interspersed with humor, but the two tones don’t really match up, especially given the ending of the film.

Nominated the same year as film classics like The Maltese Falcon and Citizen Kane, Valley remains a competent work with some good scenes, but it’s not nearly as memorable or profound as its competition.  If not for the fact that it beat out Kane, it might just be a blip in film history.

Next film: Mrs. Miniver, 1942