Review by Brian Koller|
3½ stars out of 4
"How Green Was My Valley" was the toast of the 1941 Oscars,
winning Best Director (John Ford) and Best Picture. Nominated
but losing was "Citizen Kane", demonstrating that values
as much as quality determines Academy Award success.
In a Welsh coal-mining town in the late 19th century, the
Morgan family is headed by father Donald Crisp, Best Actor) and
his wife Sara Allgood (nominated for Best Actress).
There's also daughter Maureen O'Hara, four sons who are also
coal-miners, and young schoolboy Roddy McDowell.
There is much good about this film. The script is so good
that the dialogue sounds like poetry. The plot keeps things
moving. Crisp, Allgood, and McDowell are given broad characters
and perform flawlessly.
It's not quite an outstanding movie, however. One problem
is that the four coal-mining sons are all rugged, manly, and
interchangeable. O'Hara is in love with the minister
Walter Pidgeon, and their forbidden and platonic romance,
complete with long looks and stilted dialogue, damages the film.
Also, the miners don't act like you would expect. I can
believe that they walk down the streets singing in unison,
but they never curse, boast, tell lewd jokes, talk with a
harsh accent, lose their temper or otherwise act human.
One interesting casting is the hateful, shrewish minister
Cyfartha, played by Barry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald typically
plays cantankerous but lovable Irishmen, so he is being cast
against type here.
A surplus of workers causes the mine owners to reduce wages.
The miners form a union and strike. This pits Crisp, who
opposes unions, against his pro-union sons. As the strike
wears on, bitterness by the town's coal-miners against Crisp
leads to Allgood and McDowell falling to a frozen lake.
They are saved and survive, but McDowell is left unable to
Pidgeon visits the Morgan household to cheer up McDowell
and tease O'Hara. With his help, he learns to walk again.
Later, the wealthy mine owner's son visits the Morgan family
to propose to O'Hara. The family must force her into
marriage, since her heart belongs to Pidgeon.
Now fully recovered, McDowell is admitted to an elite school
out of town. He is the only coal-mining son, and so is bullied
not only by classmates but by the sadistic headmaster.
Upon walking home after being bloodied in a fight, McDowell
is taught how to box by his family. Now McDowell can outbox
the school bullies, winning their respect, but the cruel
headmaster has him caned.
Again walking home bloodied, a few of the coal-miners visit
the school to confront the headmaster, beating him unconscious
in front of his class. Surprisingly, this scene is almost a
comedy, and it works.
After graduating, his father wants him to become a doctor or
lawyer, but McDowell wants to prove his manhood and demonstrate
his respect for the family by becoming a coal-miner. Mother
is pleased with this but Crisp is disappointed.
The coal mining sons begin to leave home, as they are downsized
by the mine owners. The married son dies in a mining accident,
and the others leave the country for better opportunity.
O'Hara's marriage fails, and there is gossip that it is because
she has liasons with Pidgeon. Pidgeon confronts his congregation,
and lambasts them for their ignorance.
There is another accident at the coal mine. Bad luck would have
it that it is another Morgan, this time Crisp. Pidgeon and
McDowell must go down into the mine to retrieve Crisp, who
dies in McDowell's arms.
The director decides not to leave the movie on such a downer,
so he adds a gratuitous, tear-jerking scene where the entire
Morgan family is seen reunited on a valley.
Copyright © 2000 Brian Koller