How Green Was My Valley (Ford, 1941)

A fine throwback picture by any account, flushed with stirring dramatic moments of hardship and despair, but one which represents Ford’s greatest weakness as well. In How Green Was My Valley, as in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Arrowsmith, and Cheyenne Autumn, he mixes simplistic, broken down ideologies about faith, retribution, and comeuppance with large, picturesque visuals, ultimately overwhelming the fascinating characters being represented. This is more of a gripe than an actual complaint, since all of these films mentioned have fascinating aspects to cherish. How Green Was My Valley represents the best of this bunch, having the most success filtering individual conflicts through the above mentioned dynamic. It has a strange and hypnotic obsession with characters leaving, exiting from it’s main character and narrator Huw’s (a very young Roddy McDowall) life. Ford films these departures with exquisite shadows upon angled landscapes, often flanked by the billowing smoke of the coal mines which provides the labor for Huw’s Welsh family. As a boy becoming a man, Huw marks these moments fleetingly, but with a heartfelt sense of sadness which lingers throughout. The entire vision is rightfully melodramatic and nostalgic , a boy’s remembrance of memories both good and bad, but always important to his definition of family and honor.

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