Top 10 Union Movies
How Green Was My Valley, 1941
The winner of five Oscars including Best Picture (over Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon, among others), director John Ford's version of the Richard Llewellyn best seller is unfairly remembered as the official Hollywood triumph of nostalgic sentiment over cinematic splendor. Yes, the film contains much churchly piety and men's choral singing, and hints of other noble dramas from The Scarlet Letter to Billy Elliot. But the film, set in a Welsh mining town at the turn of the century, is an important social document, and a companion piece, as a drama of desperate working men, to Ford's 1940 The Grapes of Wrath. It distills the debate over the need for unions into a split among men of principle: the father of the Morgan family (Donald Crisp's Gwilym) who believes that "a good worker is worth good wages, and he will get them" and his restless sons, whose talk of a strike Gwilym denounces as "socialist nonsense." The town's minister Gryffydd (Walter Pidgeon) takes the median liberal position: "First, have your union. You need it. Alone you are weak. Together you are strong. But remember, with strength goes responsibility, to others and to yourselves."
Appeals to justice and mercy cannot overcome the progress of machines replacing miners. "The men were happy going up the hill that morning" after the settling of the strike, the film's narrator says. "But not all of them. For there were too many now for the jobs open, and some learned that never again would there be work for them in their own valley." (The brothers plan to leave Wales to find new jobs in America.) Nor does fate choose its victims for their political views: first one of the Morgan sons perishes in the mines, then Gwilym. The business for which they died heats many a home, but it also blights the landscape, as slag spreads over the region. Even the title of the novel and the film speaks to an abiding concern about industry's ravaging of the environment: How Green Was My Valley.