How Green Was My Valley (20th Century-Fox) is Hollywood's answer to Wordsworth's definition of poetry: emotion recollected in tranquillity. Its story (from Richard Llewellyn's novel) is an aging man's remembrance of his boyhood among a lyric, godly race of coal miners in a green Welsh valley. Because his recollections ring true, they are certain to evoke a similar nostalgia in all but the most slab-sided of moviegoers.
How Green is almost a photographed novel, is very nearly a silent picture with occasional dialogue sequences. Director John Ford has chosen the book's method to tell his story: his reminiscing Welshman is an offscreen voice (Rhys Williams) introducing and commenting on the picture's episodes.* For the most part, the actors are silent as befits inarticulate people.
The camera moves over the brick, mortar and stone of the hilly Welsh village, wanders-up & down the pleasant countryside, down into a grim mine, pauses a moment on the black slag (waste of the coal pits) which will some day engulf the valley and drive the people out.
The reminiscing Welshman's boyhood self (Huw Morgan) is played on the screen by a thirteen-year-old English boy named Roddy McDowall,* veteran of some 20 British films. His partthe wondrous day-by-day experiences that slowly make a boy a manhad to be played right to make the picture go. Thanks to his own considerable talent and the wise direction of John Ford, it is.
A series of related episodes, How Green lacks the dramatic vigor of a unified story, but it has a kind of sustained theme in the relationship of Huw to his family. His innocent eyes watch his Godfearing, authoritarian father (Donald Crisp) turn a deaf ear to the rumblings of 19th-Century labor disputes; his honest, hardworking brothers forced by cheap labor to quit the mine and emigrate to the U.S.; his beauteous sister Angharad (Maureen O'Hara) marry the mine owner's son after the village cleric (Walter Pidgeon) stoically refuses to have her share his poverty; his good mother (Sara Allgood) bear the family disintegration with humility and courage.
The breeding, breathing, aging and division that make up all family chronicles produce many a memorable sequence. The agony and embarrassment of Huw's first day at a national school is exaggerated to just the proportions that a boy would recall. The drubbing that Prizefighter Dai Bando (Rhys Williams) and his craven crony (Barry Fitzgerald) administer to Huw's priggish schoolteacher is a masterpiece of comic justice. The viciously pious bigotry that is determined to make something out of the innocent relationship of Angharad and her minister is stinging social satire.