14. How Green Was My Valley (1942)

Title: How Green Was My Valley

Release Date: 28 October, 1941

Oscar Ceremony: 26 February, 1942

Director: John Ford

Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, Anna Lee

How Green Was My Valley is a somewhat metaphorical phrase used by the film’s adult protagonist to reflect upon how nice and simple his life was when he was a boy, but the DVD aesthetics take it very literally: instead of being black and white, the menu is green and white. Everywhere you click, there is an abundance of green, misleading you to believe that you’re about to watch an odd rendition of The Matrix or something. I am also going to take this occasion to confess that I watch most movies with subtitles in order to never miss a line of dialogue, and when I turned them on for this one, guess what colour they were? That’s right, green! I can’t tell whether this is some sort of joke or whether we’re actually supposed to take it seriously.

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Bizarre contemporary design decisions aside, I am disappointed to tell you that this movie was extremely bland and unexciting. It wasn’t bad, per say, it was just really unmemorable and pointless. While the overall idea of feeling nostalgic of one’s youth is very relatable, the story’s details are really boring. The movie opens with a narration by an older Huw (yes that’s how you spell it) Morgan (our protagonist) explaining that he is about to leave the mining village where he grew up and never come back. We’re not exactly sure what caused this decision, and (spoiler alert) we never really find out. Nonetheless, Huw takes us back to his childhood and some of the things that he lived through. In essence, he shows us how green his valley was to make us feel even sorrier that it is no longer green. There is no actual plot to the movie; everything is rather episodic. Basically, we are introduced to Huw’s quaint existence in a Welsh mining village with his parents, brothers, and sister. His father and brothers are all miners, and one day, the mine owner decreases the workers’ wages and things start going downhill from there. The talk of having a strike divides the father and brothers, since the former is more traditional and submissive. You would think this would constitute the movie’s main conflict, but it doesn’t. It’s actually resolved pretty quickly. After that though, people die, people get fired, people fall in love, people get hurt… I would feel sorry for them but the thing is, it’s hard to care when they’re all so uninspiring. In accordance with the DVD’s ingenious colour scheme, behold an illustration of my sentiments:

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I noticed that the movie touches upon many seemingly significant Welsh cultural elements. Once again though, it’s not a topic that I am particularly interested in. Maybe if I was, I would have felt more invested in the story. Then again, apparently many amateurs of Welsh culture and the novel that the film was based on are not happy either. The first problem is that most of the actors are 100% American and do not even sound the least bit Welsh. The second problem is that, due to WW2 and budgetary constraints, the movie had to be shot on a set in California as opposed to on location in Wales. As a result, viewers who are familiar with Welsh landscapes will notice several major inconsistencies that take away from the film’s authenticity. As for problems related to the novel, I can’t really comment since I have not (and frankly after this, do not intend to) read it. There are a few moments here and there that make How Green Was My Valley worth watching, both touching and comedic, but overall it falls flat.

Also, How Green Was My Valley gives a particularly confusing and frustrating portrayal of a typical mining family, as Huw’s home is very large and tidy (even if a miner’s salary is about a shilling a day), and the men come home singing cheerfully like the seven dwarves in Snow White. Sugarcoating the situation in a film like this seems like a risky choice. Moreover, after the family’s tremendous efforts to send Huw to school so he can have a better life, he ends up choosing mining as a profession. Seriously?! After all the crap that’s happened in his family because of mining and considering all the opportunities he now has, THIS is what he thinks is best? I think it’s supposed to come off as noble, but if you ask me it’s just stupid. I’m sure there are other ways to honour your family and prove your admiration.

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Maybe it’s just outdated? Maybe it has a greater significance for its time period, but since I have not lived through it, I have trouble relating. I think it would be interesting to watch this movie in the company of one of its supporters. Maybe they could rub off on me, or at least make me understand what I’m missing. If that doesn’t happen, I will at least credit the film as my inspiration for my future novel, How Green Was My Christmas Tree: The Story of my Deteriorating Holiday Period in Anticipation of School, Along with the Literal Withering of My Christmas Tree. On second thought, scratch that. That’s enough depression for one week.

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