Made two generations ago, and reminiscing about another two generations past, How Green Was My Valley has strong, visible ties to the past.
NR (suitable for all ages)
The key word in the title is “was.” Our narrator, now an old man, tells about growing up in a coal mining town in Wales. He sees the past through rose-colored glasses, and although I don’t agree with those who say history makes backwards progress, How Green is not about evaluating history, it’s about memory and reflection. In that sense, it rings completely true.
Huw Morgan, played by the young Roddy McDowall, grew up in a family of coal miners. Father was a foreman at the mine, and three older brothers earned modest wages as miners. Mother managed the family money and saw that everyone had enough to eat.
But as time went on, the coal slag started to blacken the hillside, both literally and metaphorically. Managers cut wages at the mine because nearby factories were shutting down. A glut of workers came into the countryside, willing to work cheap. The unionized coal miners went on strike for better wages, which split both the town, and the Morgan family, into two factions. With nowhere to go, and with resentment in their hearts, the striking workers roamed the town in dangerous packs.
In a parallel story, the new preacher (Walter Pidgeon) tries to put down some roots in the town. He befriends Huw, sick in bed; he joins the townsfolk in their famed singing; and he courts Huw’s older sister. But as time goes by, the church elders, all from the older generation, find reasons to dislike him and his new, liberal ideas.
In this bleak picture of paradise crumbling, the only happy ending is growing old enough to reminisce about the good old days, when the valley was green and life was good. The philosophy behind the movie may sound harsh and fatalistic, but its sentiment and joie de vivre are genuine and heartfelt.
Picture and Sound
I am often surprised by how good films shot in black and white can look on DVD. How Green Was My Valley is one such film. There is no visual noise on the disc, and the rich gray tones are full and vivid. How Green Was My Valley won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 1941, and the transfer to DVD does it justice.
On some cheaper discs, particularly of older films, I have experienced problems where the dialogue is faint and muddled in the sound mix, and adjusting my amplifier only helps so much. The dialogue on this disc, however, is crisp and clear, all the way through.
Along with a trailer for How Green, there are four trailers for other 20th Century Fox classics. They are completely irrelevant to How Green: All About Eve was made in 1950, and An Affair to Remember was made even later, in 1957. However, the implication is that Fox will be spending some time restoring and releasing these titles on DVD. If it does as careful a job restoring them as it did on this disc, that’s good news.
The other supplemental material on this disc is a photo gallery of about ten stills. There are two production photos, along with portraits of each of the main actors. The photos aren’t accompanied by any insightful explanations, and if they weren’t on the disc, you’d probably never miss them.
As usual, the supplement is not the reason to buy the DVD. The good sound and picture, and the well-told, sentimental story overshadow any extras that Fox could have added.