by Sam Juliano
I am leaving behind me fifty years of memory. Memory…..Who shall say what is real and what is not? Can I believe my friends all gone when their voices are a glory in my ears? No. And I will stand to say no and no again, for they remain a living truth within my mind. There is no fence nor hedge around time that is gone. You can say go back and have what you like of it…So I can close my eyes on my valley as it was…….-Huw Morgan
The legacy of John Ford’s coal-mining saga, How Green Was My Valley, based on Richard Llewelyn’s novel, is mired in a negative statistic in Oscar history. It’s is always maligned as the film that beat out the most influential and celebrated film in the history of American cinema – Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane – for the Best Picture prize. And as such, it is a film that seems to always get the short end of the stick from film historians and some classic films buffs. Releasing a year after Ford’s masterful The Grapes of Wrath(1940) the film was looked on by skeptics as a glossy Hollywood tearjerker that disavowed important social and political issues in favor of melodrama. A few modern critics have derided the film’s sentimental story, with one even calling it “a monstrous slurry of tears and coal dust.” An esteemed colleague takes strong issue with what he calls “phony Welsh accents” and the film’s preponderance of tears.
By and large, though, these negative opinions have been avalanched in true coal miner fashion by contemporary critics, film historians and audiences who now see How Green Was My Valley as a film about ‘disintegration of family’ and of a culture due in large measure to economic depression, that still evinces its ideological world view that boasts an indominability of the human spirit and a deep nostalgia for the past and of familial bonds and sibling love. (more…)