(Review originally written at 17 November 2008)

The '40's are known for their strong family-drama's, often based on a best selling novel. All that this movies have in common is that they are filled with melodrama, dozens of characters and are basically in their themes and essence more or less the same. Yet they always manage to make a powerful and effective impression, no matter how many times you have all seen it before.

This is a real family-drama alright! It has as a nice change that the movie for once isn't set in an upper-class family but a hardworking and struggling family in a little mining place, set in Wales, around 1900. But yet all of the problems remain the same. There is love, hate, struggles between the classes and death. The universal themes are all handled well within this movie, making "How Green Was My Valley" just as powerful as any other genre example from around the same time period.

The movie is filled with many characters (not in the least due to the fact that the family consists out of many children), each of course with their own problems and views on the world. It makes the movie really melodramatic and you can actually wonder if it all wasn't a bit too much to handle in a just over 2 hour long movie. Lots of drama is happening in this movie, often involving some of the different characters of the movie and at times it is hard to keep track of things.

This unfortunately often is the case with movies based on a novel. There is no way that you can ever put everything that is in a novel into the movie. You have to make some cuts but often a danger with those cuts is that the story will loose its power, since some things will be left out that are perhaps relevant for a certain following situation or the development of a character. Because of this as much as possible elements from the novel are being kept in the movie, with as a result that the movie often feels overfull, overlong and way too melodramatic. This also goes for "How Green Was My Valley", that is filled with characters, dragging in some parts and over-dramatic in others.

Nevertheless "How Green Was My Valley" remains a great genre movie, thanks to its craftsmanship. Even though I probably prefer John Ford's less serious movies, I can also appreciate his heavy drama's. It's a well told movie, despite all of the earlier mentioned problems with these type of movies.

But of course you also shouldn't forget the acting. It's a movie that is made foremost by it's characters and the actors that are portraying them. Even though the movie doesn't feature the biggest stars of its time, it's a cast that is filled with some real capable actors who suits their roles all very well. Yes Walter Pidgeon and Donald Crisp are some well known actors but they were mostly actors who were normally playing secondary characters. Same also goes for Maureen O'Hara, who perhaps also wasn't that well known during this movie, which was only the 8th she ever did, even though she had already played the role of Esmeralda in the 1939 version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame".

To show how popular this genre was at the time; it won 5 Oscar's in 1942, including the one for best picture and best director, which means that it beat Orson Welles and "Citizen Kane" at that time. It really doesn't mean that this movie is a better one than "Citizen Kane" but its merely a reflection of how people looked upon movies in the early '40's.


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About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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