November 25, 2014

How Green Was My Valley

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Back when I was in high school, my best friend and I would rummage through shelves of films at our local Borders (or F.Y.E. or Barnes & Noble) and point out which titles we wanted to watch, which we had seen and loved, and which we had seen and hated. We'd occasionally run across How Green Was My Valley and have ourselves a chuckle. My friend thought it was peculiarly and archaically named. We would jokingly ponder what it'd be about. Two hours of how one's valley turns different shades of green, perhaps? The point I'm trying to make is: that not knowing anything about the film--nevermind the fact that part of its infamy is in defeating Citizen Kane as the Best Picture of 1941--that strictly judging the book by its cover, How Green Was My Valley still had the power to summon ridicule. Knowing this, I wanted to judge the film solely on its content. I wanted to give it a chance. So I watched it. And...good god.

Let me just start off by pointing out the pros: John Ford's direction is beautiful (as per usual). The framing of his images of the Welsh countryside and its people are crisp and lush and vivid. The film itself is stunningly crafted. Maureen O'Hara is absolutely gorgeous. What a stunner! (And hello, honorary Oscar!)

And that's just about all the positives I could muster for this film. Because holy hell was it a chore to watch. Granted, the movie has everything I don't look for in a film experience (a conservative era from long ago, sappy-warm family goodness, religion...all seen through the vantage point of a little boy), so the chances of me giving it raves were slim to begin with.

Where do I even begin? I did not like the swelling score, which is so overwrought and dramatic that it practically commands us to feel inspired by what we're seeing. I did not like that practically no one speaks for the film's first half hour or so because said score supplies the necessary cues in place of dialogue, and I did not like all the silent gesturing on behalf of the characters in place of words. I did not like the screenplay at all whatsoever, with lines such as "...for singing is in my people as sight is in the eye" really testing my patience. I really did not like that the film tries to jam all these wholesome values down my throat--look at how the parent scolds the child for not praying! Look at how these people are so happy and how they laugh together and burst into song together because they're family! Look at how everyone hates you if you're anything less than an ideal woman! I did not like the entire Morgan family, especially the father, in all his uptight, traditional, pain-in-the-ass ways ("is it not more important than good manners?!") In fact, I could not summon any effort to care at all about what happens to any member of this family, making me even more detached from the narrative than I already was. I hated that the film essentially has no plot--we are basically watching days in the life of a random Welsh miner family, and while there is the initial issue of low miner wages and talks of unionizing, that is quickly ditched and not to be visited until later on in the film, leaving the viewer with practically nothing to see except constant vignettes of cheesy crap--mother and son crippled in bed and communicating to each other by tapping their floor and ceiling with sticks, a stupid bird chirping at said crippled boy while his sisters stare smiling 5 feet away, an entire town's worth of people coming to serenade a recovered crippled woman, Walter Pidgeon encouraging the crippled boy to walk again...just when I thought I could not roll my eyes any harder, the film goes: "But wait! There's more!". Simply put, I came in knowing I probably wasn't going to enjoy this film, but I was stunned by just how little there was to like.

If you have a high threshold of tolerance for sentimental fluff, for the kind of warm, gooey, moralistic entertainment that'll warm your grandmother's heart, then you'll no doubt like this film more than I did. I don't mean to say that How Green Was My Valley is terrible in a Razzie-award kind of way. It's just not for me. Nothing about it is for me. Nothing about it engaged me or made me care. Upon the film's finish, there was not a single fiber of me that welcomed the possibility of rewatching it again. Call it a prime example of a film containing just about all the things I hate, but I cannot fathom giving How Green Was My Valley a higher score than this--it is too dull and (to put it quite frankly) too pointless for my liking.

6 comments:

  1. I freely admit I've never seen it, and after this review, I'm going to look forward to continuing to avoid it. Foxes, Kane, Suspicion & Ball; those are the nuggets I await.

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    1. This is just one of those films I would otherwise have zero desire to watch if it weren't for my disgusting completist mentality towards watching all these films..

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  2. Wow, it's not my style either, but a think I liked it more.

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  3. Haha.
    :) I don't remember how much I gave it on the blog, but more than this for sure. Unremarkable, but memory tells me I didn't hate it so much.

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  4. And worry not, you have Mrs Miniver, Casablanca, Lost Weekend, Best Years (most seems to like it, I didn't think it was that great), Gentleman's Agreement, so the Academy made up for it...

    oh wait... I forgot Going My Way... :P yeah, that doesn't count.

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    1. I can already feel the incoming deep groans just thinking about Going My Way >:(

      I'm only 2 years into this decade and I'm already distressed. Too many unexciting pictures to look forward to. While I'm not dreading Mrs. Miniver, Gentlemen's Agreement, or All The King's Men, I'm not exactly jumping up and down to watch either of them. And there's got to be like 20 performances that I'm not exactly thrilled to watch either. Sigh.

      But yeah, this one in particular really peeved me.

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