How Green was my Valley (Blu-ray)

January 22, 2013 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Now seventy years of age, Huw Morgan’s memories are all he has to keep his younger days close at hand. Morgan remembers the details of his youth, his family, and the small town where he grew up. As he reminisces, he see the world of the small town begin to develop, and by the end, we know much about the town and the Morgan family. The town was best known for it’s mining resources, so the local mine was the focus of employment for the residents. The story deals with how the mine is brought into a union based system, and how his family slowly drifts and breaks apart. But the main focus is in Huw himself, who endures countless hardships, usually involving his social peers. He and his family have little to count on outside of their precious family unit and with financial strain bearing down, even that doesn’t seem as stable anymore. This is a general overview of the plot movement, but as you’ll see when you watch the movie, there is so much detail and subtle touches, it’s hard to summarize.

How Green Was My Valley is a classic film, which is critically acclaimed as well as well received by the public. In 1941, it took home five Oscars; Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Art Direction, and Best Cinematography were the awards it walked away with. I liked the movie quite a bit, mainly due to the fact that it seems real. I can see this happening in small towns even know, the collapse of local families and problems with the primary employer are troubles that face towns everywhere. I also like the fact that the movie lacks the usual Hollywood shine, it doesn’t sugarcoat the issues found inside the town. If you’re a classic movie buff, or are just looking for a great classic to enjoy, I recommend this movie highly, and this new disc is a real knockout.

The acting in this movie is excellent, but the directing really steals the show. A legend in the directing field, John Ford added yet another epic to his roster with this movie. Ford used some outstanding framing and “mise en scene” with this picture, some of the best from this time period. While Ford is best known for westerns, such as The Searchers and Stagecoach, he also mastered the other genres, especially those which explored the human process, such as How Green Was My Valley. The cast is also good, with strong leading performances by Walter Pidgeon (Forbidden Planet, Funny Girl) and Maureen O’Hara (Rio Grande, Miracle On 34th Street). Since the material calls for natural, subtle performances, the acting is reserved, but that is the intent here. Also starring in this movie are Donald Crisp (National Velvet, The Man From Laramie), Michael Greer (Three Daring Daughters), Sara Allgood (The Spiral Staircase, The Lodger), and Roddy McDowall (The Legend of Hell House, Lord Love A Duck).

Video: How does it look?

I’m perpetually amazed at how good some of these older movies look on Blu-ray.  As a child of the VHS era, I guess I’m just used to some of these films looking like they were shot in a garage and, quite simply, that’s just not the case.  With How Green Was My Valley, Fox has done a top notch job with their restoration.  The 1.33:1 AVC HD image does have a few specs of white that can be found, but when you consider that this movie is nearly three quarters of a century old – I think we’re willing to cut it some slack, no?  Contrast and black levels are rock solid and this seems to have the same rich texture that other movies of the time like Citizen Kane and Casablanca, have.  I was very taken at how good this looks.

Audio: How does it sound?

To me there seems something is inherently wrong with a film made in 1941 and sporting the phrase “DTS HD Master Audio 5.1” on the back.  Yikes!  Don’t fear, though, as what you read into it is more than it outputs.  While technically this is correct, the surrounds do get involved from time to time, this is by and large a mono track with a bit of “help” from the other speakers on occasion.  I didn’t catch too many instances in the “hiss” that so plagues some of the older movies and I have to give it to Fox – they’ve done a great job with the audio restoration here.

Supplements: What are the extras?

All of the supplements from the previous “Studio Classics” DVD can be found here.  An audio commentary starts us off, with film historian Joseph McBride at the helm and star Anna Lee on hand as well. McBride covers an immense amount of data in this track, so be prepared to learn a lot, especially about how the movie differs from the source novel. Lee sometimes chimes in and is enthusiastic when she does, but McBride is front and center in this session, delivering an insightful and worthwhile experience. A well crafted episode of AMC Backstory is also found here, which focuses on the details behind the creation of this picture, with special attention paid to Ford’s direction. I was pleased to see this Backstory episode included here and of course, I hope to see more as Fox expands its Studio Classics line. This disc also includes some still photos, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.

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