Hit Me With Your Best Shot: How Green Was My Valley (1941)

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For this week’s Hit Me With Your Best ShotNathaniel Rogers, who hosts the series in his fabulous blog The Film Experience, has chosen John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, a movie which sadly seems to only ever be brought up as the one movie that won Best Picture over Citizen Kane. This boring reputation is why I had never seen the movie until now. As a matter of fact, I searched the internet for essays and articles about it and could barely find any interesting writing on it. This is very sad, because I found How Green Was My Valley to be a very interesting movie, and one worth talking about. Thank God for Nathaniel and HMWYBS, then, as I will surely be reading what everyone who is participating this week has to say about it.

As for me, there is so much I would like to get into, but I like to keep these posts focused on picking a specific shot from the movie. If there is anything that I took out from How Green Was My Valley, was immense respect for John Ford. Not that I didn’t have it before, but it had been a long time since I had seen one of his movies (maybe five years!). I had, however, in the meantime, watched other classic Hollywood movies from that time, and not to diss those other filmmakers, but watching How Green Was My Valley was like watching other kind of filmmaking. Ford was, undoubtedly, a master of his craft. Props to cinematographer Arthur C. Miller, too, who proves to be a fantastic collaborator. To illustrate my point, let me tell you that I took more screenshots from this movie than any other entry in HMWYBS. I just looked at these images and couldn’t imagine them being photographed any other way…

And yet, when the moment came to pick a single shot from the movie, the answer was obvious. How Green Was My Valley is a bittersweet melodrama about a man recounting his childhood in a Welsh coal-mining town. One of the subplots is about the forbidden love between his sister Angharad (Maureen O’Hara) and the town’s preacher Mr. Gruffydd(Walter Pidgeon). They love each other, but when Angharad receives a marriage proposal from the son of the mine’s owner, Gruffydd renounces to her love, recognizing that she will have a more comfortable life if she accepts the proposal. As Angharad and her new husband ride away after their wedding, the preacher stands looking at them between two graves. I suppose the symbolism explains itself, but still, there couldn’t be a more bittersweet, melodramatic, romantic, or Romantic shot in this movie.

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  1. joelnox · May 28, 2014

    That’s a great shot and I agree that this picture has gotten a bum rap. It’s not perfect but it’s a fine film. My choice for best shot is just before yours when Angharad is exiting the church and the wind catches her veil. I’ve heard two versions of how it was achieved, one that Ford had it in mind and retook the scene endlessly until he got what he wanted. The other was a case of serendipity and the wind machine caught the veil and the shot was accidental but Ford realized what he was lucky enough to happen upon. Either way the image is just so striking that it’s the one I always think of first whenever I think of the film.

    • Conrado Falco · May 28, 2014

      I know the moment you’re talking about, and yes, it is a beautiful image. (like so many in this film!)

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