DVD Review HTF REVIEW: "How Green Was My Valley" (Highly Recommended) (with screenhots)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, Dec 22, 2002.

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  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    [​IMG]

    How Green Was My Valley




    Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
    Year: 1941
    Rated: NR
    Film Length: 118 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Full Frame
    Subtitles: English and Spanish



    Though I have told this story many times before, it
    does bear repeating....although I have always been
    an avid fan and collector of film, most of my childhood
    was spent watching films of that period. For that
    reason, I seldom explored any of the true classics
    that were made prior to the 1960. DVD changed all
    that. For the first time, I am discovering classics
    that have been so beautifully restored to a video
    format that it has become increasingly tempting to
    watch as many of these films as I am able.
    [​IMG]
    As with most unfamiliar films that I review, I decided
    to do a little background history on How Green Was
    My Valley. I discovered that this 1941 film was
    based on Richard Llewellyn’s 1939 international
    best-selling novel. The film won John Ford his third
    Best Director Oscar, and became the Best
    Picture
    of 1941, beating out Citizen Kane,
    The Maltese Falcon
    and Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
    I should also mention that the film received Oscars
    for Best Supporting Actor (Donald Crisp), Best Art
    Direction, and Best Cinematography. Quite a feat when
    you consider the competition.
    [​IMG]
    Told through the eyes of Huw Morgan (Roddy McDowall),
    this is the story of a Welsh mining family struggling
    through the social and economic changes of that time
    in their tiny community. With Huw being the youngest
    in the family, he shares his home with six adult
    siblings--five brothers who along with his father
    all work in the mine. There's also his sister,
    Angharad (Maureen O'Hara), who I'll talk about more
    in a moment. Though coal mining is a profession
    that runs deep in this family, it is all new to
    young Huw, and he sees the beauty in the belching
    smokestacks and slag that have yet to blacken the
    hillside. Times are tough for coal miners. With
    managers cutting wages as nearby factories shut down,
    a mass of workers came into the countryside, willing
    to work cheap. This caused the coal miners to unionize
    and go on strike, dividing not only the people of
    the town, but the Morgan family itself.
    In a parallel story, as new preacher (Walter Pidgeon)
    tries to calm the townsfolk and give support to the
    Morgan family, Angharad begins to fall in love with
    him. The romance, however, is to be forbidden and
    platonic as she ends up giving her heart to another
    man that she does not love.
    [​IMG]
    It's difficult not to get drawn emotionally into
    a film like this that is so impeccably written and
    performed. I have grown to enjoy my new discovery
    of John Ford films. I love the fact that he has
    put characters and story as main the focus of films.
    The man is obviously a great storyteller and a person
    with a great big heart. There is a sort of lyrical
    quality to his work and I constantly find myself
    emotionally moved by his stories that are captured
    with stunning photography (you can't help but to
    be impressed by the long, towering smoke stacks that
    dominate the film's background).
    [​IMG]
    I was also very happy to see none other than Barry
    Fitzgerald, one of my favorite Ford character actors
    from The Quiet Man. He plays Cyfartha, Dai
    Banso's Partner. Speaking of which, I don't think
    anyone will ever forget the scene where both take
    revenge out on the school master -- certainly the
    highlight of the film.
    How is the transfer?
    Up until today I had no idea that this film was
    previously released on DVD. For that reason, I
    don't have the original release to compare it to.
    Based on what I see here, the transfer looks
    absolutely pristine. There's no scratches or any
    sort of blemishes to be found. Picture is quite
    detailed with nice contrast. There is a small level
    of noticeable grain, though it isn't distracting.
    The benchmark has been raised with the recent release
    of Sunset Boulevard, and unfortunately, this
    film doesn't come quite as close. Black levels are
    not as deep and picture is not as crisp. Still,
    this is a highly acceptable transfer.
    The film's mono soundtrack sounds quite full and
    hearty here. I usually find myself having to turn
    up the audio on some of these mono tracks, but this
    one had enough punch for me to leave the volume dial
    alone. Audio is wonderfully clean with not a hint
    of background hiss anywhere. Additionally, audio
    never became over modulated, and there was very
    little high "shrill" to be heard.
    Special Features
    [​IMG][​IMG]
    First up is a full-length commentary by
    Anna Lee Nathan (Bronwyn Morgan) and Film Historian
    Joseph McBride. The commentaries have been recorded
    separately, with McBride dominating the entire length,
    which is a good thing, since Anna Lee's commentary
    greatly reveals here age. McBride has been a huge
    fan of Ford's work since he started writing about
    the filmmaker in the early 60s. He is also proud
    of the fact that in 1970s he got an interview with
    Ford, although the director was not very coherent.
    McBride tells us that this was indeed Ford's all-time
    favorite film, as the director asked that it be shown
    at the last Director Guild event he attended. McBride
    gives us the history of the film and the initial
    setbacks that occurred due to its political theme
    and the outbreak of WWII. Anna Lee talks very fondly
    not only about Ford, but his style of directing where
    she never felt "directed." McBride confirms the fact
    that Ford was a master at directing, knowing how to
    properly handle his actors -- especially his child
    actors who he played like a harp. McBride walks us
    through every scene, and you can tell how much he
    adores this film, falling in love with its camera
    angles and close-ups that he talks so admirably about.
    There's a great story about the scene where Maureen
    O'Hara slaps young McDowall on his ass. From stories
    I have read, he was wearing underwear full of holes
    that day. McBride has a slightly different version
    of the story. In any case, McDowall was greatly
    embarrassed and until the day he died, he often joked
    about it with the actress. I could go on and on
    about this terrific commentary that flows so fluidly
    from the mouth of the historian McBride.
    Backstory: How Green Was My Valley is a
    slickly produced featurette about the creation of
    one of history's greatest motion pictures. Based
    on the popular book by Richard Llewellyn, the rights
    were quickly bought up by Twentieth Century Fox's
    Daryl F. Zanuck for a whopping figure. What is
    interesting to learn is that Zanuck originally
    wanted to film this as a huge 4-hour Technicolor
    epic filmed in Wales. William Wyler was the first
    choice to be director for the project. By 1940,
    however, WWII had broken out in southern Wales
    and Zanuck was forced to scrap his plans to film
    overseas. Zanuck decided to move production to
    Malibu California and shoot his film in B&W in
    order to pass it off as a Wales countryside. There
    is a remarkable story told here about a young boy
    that was evacuated from Britain to America and in
    two weeks was tested for the film. That young boy
    was none other than Roddy McDowall. In a 1995
    interview, McDowall recalls his early days at the
    studio and the problems that overcame the picture's
    production. When Wyler's contract at Fox ran out,
    just about all hope was lost of the film ever being
    made -- that is until John Ford came to the rescue.
    This is a remarkable featurette that focuses mainly
    on the genius of John Ford thanks to interviews
    from the people that knew him best including Maureen
    O'Hara, Anna Lee, Roddy McDowall and biographer
    Ronald Davis. We are also treated to footage from
    the 1941 Academy Awards as the Oscar is presented to
    Colonel Zanuck. Fans will no doubt be touched by
    this warm tribute to one of the greatest films ever
    made.
    (length: approx. 24 minutes)
    A Still Gallery hosts approximately 55
    production stills, original poster art, and rare
    behind-the-scenes photography.
    In addition to the film's original theatrical
    trailer, there are trailers for Fox's Studio
    Classics All About Eve and Gentleman's
    Agreement
    .
    Final Thoughts
    [​IMG]
    I dare anyone to be unmoved by this moving portrait
    of family strength and soundness. This is a film
    that is a true American classic and certainly one
    of the most beautiful B&W films ever made.
    Don't hesitate for a moment to own this film.
    Thank You, Robert Crawford, for inspiring me to
    see this film and helping me with some of its
    background information.

    Release Date: January 14, 2003
    All screen captures have been further compressed.
    They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
    represent actual picture quality
    [/size][/font]
     
  2. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    I so badly want this dvd it's ridiculous, and you just made it worse on me Ron! thank you for this awesome review, this is one of my top five movies of all time. The photography is indeed absolutely beautiful, and impeccably done, Arthur Miller was nearly as exceptional as Greg Toland behind the camera, and both worked with ford on two films, Miller's other was Stagecoach I believe and Toland did Grapes of Wrath and the Long voyage home.

    gotta go
    Adam
     
  3. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Producer

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    I have the original version, and from memory the main thing wrong with it were the annoying "floaters" (which I still don't have a correct technical term for), but basically areas of the image that would float around disconnected from the rest of the frame (such as the rocks in a rock wall shifting a few pixels up, left, down, and right while the surrounding image stays still). I suspect this was a DVNR issue, but it can't be shown in a static image.

    I do like Fox's choice for the packaging for this line, it looks very classy. I agree this is a great film.
     
  4. SteveGon

    SteveGon Executive Producer

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    Ron, glad you're enjoying the classics! I was planning on picking up the older release of HGWMV, but held off in anticipation of this new one. Your review just sold me on it. [​IMG]
     
  5. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Basic restoration and preservation was performed on HGWMV a couple of years ago, bringing together the best surviving elements in terms of fine grains and nitrate prints.

    The majority of the work was the result of a joint effort of Fox's new restoration team and AMPAS.

    Further work has seemingly now been performed along with a higher quality transfer.

    The visible grain is proper for this film and should not be compared to Sunset Blvd, which, while a fine dvd, is not representative of the original look of the film, which was shot on film which did have grain.

    I'll repeat myself.

    Grain is our friend and is the element which makes up picture.

    Without grain structure we no longer have a filmlike image, but rather a video image.

    I'm not certain how many other ways this can be said.


    The Lowry look is not something to be held out as nirvana.

    It is not something that one should wish to attain. Nor should it be held out as anything of a reference.

    LDI has some interesting and useful tools, and has the capability to do excellant work.

    Grain removal is not one of the them.
     
  6. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    Ron
    You have made my day with this review and cannot wait for Jan 14 to come around.
    Another John Ford movie added to my collection
    Thank you
    Oscar
    [​IMG]
     
  7. Jefferson

    Jefferson Supporting Actor

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    My story is the reverse of Ron's...
    I am in my midthirties, but my primary interest in film
    is the library of pre 1960's film, of which this is
    a favorite.

    Several years back, one of the video releases
    boasted a "true" stereo remix of the background
    score, mixed from the different recorded "angles" preserved in the Fox vault.
    A CD was also made of this.
    I personally thought it sounded a bit "canned" and
    strange, but...wondered if this was an extra on the DVD,
    along with the mono?
     
  8. Thomas T

    Thomas T Cinematographer

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    Mr. Harris, thank you again for your invaluable input.
    I'm getting so weary about complaints about grain from the video people whose experience is not with movies in theatres but movies on video which is not the same thing.
    A film can be perfectly duplicated from its theatrical incarnation and you're bound to hear complaints that it doesn't look as good as some movie whose grain has been eradicated for its video release. The complaints that the very film looking To Catch A Thief doesn't look like the video clean up for North By Northwest is a prime example.
    The upside of the DVD format is that we'll get pristine prints of classic films to enjoy for the duration of our lifetime, the downside is that the authentic look of these films may very well be "cleaned up" and no longer resemble the film ..... which should make the home video crowd very happy and the film lovers depressed.
     
  9. Rain

    Rain Producer

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    Sounds like Fox is doing these new "classics" right.
    Excellent, excellent, excellent!!!
    [​IMG]
     
  10. Agee Bassett

    Agee Bassett Supporting Actor

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    That's me, too. [​IMG]
    Great review, Ron. [​IMG]
     
  11. RAF

    RAF Lead Actor

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    Ron,
    I'm glad to see that Crawdaddy has continued to make you aware of the "classics." Not everything great out there was produced once widescreen became prevalent. Good Show.
    [​IMG]
    Naturally, as a film buff (and also as a Welshman, and also a closet General Hospital freak so anything involving Anna Lee/Lila Quartermaine is a must-see) I already owned the old version of this film but I will most certainly purchase the new one. Sounds like a no-brainer to me. The older version will be passed on to my kids so that my grand kids can continue to devour the classics.
    And thank you Bob (Harris) for your continuing contributions to this forum. It's one thing for those of us who are film hobbyists to talk about film, video and all the toys we use to display our passion. But it's icing on the cake when those in the industry add to the dialogue. The insights that you bring to the table make each visit to the HTF well worth the trip.
    And yes, Film Grain is our friend. Well said. Let me add to this another related item. Black Level is not the panacea that some people make it out to be. Just as there appears to be an over-emphasis on the amount of grain level on some DVDs, some people constantly harp on this or that projector being superior to another one because it has a better "black level." Those who still go to the movies on occasion not only notice that yes, film does have some grain (which adds to the film-like effect) but - surprise - the black level on the movie screen never reaches total darkness! In other words - no grain and no light might make for a nice display experience, but it doesn't necessarily make for a true film experience. We have film and we have video (just as we have Vinyl and CD) and there's enough of everything to satisfy everyone's visual and aural cravings. Which is better? Both are. Depends on what interests you and what you are trying to achieve. Home Theater offers a variety of entertainment experiences and what is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.
    But enough about that.
    Happy Holidays, all. And enjoy the show!
     
  12. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    As an additional comment on RAF's black level...

    All black and white films do/did not necessarily have a 4.0 density black.

    Many b/w films were specifically designed so that prints would have a more delicate palette, ie shades of gray.

    A superb example of this is Criterion's recent release of Hitchcock's Spellbound, its gray densities based upon an original nitrate print from 1945. You will find no pure black.
     
  13. Vickie_M

    Vickie_M Producer

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  14. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    I just received an e-mail from my e-tailer that HGWMV has been shipped
    yippie
    [​IMG]
     
  15. Arnie G

    Arnie G Supporting Actor

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    I believe there is a stereo track on the dvd.
     
  16. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    the post is a bit slower than normal as the dvd only arrived today
    [​IMG]
    I thought the AMC Backstory was very well done
    [​IMG]
     
  17. Jeff_HR

    Jeff_HR Producer

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    I've purchased this film in every format: video tape, Laserdisc & DVD. I'll buy it again with this new DVD release. A film of this quality & stature deserves to be owned by as many people as possible.
     
  18. Alistair_M

    Alistair_M Second Unit

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    I'm not a happy bunny.

    I just purchased the new release boxset of Fox Studio Classics - The best picture collection in region 1 and it contains the old version of this fine movie. Hence an average picture (specks galore) and no extras. Even the box artwork does not match the other Fox Studio Classic movies (All about Eve, Gentlemens Agreement and Sunrise). I should add that the 4 dvds comes in a nice cardboard and see-through box and it has on its spine pictures of the 4 dvd covers - How green was my valley is shown with the artwork of the special edition (same as the top of Rons review). It must have been a mistake by Fox when packaging.

    Since I imported it from canada I guess I'm stuck with this old version of How Green was my Valley.

    Fox drops the ball on this one.
     
  19. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    Alistair; looks like it's an amazon.ca problem and not alot to do with Fox according to this thread
    ---
    So many films, so little time...
     
  20. Alistair_M

    Alistair_M Second Unit

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    Thanks for the link to the other thread.

    Unfortunately I ordered my boxset from dvdsoon.com - who don't have the best reputation for customer service. I'll email them and see if they bother to reply.
     

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