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DVD Reviews

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

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#1 of 23 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 22 2002 - 10:51 AM

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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.

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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
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.

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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.

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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).

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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

Posted ImagePosted Image

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
(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
, there are trailers for Fox's Studio
Classics All About Eve and Gentleman's

Final Thoughts

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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


Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner


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#2 of 23 OFFLINE   Adam_S



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Posted December 22 2002 - 11:03 AM

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 of 23 OFFLINE   Jeff Ulmer

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Posted December 22 2002 - 12:25 PM

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 of 23 OFFLINE   SteveGon


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Posted December 22 2002 - 04:33 PM

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. Posted Image

#5 of 23 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted December 22 2002 - 05:27 PM

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.

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence

#6 of 23 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx


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Posted December 22 2002 - 08:10 PM


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


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#7 of 23 OFFLINE   Jefferson


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Posted December 23 2002 - 04:08 AM

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 of 23 OFFLINE   Thomas T

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Posted December 23 2002 - 04:20 AM

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 of 23 OFFLINE   Rain



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Posted December 23 2002 - 06:14 AM

Sounds like Fox is doing these new "classics" right.

Excellent, excellent, excellent!!!

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[quote] Miller's other was Stagecoach I believe... [quote] FYI, Bert Glennon was the DP on Stagecoach. Oddly enough, I had a dream about that film last night.

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#10 of 23 OFFLINE   Agee Bassett

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Posted December 23 2002 - 08:36 AM

That's me, too. Posted Image

Great review, Ron. Posted Image

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#11 of 23 OFFLINE   RAF


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Posted December 25 2002 - 02:59 AM


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.
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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!
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#12 of 23 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted December 25 2002 - 09:21 AM

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.

"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence

#13 of 23 OFFLINE   Vickie_M



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Posted December 25 2002 - 09:06 PM

[quote] Backstory: How Green Was My Valley is a
slickly produced featurette about the creation of
one of history's greatest motion pictures. [quote]

Backstory is a fascinating series that airs on AMC. I loved this HGIMV episode and I'm excited to hear that they put it on this DVD! I keep a running list in the TV section about upcoming Backstory episodes (next up is Roman Holiday). I'd love to see more episodes put on DVDs.

Great movie and review! I'm definitely getting buying this. Thanks Ron!
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#14 of 23 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx


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Posted January 06 2003 - 07:31 AM

I just received an e-mail from my e-tailer that HGWMV has been shipped


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#15 of 23 OFFLINE   Arnie G

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Posted January 27 2003 - 03:55 AM

I believe there is a stereo track on the dvd.
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#16 of 23 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx


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Posted January 27 2003 - 06:43 AM

the post is a bit slower than normal as the dvd only arrived today

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I thought the AMC Backstory was very well done

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#17 of 23 OFFLINE   Jeff_HR



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Posted January 28 2003 - 05:59 AM

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.
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#18 of 23 OFFLINE   Alistair_M


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Posted October 19 2003 - 08:28 PM

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 of 23 OFFLINE   John Hodson

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Posted October 19 2003 - 09:00 PM

Alistair; looks like it's an amazon.ca problem and not alot to do with Fox according to this thread

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So many films, so little time...
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#20 of 23 OFFLINE   Alistair_M


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Posted October 19 2003 - 09:08 PM

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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