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Blu-ray Reviews

How Green Was My Valley Blu-ray Review



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#1 of 42 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted February 03 2013 - 09:41 AM

John Ford’s bittersweet slice-of-Welsh-life film How Green Was My Valley is one of his irrefutable masterpieces. With a sublime cast and an episodic story that hooks the viewer from first minute to last, How Green Was My Valley is that rare achievement that works on both the head and the heart. You’ll rarely see finer acting nor more astute direction in a Hollywood film than you will here, and the fact that many of its most memorable moments are small ones that play without fanfare or bombast makes it even more endearing and extraordinary.


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How Green Was My Valley (Blu-ray)
Directed by John Ford

Studio: 20th Century Fox
Year: 1941
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1   1080p   AVC codec
Running Time: 119 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 1.0 English, Spanish, others
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Italian, German, others


Region: A
MSRP: $ 24.99



Release Date: January 15, 2013

Review Date: February 3, 2013



The Film

5/5


Welsh family The Evanses have coal mining in their blood with the father (Donald Crisp) and five of his six sons working in the mines. But times are changing and when cheaper labor comes to the village, the company begins paying reduced wages and then starts laying off workers. The brothers are big believers in unionizing to retain control over their fates, but their more rooted-in-the-past father is against a union and is willing to trust the bosses to do right by them. As conditions worsen, however, the family begins to splinter: two brothers go off to America to seek their fortune, another is killed in an accident, and youngest son Huw (Roddy McDowall) despite great intelligence wants to stay loyal to family and leaves his education in favor of working in the mine. Beautiful daughter Angharad (Maureen O'Hara) is also conflicted: in love with handsome minister Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon) but pressured into a loveless marriage with the mine owner’s son (Marten Lamont).


Though Philip Dunne’s script is made up of dramatic and comic episodes strung one after another, it appears seamless due to John Ford’s majestic, sensitive direction. With a painter’s eye and astounding attention to detail (two birds alighting on a windowsill heralding the coming of spring, a lack of unnecessary dialogue especially in the film’s opening quarter hour), Ford presents the family’s triumphs and tragedies without undue pretentiousness; instead, their daily lives are captured so astutely that one’s emotions are played like a violin throughout a viewing of this movie. Something like a child learning to walk again after a serious illness that another director would milk for sentimental melodrama is handled so delicately and simply by Ford that the scene stays with you even more unforgettably (set in a field of daffodils, it’s truly a cinematic work of art: no wonder cinematographer Arthur Miller won an Oscar for his work). The scene as the first two brothers leave home for America is shot almost as an afterthought as they steal away so as not to disturb some good news the family has just received. Examples such as these are what single John Ford out from many of his contemporaries and are what make the film such a delight to visit again and again.


Roddy McDowall as young son Huw was introduced to American audiences with this film, and it’s a remarkable performance full of emotion and warmth. (How he failed to be voted an Oscar for the best juvenile performance of the year back when the Academy awarded such a prize is a true mystery.) Donald Crisp, who did win an Academy Award for his loving but forthright father, is a wonderful paternal figure demanding respect and resigned to the changing times even if he can’t change with them. Sara Allgood is a memorably feisty mother to her brood of children who include the always understated and reliable Patric Knowles and the earnest if a bit stolid John Loder. Walter Pidgeon plays the preacher conflicted between his physical desire for the gorgeously appealing Angharad of Maureen O'Hara and his wish not to see her beauty fade from the drudgeries and hardships of being a poor minister’s wife in this rural community. As usual with Pidgeon, it’s an unfussy, direct performance and a perfect counterpoint to some of Maureen O’Hara’s best work as the smitten daughter. In smaller but nevertheless unforgettable roles are punchy boxer Rhys Williams with his trainer Barry Fitzgerald who teach a wonderfully staged object lesson to the abusive schoolmaster played by Morton Lowry. Anna Lee as the lovely Bronwen who marries into the Evans family and Arthur Shields and Ethel Griffies as village blowhards and gossips also make outstanding impressions.



Video Quality

4.5/5


The film’s 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is superb with lots of detail to be glimpsed in faces, clothes, hair, and sets. The grayscale doesn’t feature the deepest black levels imaginable, but whites are pure, and the overall effect with the carefully composed frames and especially shots of the landscapes of the mining village and the surrounding area is rather magnetic to watch. There are also no signs of wear and tear with a pristine image. The film has been divided into 10 chapters.



Audio Quality

4/5


There are two English language sound mixes available: a low bitrate Dolby Digital 1.0 track in which the volume appears to have been turned up a bit to achieve fidelity to match the newly designed and more interesting DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track. With Welsh singing playing a major role in the film, having a stereophonic representation of the chorales that doesn’t detract from the film’s spell but rather adds to it is very special indeed. Dialogue and narration have been placed in the center channel, but the music has a very good spread across the fronts and spills delicately into the rears for a subtle surround ambience.



Special Features

2.5/5


The audio commentary is by John Ford authority Joseph McBride with occasional inserted comments by actress Anna Lee Nathan (who sounds very frail). Without offering great amounts of historical or cinematic background on Ford or the actors and crew, McBride still manages to produce a worthwhile commentary, and Anna Lee Nathan’s comments are always welcome when they occasionally appear.


“Hollywood Backstory: How Green Was My Valley is another in the series of featurettes produced for AMC to show with Fox titles. This 24 ½-minute piece features interviews with Roddy McDowall, Anna Lee, and Maureen O’Hara as well as comments from Peter Bogdanovich and Rudy Behlmer covering the original plans for a four-hour color epic, the change of directors, the quick filming, and its acclaim upon release. It’s in 480i.


A theatrical reissue trailer runs 1 ¾ minutes in 480i.



In Conclusion

4.5/5 (not an average)


One of the great masterpieces of cinema’s golden age, How Green Was My Valley has its greatest-ever home video release with this majestic Blu-ray transfer. Though the bonus material isn’t plentiful enough for a film of its stature, it’s still a welcome port from the previous DVD release. Highly recommended!




Matt Hough

Charlotte, NC



#2 of 42 OFFLINE   benbess

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Posted February 03 2013 - 03:20 PM

Great review. Just got this based on all of the raves, including this one.

#3 of 42 OFFLINE   Keith Cobby

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Posted February 04 2013 - 03:59 AM

I have to admit I haven't seen this film although it must have played on UK television many times over the years. This is the first review of a film that has made me want to see it so thanks very much.

#4 of 42 OFFLINE   bigshot

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Posted February 04 2013 - 05:54 AM

This bluray looks astounding projected. The best B&W film on blu I've ever seen.

#5 of 42 OFFLINE   theonemacduff

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Posted February 04 2013 - 06:00 AM

The best parts of the film are the simple shots of the village and its people, often with the camera at a sort of low angle – not super-low, but importantly, not looking down on people. The worst parts are those where Ford deliberately sets out to reproduce nineteenth century genre paintings, e.g., the miner's meeting in the snow, where Mom shows up in a shawl and berates the boys, with all their overwrought drama and inherent sentimentality. The good thing is, that the former is common, the latter is rare, so you can just sink back on the sofa and wallow in the pin-sharp, perfectly contrasted, B&W photography. The sentimentality you just have to take cum grano salo, because it's a period thing, a style that was carried over directly from nineteenth century arts into the movies. And don't get me wrong; I don't think genre paintings are inherently bad, or bad for film, witness Michael Mann's use of the style in several shots in Last of the Mohicans (the night arrival of the daughters at the fort; the militia confronts the Colonel; the surrender of the fort), but I do think that the sentimentality plays a lot less well now than it did 70 years ago.

#6 of 42 OFFLINE   Virgoan

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Posted February 04 2013 - 06:21 AM

The original music, of course, is by Alfred Newman.

#7 of 42 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted February 04 2013 - 08:21 AM

I hate to be the dissenting voice, but I live on the edge of the Welsh valleys (the coal mining area of Wales where HGWMV is set) and just want to note that for a sizeable number of people in Wales, HGWMV is seen as patronising and ludicrously sentimental. I'm happy to expand on this but don't want to derail the discussion.

#8 of 42 OFFLINE   Mark VH

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Posted February 04 2013 - 09:42 AM

I hate to be the dissenting voice, but I live on the edge of the Welsh valleys (the coal mining area of Wales where HGWMV is set) and just want to note that for a sizeable number of people in Wales, HGWMV is seen as patronising and ludicrously sentimental. I'm happy to expand on this but don't want to derail the discussion.

Hard to argue with either of these, but why should that be a knock against its status as a great film? I can think of a whole list of pictures that fit that description yet are held in high regard. Kristin Thompson addresses the sentimentality aspect here: http://www.davidbord...ane-assumption/, seeing it as an advantage vs. a detriment (most of which I agree with). And as to patronizing, I guess it could be argued as such (especially if you have roots in what it's depicting), but I can think of a number of American films that also fit this description that we still consider great on this side of the pond (Hollywood tends to patronize its audience more often than not).

#9 of 42 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted February 05 2013 - 12:25 AM

Hard to argue with either of these, but why should that be a knock against its status as a great film? I can think of a whole list of pictures that fit that description yet are held in high regard.

Totally agree. I originally posted something longer that said more or less this but then clipped it back. My mistake!

#10 of 42 OFFLINE   theonemacduff

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Posted February 05 2013 - 05:37 AM

Kristin Thompson addresses the sentimentality aspect here: http://www.davidbord...ane-assumption/, seeing it as an advantage vs. a detriment (most of which I agree with).[/quote] Fantastic article. Articulates a lot of things I've often felt, especially the sentiment vs sentimentality idea. As for me, I'm totally unapologetic about taking my hankies to the movies. First time I saw Zhivago, I cried. Several times. Still chokes me up in places. And HGWMV always gets me when the adult boys walk off down the street, out into the wider world, never to be seen again.

#11 of 42 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted February 05 2013 - 07:38 AM

And HGWMV always gets me when the adult boys walk off down the street, out into the wider world, never to be seen again.

In reality, they or their descendants probably would have appeared on one Welsh TV programme or another. Welsh TV has over the years done a fair number of programmes on the Welsh diaspora, and followed e.g. citizens of the USA of Welsh descent. Not every emigrating Welshman went to Patagonia!

#12 of 42 OFFLINE   David_B_K

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Posted February 05 2013 - 08:09 AM

I hate to be the dissenting voice, but I live on the edge of the Welsh valleys (the coal mining area of Wales where HGWMV is set) and just want to note that for a sizeable number of people in Wales, HGWMV is seen as patronising and ludicrously sentimental. I'm happy to expand on this but don't want to derail the discussion.

I'm curious: did they look down on the film only, or also the work on which it is based? Is the film a faithful adaptation of the book?

#13 of 42 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted February 06 2013 - 06:00 AM

I'm curious: did they look down on the film only, or also the work on which it is based? Is the film a faithful adaptation of the book?

I don't want to say too much, because I don't want to sound churlish about a film that gives a lot of people great pleasure for entirely innocent reasons. However, in brief: (1) The author of the book lied about how Welsh he really was and made himself out to be an oppressed champion of Welsh nationalism when his real background was a middle class Englishman. There would be nothing AT ALL wrong with being English and writing about Wales, but passing yourself as something you're not really isn't on. (2) It is almost 40 years since I read the book and cannot remember in detail the degree of similarity with the film. Sorry! However, one thing that I do remember is that the book went on a lot more about the Welsh language and how the upper classes in Wales and the teachers who took their lead from them did all in their power to stop children using Welsh in schools. Today Wales is bilingual - everyone speaks English and about a third speak Welsh reasonably fluently. The language is part of Welsh life, but the film I think skips over this. (3) It's not really looking down on the film as much as feeling exasperated by it. What is portrayed in the film tries to be sympathetic about Wales, but it wittingly or unwittingly uses stereotypes (ditto the 'Oirish' nature of The Quiet Man). The danger is that everybody else uses the same stereotypes. It's rather like every film about Africa wants to explore poverty, scenery, big game hunting, and that's all. Just as Africa has far more to offer, so Wales isn't all endless pit disasters and choral singing!

#14 of 42 OFFLINE   bigshot

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Posted February 06 2013 - 07:39 AM

John Ford was all about archetypes. That's his strength actually.

#15 of 42 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted February 06 2013 - 08:02 AM

John Ford was all about archetypes. That's his strength actually.

Archetypes alas all too easily become stereotypes!

#16 of 42 OFFLINE   David_B_K

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Posted February 06 2013 - 09:21 AM

Interesting that Richard Llewellyn was not a real Welshman, but passed himself off as one. I guess he thought that would make the book more acceptable in Wales? It probably just created a backlash against him for being deceptive.

#17 of 42 OFFLINE   bigshot

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Posted February 07 2013 - 06:57 AM

Archetypes alas all too easily become stereotypes!

I don't see anything wrong with stereotypes actually. That is caricature. Comedy is based on that.

#18 of 42 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted February 08 2013 - 05:27 AM

I don't see anything wrong with stereotypes actually. That is caricature. Comedy is based on that.

Tell that to the generations of women kept out of good jobs because of stereotypes about what a woman was capable of or, in the case of African Americans, even being able to sit in the same part of the bus as other folks or use the same water fountains.

#19 of 42 OFFLINE   ahollis

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Posted February 08 2013 - 06:39 AM

Mercy. This is just a movie and In no way reflects real life in Wales at that time any more than The Bowery Boys reflected growing up in the Bowery. It is just a very entertaining movie and one heck of a Blu-ray. And it has Maureen O'Hara in it and that makes me very happy.
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#20 of 42 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted February 08 2013 - 06:55 AM

Mercy. This is just a movie and In no way reflects real life in Wales at that time any more than The Bowery Boys reflected growing up in the Bowery. It is just a very entertaining movie and one heck of a Blu-ray. And it has Maureen O'Hara in it and that makes me very happy.

Allen, I totally sympathise with your view and my responses must to a lot of you guys seem to be a humourless failure to see things in a proper proportion. It's just that if you have lived in Wales for any length of time you do tend to get pig sick of people from outside the country seeing the place as being full of stoic miners, male voice choirs, and the miserable dominating presence of the local chapel. Other than all the signs being in two languages, Wales really is no different from a lot of other places in the UK.





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