How Green Was My Valley (Blu-ray) Region: A Review Date: February 3, 2013 The Film 5/5 Video Quality 4.5/5 Audio Quality 4/5 Special Features 2.5/5 In Conclusion 4.5/5 (not an average)
Directed by John Ford
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 119 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 1.0 English, Spanish, others
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Italian, German, others
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: January 15, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
How Green Was My Valley (Blu-ray)
Review Date: February 3, 2013
4.5/5 (not an average)