How Green Was My Valley (1941)
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (1:41)
Trailer-An Affair To Remember; Gentleman's Agreement; All About Eve
|Year Of Production||1941|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (63:47)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||John Ford|
Twentieth Century Fox
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Continuing the current wade through the archive of classic films courtesy of Fox Home Entertainment, we find ourselves turning back the clock to the 1941 classic How Green Was My Valley. The winner of five Academy Awards in that year, namely Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Donald Crisp), Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography, it is a film that is perhaps not as well regarded now as it was then, which is really a great shame for this is indeed a great film. Mind you, it is one of those classic films that rather unusually I have seen many a time, courtesy of my father. This is one of his favourite films and gets dragged into the VCR often enough. As a consequence, I have not been able to avoid seeing it many times, and for once I am grateful for this is a film that does take me back to my youth, when we used to spend the summer holidays in Wales. During those summers, we often went exploring and that took us into many of the valleys of South Wales where coal mining was still the main staple of their existence. It did not hurt either that like young Huw from the film, I too was very much in love with a beautiful Welsh lass - only problem being of course that she was 18 and I was but 7 years old.
How Green Was My Valley is basically a narrative about the Morgan family, as told by an elderly Huw Morgan as he looks back on his youth as he prepares to leave the valley for the last time. Like many a family from the valleys of South Wales, the Morgans are a close family basically living under the one roof: patriarch Gwilym (Donald Crisp), homemaker Beth (Sara Allgood), single daughter Angharad (Maureen O'Hara) and the five sons, Ivor (Patric Knowles), Ianto (John Loder), Gwilym Junior (Evan S. Evans), Davy (Richard Fraser) and young Huw (Roddy McDowall). The narrative takes us through the changes in the valley as the good times of coal mining, which brings prosperity of sorts to the valley, slowly change. A new minister, Mr Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon) arrives from Cardiff to look after the flock and in the process catches the eye of Angharad. Ivor marries Bronwyn (Anna Lee). The mine owners reduce wages which leads to a long strike that splits the community. The strike ends but not everyone can get their job back and some are forced to leave the valley. Those that do go back to the mines, and they, as well as their families, endure the hardship and tragedy that is coal mining. The physical changes inflicted upon the valley as the slag heaps slowly take over the valley and the inexorable cloud of black that spreads over the valley in every respect are shown, as the good times are balanced by the bad times - with the bad times starting to topple the balance.
The film is based upon the novel by Richard Llewellyn, and if you have ever read the novel you will appreciate that bringing it to the screen is no small effort. The result is a nice narrative, but at times you just find things jumping a bit to keep the flow of the story moving along, and keep what is a complex story down to a reasonable length. Whilst it does get to be a bit disjointed, this also forms part of the reason why it is a film that keeps you engrossed - you simply don't want to miss where this is going next. John Ford did his usual superb job of the great characters from the story and making them come alive. To do so he had a great cast, and none better than Donald Crisp who won an Oscar for his performance. His portrayal of the patriarch of the mining family - and incidentally proud of it - is so spot-on that to this day it reminds me of some of the coal miners and former coal miners we knew in South Wales. But it is just not Donald Crisp who rose to the occasion. Walter Pidgeon here gives one of his fine performances as the minister, even if his Welsh accent is not exactly believable. Maureen O'Hara is wonderful as the typically subservient daughter in a male-dominated family, who fights to overcome the narrow-minded traditions of the valley - ultimately without much success I suppose. But go beyond even the main cast and look at some of the minor characters here, and you will see little nuggets of reality that remain rare in cinema even today. What more needs to be said about the cinematography that an Oscar does not already say?
The unusual aspect of the film though is the fact that it is so not Hollywood. This has the look and feel of a British film, which is a very rare thing for an American film. The capturing of the valley life is wonderful and ultimately this is a treat of a film. Sure, it is not the sort of thing that most people would throw into their player on a regular basis, but it remains for me one of the great films of the 1940s. A great cast, a master director and great cinematography make this a film to be cherished for many years to come. Fox Home Entertainment have already given us a couple of great, classic films to add to our collections - this is another.
One of the immediate reactions to the film is the fact that it looks very good, especially in comparison to say All About Eve. This is of course not unexpected since How Green Was My Valley was restored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in conjunction with the University of California - Los Angeles Film and Television Archive some years back. The benefit of restoration is clearly seen throughout the film and in some respects makes the lack of restoration of All About Eve all the more disappointing. Sure, the restoration here is not perfect but at its worst it is still noticeably better than All About Eve, and at its best there is a clarity and definition to the film that is quite wonderful. Indeed, looking through my notebook I can find no reference to any negative issues with the video transfer at all - only positives.
The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and it is not 16x9 enhanced.
The restoration, apart from cleaning up the film tremendously, has left us with source material that is quite wonderful in nearly every respect. The image is much sharper than I would have expected, with nary a hint of softness other than when intended (notably soft focus shots of the beautiful Maureen O'Hara). With such a nicely sharp picture, detail is obviously much improved and even though the house interiors for instance are relatively spartan, you can certainly see everything on display. About the only time that detail starts to degrade is during the underground shots and that is entirely understandable - it is meant to look dark and dank. Other benefits of the restoration are almost a complete absence of grain, quite unusual for a film of this vintage, and a clarity of picture that at times borders on the superb. Low level noise is also not a factor in the transfer and overall one has to commend the job of both the restoration team and the authors who mastered the DVD. If you have ever watched the rather ropey-looking VHS tape, as I have, you will almost be watching the film for the first time when you see this DVD.
The other great benefit of the restoration is the fact that the black and white tones are much better looking than would have otherwise been the case. Unlike All About Eve where there was a tendency towards extreme contrasts in the tones, this appears more consistent across the scales. The result is perhaps a little lacking in ultimate depth to the blacks and whites, but it makes up for that in being far better looking across the grey scales. The result is a truly believable palette as it has more subtlety to it. There is also a complete absence of those pesky murky greys, which is also a huge bonus.
The superb nature of the transfer continues with no noticeable issues with MPEG artefacting and none with film-to-video artefacting. Plus, as hinted, the film artefacts are much more controlled here and most of the film is almost free of anything really noticeably bad. Sure the odd speckle here and there is noted, and the odd damage mark to the print itself, but otherwise this is a relatively clean looking transfer.
This is another RSDL formatted DVD that features the layer change in a black scene change. This time it occurs at 63:47, and it is of course completely non-disruptive to the film.
There are eleven subtitle options on the DVD, of which I sampled but one - English for the Hearing Impaired. They are presented in a white font on a black box background, which does of course impinge slightly upon the viewing of the film, but this is not really avoidable. They are generally quite accurate with only the odd instance of words being missed out.
Once again there is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. Whilst the audio transfer is not quite in the league of the video transfer, it is still more than acceptable.
Despite the age of the source material, the dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is quite easy to understand - subject to some not entirely convincing Welsh accents at times. There did not appear to be any problems with audio sync in the transfer.
The original score once again comes from Alfred Newman and it is another quite nicely done piece of work that did cop an Oscar nomination for Best Music. Whilst it does tend to the schmaltzy side of things at times, this is not really that objectionable - and they did have the good sense to include plenty of singing from the Welsh choir (in Welsh no less) which does lift the whole thing another notch.
Since we are talking about mono source material that is sixty years old, there are inherent limitations in the quality, not the least of which of these is a tendency to some slight shrillness in the higher ranges and some relatively inconsequential hiss that is readily filtered out as you listen. These are of course faults that we would expect to find in source material of this age and therefore they are not really that bothersome. Being mono sound of course, the surround speakers and subwoofer are basically superfluous throughout.
|Surround Channel Use|
Unfortunately, the one apparent constant of these releases of classic films of the 1940s and 1950s by Fox Home Entertainment is the lack of quality in the extras package. This is another release living up to those low expectations, and I continue to decry the lack of even the obvious sorts of extras here.
Another rather bland effort.
Theatrical Trailer (1:41)
So just in case you don't think the film has been restored, just check out how appalling the trailer looks. Egads! Featuring a very diffuse image that is quite washed-out in appearance, you would be battling to find anything positive to say about the video transfer. Mind you, it is better than the audio transfer, which is very poor sounding and prone to distortion. Presented in a Full Frame format, it is not 16x9 enhanced and has Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound. It is well blessed with film artefacts. I wonder when people will start restoring the trailers too, as they do also form part of movie history?
Theatrical Trailers (3)
Presenting trailers for three other classic films - An Affair To Remember (2:48, 1.66:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0), Gentleman's Agreement (2:54, 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0) and All About Eve (3:01, 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0). Can you say ropey image, ropey sound and tons of film artefacts? Good, you just described the general condition of the three trailers - with the addition of An Affair To Remember being rather grainy and undersaturated in the colour. Nice to have them but they sure make you wish that they would restore the trailers too.
Gallery - Photo
Twelve photos of the stars and the production. Hardly worthwhile at all.
The Region 4 release misses out on:
Neither of these are considered to be overly essential.
If you like classic drama that really can tug at the old heartstrings, then How Green Was My Valley is a fine example of the genre and should be in your collection. Whilst its selection as Best Picture over Citizen Kane will probably remain one of the great injustices of Academy Oscar voting, there is certainly plenty here to indicate why it was so voted. A generally very successful film restoration has left us with a surprisingly good video transfer and a relatively hiss-free soundtrack that do all they can to aid the film. At least I know this will get plenty of viewing from my father!
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515, using S-Video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|