How Green Was My Valley

How Green Was My Valley

Today, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY is known as the film that most cinephiles believe “undeservedly” won the 1941 Best Picture prize over CITIZEN KANE. While VALLEY may not be a groundbreaking film, it is a moving and touching memoir.

Based on Richard Llewellyn’s novel, John Ford’s heartwarming film tells the story of a Welsh mining community and its hardships, told through the memory of young Huw Morgan (Roddy McDowall). The Welsh names are lyrical, their vocal inflections are lyrical, and so is Alfred Newman‘s beautiful score.

Newman selected many Welsh folk songs and hymns to be sung a capella, weaving the melodies throughout the score. The main titles begin with the rousing Welsh male chorus followed by Huw’s theme in the cellos underneath the opening narration. A descending violin line foreshadows the trouble ahead before stating the main theme for the Morgan family in the high violins, backed by a wordless chorus.

How Green Was My Valley soundtrack
“The Family And Bronwen”
“Love Denied”

The love theme for Angharad (Maureen O’Hara) and the local preacher (Walter Pidgeon) is a beautiful folk melody for flute and harp, based on an Irish folk song, “The Sixpence.” Newman was criticized for using an Irish melody in a Welsh picture, but who cares when the tune so perfectly captures the “love denied” between the two characters.

Yes, I appreciate what CITIZEN KANE did for the history of film and certainly Bernard Herrmann’s groundbreaking score. But HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY touches me in a way that KANE’s cold cynicism never can. And Newman’s lovely score is forever evergreen.

  1. fastforward 53 years later and its the same discussion – just replace How Green was my Valley with Forrest Gump & Citizen Kane with Pulp Fiction… I really should get into these older composers like Newman and more Herrmann… I dont know where to start :-(

    1. Pedro, sorry I haven’t responded sooner. Your comment got lost in the flurry of great comments you made about other posts. Sorry about that.

      Anyway, I don’t think PULP FICTION should have beaten FORREST GUMP either. Like CK, while I appreciate what Tarantino was doing, and there’s no denying the impact he’s had on filmmakers and filmmaking, I don’t find it a satisfying film like GUMP. And you’re right, it’s the same discussion. I’m sure there are other years you could pick too. But that’s a good bell-weather year because of Tarantino’s influence.

      As for Newman, Herrmann, and other great Golden Age composers, I have a couple of “9 on the 9th” and other posts devoted those two and others with some of my favorite scores.

      If you want more of a musical sampling, as opposed to full-blown scores from particular films, you can’t go wrong with the Charles Gerhardt compilations from the mid-70s and early-80s. There are albums devoted to Korngold, Newman, Herrmann, Waxman, Rozsa, Steiner, and Tiomkin, as well as some devoted to stars like Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and Humphrey Bogart which include other composers as well.

      Also, here’s an article I wrote about Gerhardt for FSM:

      I’ll be happy to help you in your quest for film music “gold.” (hehe, couldn’t resist)

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