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.
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.