It has been said that you can never go back home once you leave. Everything changes… people, neighborhoods, gardens, trees, friends, and family. Nothing can stay the same. Time keeps marching on, no matter what. In our minds, we think everything will stand still until our return. Then bam… it hits like a bomb exploding in front of us. It’s the littlest changes that take our breath away the most. The unexpected changes can do us in. I say this from experience. When I was young, I tried to go back many times. After leaving the city where I was born, coming home for the summer from college, leaving Israel and returning to America, and after my divorce. My “center” was different. I soon realized that it wasn’t just my surroundings that were off. It was also me. I wasn’t the same person. I had new perspectives and a different paradigm. I saw my world and the people I loved with new, evolved eyes. There are moments we all dream of wanting to return to days of long ago, but it is not possible. In those secret seconds of longing, I can get there if I use all my senses and recall the colors, the scents, the sounds, and the people who are so familiar and beloved. If I stand still and close my eyes, I have returned, if only for moments. And I can relive some precious glory days of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY.
HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY took the world by storm in 1941. It was created in California and not in Wales, where the story occurs. Technicians turned eighty acres of land near Malibu into the Welsh mining village. The studio couldn’t film in technicolor since the flowers and hills would never match the colorful vibrancy of Wales. HGWMV earned five Oscars for Best Picture, Director, (John Ford) Supporting Actor, (Donald Crisp) Cinematography, and Art Direction. It proved that people wanted to go back in time, if only in the movie theaters since World War II created flux and turbulence everywhere.
HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY was based on Richard Llewellyn’s novel. It was very controversial since Richard was an Englishman and was able to write this book through interviews with Welsh miners. The story centered around one large family. The father and five brothers worked the mines. There was also another much younger brother (Roddy McDowall) and the only sister, played by Maureen O’Hara. The movie was told through Roddy’s memories of growing up. The family lived within a close-knit village. Songs and music, the church, and family values played central themes. As did being poor, living penny to penny, and the perils of strikes, accidents, and injuries constantly looming overhead. Challenging times and often not being able to control the direction of life’s journeys. This was prevalent, especially when it came to matters of the heart.
What made this film so beloved and extraordinary were the ties that bound this family together. Nothing could take that away… not debilitating accidents, death, or distance. They were a family who loved fiercely and stood up for one another. These morals were important in the ’40s. The free world was yearning for their strength, caring, and kindness. It warms my soul every time I watch this film. It always made me feel like part of a community rich in traditions. It felt “bigger” and larger than life, yet it was just a tiny snippet of memories. It made me smile through my tears. It gave me hope.
HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY is a nostalgic masterpiece of a time long gone. It is genius in encapsulating any family’s ups and downs. It shares the simplest of moments that most of us hold dear in our memories, for it is not the huge, impressive incidents that linger in our hearts. Instead, it is a panoramic look at the simple joys of life any community could feel through hard, failing years. The story pours from the deepest crevices of the heart. It was moving and endearing to glimpse and feel the sincerity of true cinema storytelling. Some classics are like THE GIVING TREE. You receive so much more than you ever expected or perhaps deserved. HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY is a classic gift that keeps on giving even after eighty years.
It is available on TCM.