There isn’t much to say about this average John Ford film. It’s about seven women in a Chinese mission who get taken prisoner by a warlord. The dynamics between the characters is only semi-interesting and everything else is just middle of the road. It only merits a worth a look.
This is John Ford, no mistake about that, however it just doesn’t have the great kind of story that you come to expect from him. It’s about a group of Mormons who have to get from point A to point B. They need help so a couple of guys to act as wagon masters in order to help them. Throw in some obstacles and you have the film. It’s pretty at times and it can be enjoyable, but it isn’t anything special. A worth a look.
In 1949 John Ford released a film about the U.S. cavalry called She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. It was the second in what was to become to be known as Ford’s cavalry trilogy. The first being Fort Apache (1948) and the third being Rio Grande (1950). The plot of the film is fairly straightforward. John Wayne plays a cavalryman who is going to be retiring in 5 days, but in the meantime has to deal with the Indians who are really riled up after their victory against Custard.
The plot of the film really doesn’t matter too much. The film is good and worth seeing for two reasons. First the beauty of every single shot in the film. John Ford himself was a painter and he tried to compose his shots to look like his favorite painter’s pictures of the American West. The second reason is for the laughs. John Ford’s sense of humor is greatly unappreciated by the majority of movie goers and is in full effect in this film. With a John Ford Western you know what you are getting and this one has it in spades.
How Green Was My Valley, like all of John Ford’s best films, is about the coming of civilization. The best example of this is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962) where John Wayne is the old law of the West and Jimmy Stewart represents the new law of Civilization. A similar pattern can be found in Ford’s other films including this one only it is a little different. Instead of the Old West it is a valley in the UK and instead of Civilization in the abstract it is the coal industry that is brought to the old land. The film is called How Green Was My Valley because the story is being told from the point of view of a man who was a child during the events of the film. The operative word in the title being WAS. The valley is no longer green it is black with soot. There are no longer happy families like the one in the film, but broken homes and wage slaves.
It isn’t a happy film, in fact I would say it is one of Ford’s darkest pictures. The sets and lighting are clearly the same as you find in Film Noir. As such, they convey the darkness in these people’s lives literally and metaphorically. The houses are constructed and placed such that there is a single pathway up to the coal mine. Each day the people exit the houses in masses that evoke images of early Soviet cinema all marching toward the mine. The place they must go to live, but also the place that will end it. Either over a course of a miserable life or in an explosion.
This isn’t the best that Ford has to offer, but it is definitely worth seeing.