Possessed of the Plenty of the Earth

JF and kids

Coincidence brings the simultaneous release of superb new Blu-ray editions of two of John Ford’s finest non-westerns, his 1941 “How Green Was My Valley” from Fox Home Video, and the 1952 Technicolor fantasy “The Quiet Man” from Olive Films. The two films are as thoroughly complementary as if they had been designed as a diptych — or perhaps it simply goes without saying that every single film by Ford speaks to all the others.

It is very hard to imagine a movie as uncompromisingly tragic as “How Green” sweeping the Oscars (as it did in 1942) earning anything more than an award for costume design in the relentlessly upbeat Hollywood of 2013, which is apparently about to award Ben Affleck’s mildly glorified HBO movie “Argo” Best Picture honors for concocting an feel good story about American operations in the middle east (the bummer “Zero Dark Thirty,” with its uncomfortable suggestion that a more recent triumph, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, might have been facilitated by an immoral act of torture, has been run out of town). But Ford’s epic vision of loss — social, familial and romantic, with no compensating production of a couple to complete it — remains a powerful reminder of the artistic integrity and ambition once possessed by the American film industry. How green was Century City, then.

Arthur Miller’s magnificent black-and-white photography — which ranges from soft-focus remembrances of a mythical past to hyper-realist close-ups of working class faces that might have been taken by Lewis Hine or Dorothea Lange — is beautifully represented on the Fox disc. And the new, high-def restoration of “The Quiet Man” that Olive has licensed gives equal presence to Winton C. Hoch’s impossibly verdant representation of the Emerald Isle, a Garden of Eden, in Ford’s fond dream, bursting with brightly contrasting reds and greens. These are precisely the colors that do not survive between the yellow sand and blue sky of Monument Valley — with the stirring exception of the desert rose that Tom Doniphon presents to Hallie in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

Further musings here, in my New York Times column.

87 comments to Possessed of the Plenty of the Earth

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    A beautiful piece about HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, one of my favorite films since I first saw it so long ago (and I find it difficult to imagine that through the greatness of Blue-ray it can look even more gorgeous now than it did then). But was it necessary to put down CITIZEN KANE as an “exuberant display of youthful iconoclasm” in order to put Ford and his movie up on a pedestal? He really didn’t need it, and the Academy didn’t really show any special insight when they chose HOW GREEN over CITIZEN KANE since most everybody in Hollywood hated KANE,for a variety of reasons. The Ford was a masterpiece but it was a safe one, which KANE was not — even though sixty years later it can be put down as youthful iconoclasm (I wish we had youthful iconoclasm of that kind in some of our movies now).

    Please note that I have no intention to start a thread about Kane Vs Green/ Ford Vs Welles. Just a passing remark.

  • Barry Lane

    There was only one John Ford and one Orson Welles. Plenty of room at the head of the pin. As my late and beautiful French wife would say, there is only one Randolph Scott. The column was beautifully realized as we might wish all film criticism to be.

  • Dave, thank you for this beautiful piece on John Ford – who, as we know, was the model for Orson Welles who kept watching STAGECOACH over and over again. And bizarrely, Orson Welles had already influenced Alfred Hitchcock to whom David O. Selznick had sent a copy of Orson Welles’s radioplay of REBECCA (with music by Bernard Herrmann?).

  • Robert Garrick

    I literally got chills reading Dave’s comments about these films.

    “How Green Was My Valley” was a gigantic success in its day, and partly because of that, I think, it’s somewhat neglected today in favor of films like “The Searchers” and “Liberty Valance” that were not fully appreciated for a while. They are all extraordinary achievements and there is no point trying to pick a winner among players like this.

    “How Green Was My Valley” is a film I saw in Sarris’s class at Columbia, in 1976 or 1977. Sarris obviously loved “Citizen Kane,” but (as I noted in the previous thread) he was not displeased that the Academy awarded the top Oscar to the Ford film. In the history of the Academy Awards, I think this is the best film to ever win that award.

    The film has everything. It’s got political and social commentary; it’s got a great love story; it’s a multigenerational family epic, set in a foreign land; and it touches on the mystical at the end, as Donald Crisp walks (after death) over the Welsh mountains. In the history of the movies, I can’t think of too many scenes more moving than that one. Ford did not neglect the temporal aspects of stories like “The Grapes of Wrath” and “How Green Was My Valley,” but such matters were trumped in his films by a more eternal set of values, and by ties of family, culture, and community. When I think of “How Green Was My Valley,” I first think of those scenes at the dinner table.

    Dave mentions Arthur Miller’s photography. Alfred Newman also made a huge contribution to the film with his score, and Ford himself said that Philip Dunne’s script was “perfect.”

    Fox was based in west L.A., and its backlot eventually became Century City, a high-rise portion of Los Angeles. But most of “How Green Was My Valley” was shot at a replica of a Welsh mining town built in the Malibu Hills, just a few miles (as the crow flies) from the Fox studios. The bombs falling on the U.K. convinced Zanuck to film in the United States, rather than in Wales. The results are spectacular, though the terrain is more mountainous than Wales.

  • Foster Grimm

    I’ve been reading “Variety” film reviews from 1916 – 1918. The only directors consistently mentioned by name are Griffith, Chaplin, R.A Walsh, and Jack Ford.

    Cheers

  • Gregg Rickman

    Foster, that’s interesting. I’ve familiarized myself with the trade papers of those years and few years later (I’m talking Moving Picture World, Motion Picture News, Exhibitors Trade Report, et al) and the directors who seem to get the most attention (in 1920-24) are (besides the first three you mention) Stroheim, James Cruze, Marshall Neilan (all of whom are still known at least to buffs), the DeMille brothers… and Allen Holubar and Robert Vignola. Now, those last two have pretty much disappeared from history, probably because their films have. Jack Ford is rarely mentioned, but this may be because “Variety” tried to review films on their merit, and the trades I mentioned are full of studio press releases, with little hard news. Jack Ford never had Universal studio publicity behind him the way Stroheim did in 1919-20. (Full pages ads featuring his face, with tag lines like “This is… Stroheim!”)

  • Alex Hicks

    A very eloquent tribute to two great films. Personally, I’d say that it’s QUIET MAN that tends to get more undervalued. I think QUIET MAN is one of the great cinematic loves stories, and among these, one of the most vital –an interesting departure from the comaprably lyrical but less energetic and extroverted romantic expressions of the Griffith’s TRUE HEART SUSIE, Vigo, Borzage, and even von Stroheim’s THE MERRY WIDOW and SWING TIME.

    On the other hand, I find HGWMV’s ambitions as social realism undercut by star turns (mostly in Irish rather than Welsh accent), an inflated melodrama of big moments (shades of Visconti’s ROCCO), overly stylized set), a rote application of the literary conventions of the idyllic traditional community destroyed by modernity, and a rather bombastic expression of it social contents. (What luck that Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and some Big Theater producer never reached for it.) Still, the material is rousing despite its touches of I REMEMBER MAMA and its Hugoesque hyperbole, Arthur Miller is in his own remarkable top form, and Ford is near the top of his ability to energetically orchestrate great resources (though I think he did so more nimbly thenabouts in STAGECOACH and perhaps GRAPES OF WRATH).

    As I expected,, BFI/Sight and Sound polling data show, if anything a preference for HGWNV over QUIET MAN (235 for HGWMV and 323 for QM). To my pleasant surprise among recently polled directors: 322 for QM vs. 546 for HGWMV. Among critics, its 322 for QM and 546 for HGWMV.

    In any case, Dave K. makes a great case for each.

    (Not so sure about the Fordian case for an “uncompromizing” ZERO DARK THIRTY, a film that Steve Coll’S “ ‘Disturbing’ & ‘Misleading’” in a recent number of THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS seems to me to compellingly establishes as a journalistic cheat.)

  • “Fox was based in west L.A., and its backlot eventually became Century City, a high-rise portion of Los Angeles. But most of “How Green Was My Valley” was shot at a replica of a Welsh mining town built in the Malibu Hills, just a few miles (as the crow flies) from the Fox studios.”

    This is another way the two films complement each other. The location work in “How Green Was My Valley” is manifestly a Mediterranean landscape with virtually no effort made to disguise the indigenous flora. And as Alex noted, names aside, the actors are more Irish in gesture and speech than Welsh. This does not work against the picture at all in my view, instead it universalizes the story. And as the various Ford biographers have shown, the Morgan family is the Feeney family disguised.

    Not mentioned yet is that Ford took over the project from William Wyler and made it entirely his own work no matter what what Philip Dunne contends.

    “The Quiet Man” is authentic in all the details. I knew Jimmy Fitzsimons who played Father Paul. “The Quiet Man” was his first picture he said that everyone had a great time during the shoot.

    Another actor I knew from the movie was Bob Perry (I was only 11 when he died but I have vivid memories of him,) aka Robert Emmett Perry. Ever since Peter Bogdanovich’s “John Ford” book was published Hank Worden was wrongly identified as the fight trainer in the flashback. In fact it’s Bob Perry who was in real life a trainer and referee as well as bit player and the owner of an Irish bar in Hollywood. He also appears in “Up the River,” “The Informer,” “The Last Hurrah,” and “The Long Voyage” where he received screen credit as Robert Emmett Perry.

  • Ken Bowser

    Hey Dave,
    Your always my favorite part of the Sunday Times. Where did that amazing photo of Ford and the kids come from?

  • Thanks for the kind words, Ken Bowser. The shot of Ford and the kids was supplied by Fox’s home video publicist, as was the image below of Ford and Roddy McDowall; Ford was misidentified as Rhys Williams on both which may explain why they haven’t been seen much before.

    J-P, I’m sorry to have offended you in re Welles, but I think as critics we have the right and duty to buck conventional wisdom from time to time, and after 30 years of reading how Welles was “robbed” of his Oscar by Ford, I do think it is permissible to suggest that the right film may well have won after all.

  • Barry Putterman

    The person who identified Ford as Rhys Williams must suffer the same affliction as did Dai Bando.

    Just wanted to add that I think that Jean-Pierre makes a solid point in reminding us that in 1941 Ford and VALLEY was the establishment choice and Welles and KANE was the unwelcome affront. In the 60s, some auteurists fancied themselves the revolutionaries storming the citadel of middlebrow good taste to plant the flag for the sneered upon genre films. But of course, Ford and Hawks and Lubitsch and Vidor were as much a part of the establishment as were Wyler and Stevens and Huston and Zinnemann. They just made better movies. It’s really hard to ignore 6 Academy Awards, even if they weren’t for his genre films. Now, some director/cinephile whose name slips my mind at the moment fancies himself the next generation of revolutionary and Ford gets attacked for the sins embedded in American history. The seasons just keep turning.

    Anyway, I can’t really think of a point that a debate about which of those two films should have won the Academy Award wouldn’t be besides. The question that always bothered was why THE QUIET MAN wasn’t called HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. I mean, it really couldn’t have gotten much greener.

  • Barry, you seem to have forgotten that “Kane” itself received nine Oscar nominations that year and won in one not entirely insignificant category. This would also seem to contradict J-P’s claim that “most everybody in Hollywood hated KANE.” It, too, was an establishment choice — just that of a slightly different, less numerous establishment. “Kane” was an affront only to the Hearst papers — it won best film from both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review, hardly bastions of radical thought then or now.

    I will agree, however, that discussing the Oscars is almost always beside the point.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Dave, “offended” is much too strong a word, I didn’t take offense, I just felt that “exuberant display of youthful iconoclasm” was more than a bit unfair to characterize Welles’s stunning achievement. Your remark, actually, could itself be viewed as an exuberant display of iconoclasm (note that I dropped the “youthful”). Also, I never said, wrote or even thought that Welles had been “robbed” of his Oscar by Ford, an idiotic statement, coming, I suppose, from people who prefer Welles to Ford (or at least this Welles film to that Ford film) and can’t accept the equal greatness of both. Suggesting that Ford was the greater artist in this case seems equally questionable.

  • Barry Putterman

    That’s true Dave. CITIZEN KANE was the choice of the New York establishment. And that same old theater vs. film, New York vs. Hollywood, cosmopolitan vs. small community, intellectual vs. elemental, Abbott vs. Costello war that rages through American cultural history remains at the heart of the KANE vs. VALLEY debate. And I suppose that that is the reason why otherwise sane people still feel the need to weigh in one one side or the other.

    Personally, I line up with Bert Williams on this one; I’m neutral.

  • David Cohen

    DAVE: Dearly love the Ford photos with the HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. Don’t remember seeing many such photographs of him working with children, though there must be some from THE HORSE SOLDIERS. (Sorry about mis-posting a question on this subject in the wrong discussion earlier.) If you don’t mind me asking, where do they come from?

    About the Academy Awards: It seems to me one should be happy this Ford / Welles duel was conducted in the 1940s, when the Academy actually did a pretty good job of honoring worthy movies. That’s opposed to, say, the 1980s – I think there might be one movie among the 10 best-picture winners in the 1980s that I’d sit through again. The 1950s are not a lot better.

  • Mark Mayerson

    X, thank you for identifying the fight trainer as Bob Perry. He never looked like Hank Worden to me, but I had no idea who he was.

    I’m looking forward to reading Lest We Forget: The John Ford Stock Company by Bill Levy and Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond by Scott Allen Nollen.

  • Michael Kastner

    The KANE/VALLEY debate reminds me of the Chaplin/Keaton debate. At such a high level, why quibble. However if Dave thinks Mrs Miniver is worthier choice than Ambersons we have a real problem.
    I too fall on the side of Quiet Man as undervalued today.Valley has more prestige but I actually could see it being made by another director (though with huge changes).
    Quiet Man, however is possibly the ultimate Ford. From story to cast to setting it’s all Ford. Each time I see it, though, it seems less a comedy. Wayne is haunted throughout & O’hara is one of Ford’s most complex women. Her mix of pride, pain & love is pretty amazing for it’s day & keeps the film very modern.

  • Robert Garrick

    Back in the late 1960s, I and several of my friends got copies of a book by Robert Osborne (whatever happened to him?) called “Academy Awards Illustrated.” It was hardcover, with no dust jacket, and it went through the history of the Oscars, year-by-year, with all of the nominated films and winners.

    We were all in about the 9th grade, living in Los Angeles, and we endeavored to see every film that had been nominated in a major category–picture, actor, actress, supporting actor and actress, and director. It was a competition, but we also loved the movies. By now we have all just about cleared the board, except for “lost films” like Lubitsch’s “The Patriot” (1928).

    From a qualitative standpoint, the Oscars are pretty close to valueless. But as film history, they are priceless. For me, they are the reason I took a bus to Hollywood Boulevard and went to the Nu-View Theatre, circa 1970, to see “Wings” in a 35mm copy. They are the reason I woke up at 3:00 AM (with school the next morning) to see “So Proudly We Hail” (1943, with a supporting nod for Paulette Goddard).

    When I was bored in AP Calculus, I’d make a grid on a piece of paper, starting with 1927, and list the winners in all six categories for every year from 1927 to the present.

    There’s film criticism and there’s film history. Oscars are a major part of film history, and I’m interested. It wasn’t just Oscar that snubbed “Kane.” I’ve mentioned before, on this site, that the “Sight & Sound” world critics poll ignored “Citizen Kane” in its first top ten list, in 1951, but suddenly ranked it in first place in 1961. What happened? I don’t know. But it’s interesting.

  • Robert Garrick

    Regarding John Ford and children: Remember that he directed Shirley Temple in “Wee Willie Winkie” (1937).

    It’s not Ford’s most interesting film, but it’s the reason Graham Greene went to Mexico in the late 1930s, leading to Greene’s masterpiece “The Power and the Glory,” the film version of which (“The Fugitive,” 1947) was ultimately directed by–John Ford.

  • Johan Andreasson

    “I’ve mentioned before, on this site, that the “Sight & Sound” world critics poll ignored “Citizen Kane” in its first top ten list, in 1951, but suddenly ranked it in first place in 1961. What happened? I don’t know. But it’s interesting.”

    Probably the re-release of KANE in 1956 did a lot to boost its reputation, just like the 1983 re-release did for VERTIGO.

  • Gregg Rickman

    I agree with Robert that the rise and fall of reputations is interesting… and can be objectively quantified, as by counting citations on the ‘net … or in this blog. Reputations rise, fall, are eclipsed or even erased (as with Allen Holubar and Robert Vigola).

    As I wrote above, Jack Ford was pretty much overlooked by the trade press of the late teens/1920s. (Indeed, Donald Crisp, then a director, got more write-ups than Ford!) But that has nothing to do with the qualities of the works when we see them today.

    So looking forward to seeing VALLEY again. My last viewing was a gorgeous 35mm print screened at the DGA in L.A…. introduced by Roddy McDowell. Hard to top that.

  • As someone who discovered Ford by his reputation as a director of Westerns (in my film history class we watched Stagecoach) discovering his other work was a major revelation. Films like: Grapes of Wrath, The Informer, Long Voyage Home, How Green Was My Valley, The Quiet Man… I might actually prefer them to the Westerns as they seem more grounded with the real world and the times that they were made.

    I like how in the Bogdanovich book Ford talks about how that at the end of the film how all of the characters come back that was something he got from the theater. He would use the same technique in The Long Gray Line.
    For anyone interested, I put up some of my favorite quotes from the book: http://torontofilmreview.blogspot.ca/2012/09/john-ford-speaks.html

    The Quiet Man has been getting a lot more attention recently. There is this new Blu-ray, a couple of years ago there was the documentary “Dreaming The Quiet Man” that is a look at the village where the film was shot and interviews with directors and academics about their thoughts on the film, and Jose Luis Guerin made a documentary/hybrid about it called “Innisfree” which is beautiful and poetic.

  • Yes, J-P, I actually do enjoy displays of iconoclasm, youthful or not, and value “Kane” very much as one, while still preferring later Welles films like “Ambersons,” “Touch of Evil” and “Chimes at Midnight.” That “How Green Was My Valley” is the work of a more mature and stylistically advanced artist than Welles was at that point in his career seems to me something that Welles himself would probably have agreed with — he certainly made no secret of his debt to Ford.

    So shall we move on to dogs versus cats, or Windows versus Mac?

  • jbryant

    Robert Garrick: I have a similar history re the Oscars–Osborne’s book was sort of a screening guide for me. As a kid into movies, I was always looking to figure out which ones were supposed to be good. With no fully-formed taste of my own, I looked to film history books and lists of award-winners. If Hollywood’s own awarded a film, it had to be good, right? So I’d go out of my way to see any Oscar-nominated film that popped up in the TV listings. Of course I eventually realized there was not necessarily a correlation between awards and quality, but the strategy did lead me to a lot of great films and certainly gave me a solid grounding in history of the American studio system. I’ve had a soft spot for the Oscars ever since, even though they rarely reward (or even nominate) my favorites.

  • Alex

    Roberty Garrick’s statement that HGWMV may be the “the best film to ever win” the Academy award for “Best Film,” while not one with which I’d quite agree was instructive. It got be to scan the list of the Academy’s “Best Film” winners for the first time in a while: How few winners I’d judge clearly better than HGWMV! I didn’t find more than dozen I might prefer to HGWMV; and I found very few I’d personally consider unequivocally better — the two GODFATHER winners, maybe CASABLANCA. None, most likely, that would convince big Ford fans.

    Also, not all film critics are Gonzo Fordists. At the 2012 BFI/S&S poll, guess what films tie with HGWMV for critics 235th best?

    ALL ABOUT EVE, BELLE DE JOUR — and that other truimph of socio-historical enlightenment, plush prduction values and vim and vigor, GONE WITH THE WIND! (I do, at least, prefer HGWMV to GWTW –though GWTW is pretty good through the Charleston Ball.)

  • ” My last viewing was a gorgeous 35mm print screened at the DGA in L.A…. introduced by Roddy McDowell. Hard to top that.”

    T the 1971 DGA screening Ford was in attendance along with Walter Pidgeon, and Raul Walsh was in the audience.

    “How Green Was My Valley” is fortunate in that there are more than a few good circulating 35mm prints in existence. I’ve never seen a bad print.

    “I’m looking forward to reading Lest We Forget: The John Ford Stock Company by Bill Levy and Three Bad Men: John Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond by Scott Allen Nollen”

    I hadn’t heard of these titles Mark. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Rick K.

    The changing tides of appreciation for HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY over the years may have something to do with the age its the core audience at the time of evaluation. When I first saw it back in the 1970s during my youthful prime as a cinephile, my consensus was one of relaxed admiration. That period (which would include the 60s as well) was a time of discovery for young film buffs, who were seeing older films in classes and campus film societies and writing about them, discovering Welles, Hawks and other auteurs for the first time, whose films seemed astonishingly fresh and vibrant compared to the acknowledged “poetry” of Ford. In fact, the Ford films (non-Westerns) would often fail to draw crowds at revival theaters, while TOUCH OF EVIL or THE BIG SLEEP nearly always guaranteed a full house. Screenings of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY seemed to be aimed more for “nostalgia” seekers, who were not necessarily active in the re-evaluation of classics except on a personal level, holding it in high esteem, reflecting the consensus when it first appeared during a streak of Ford successes.

    Jump forward to today, and the audience most appreciative of both HOW GREEN WAY MY VALLEY and CITIZEN KANE don’t parallel the “film school generation” crowds of that earlier period, but are, shall we say, largely of a hindsight contingent to whom Ford’s innate artistry and instinctive eloquence are observed with due perspective and greater significance. I say this not intending to ignore the younger cinephiles of today who admire Ford (and have a FORD AT FOX box to prove it!), who are most certainly out there, but likely of a minority, and I would suspect that the bulk of the consumers for these particular Ford blu-rays are more of Dave K.’s generation. As Dave points out, the blu-ray experience of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY is an exemplary one, almost guaranteed to enhance an appreciation of the film on whatever level it already held with the viewer, so lets hope it finds a growing audience to re-discover/discover it on this format, opposed to a current trend to simply stream movies on a portable device with the assumption that it properly represents the film.

  • Daniel F.

    Perhaps we may move on, if for a moment, to the loss of screenwriter Alan Sharp. One does not often see Sharp’s Robert Ludlum adaptation for Peckinpah, OSTERMAN WEEKEND (certainly it’s not Sharp’s most notable collaboration), glossed in the wake of the Bourne Identities. Truthfully, I’d love to see more films plumb socio-psychology with the intelligence of NIGHT MOVES, or of ULZANA’S RAID today.

    Per the above discussion, I actually enjoyed the tracing of camera development backwards from HGWMV, through their heightened use in CITIZEN KANE, and ostensibly — at least in a latent form — in the STAGECOACH print which Welles claimed to have imbibed 39 times at MOMA.

    My apologies if Sharp has been covered elsewhere on the forum.

  • Barry Putterman

    Daniel, since this forum is essentially about film history, there really only are new perspectives on topics that have been elsewhere covered. So, thanks for the Alan Sharp appreciation and please return with anything else you would like to say about Sharp, Ford, Welles or whatever.

  • Alex

    OSTERMAN WEEKEND is one of the least hokey and anti-climatic of Robert Ludlum novels — which always seemed to me written as airport bestsellers for guys not likely to be finished. However,OSTERMAN WEEKEND is not much of a film (whatever its script’s part in the debacle). (And I’m soemthing of a Peckinpah fan who thionks The Wild Bunch a major masterpiece and Cross of Iron, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid,Junior Bonner,, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, large chunks Major Dundee and Ride the High Country all very –or very, very– good.)

    More to the point, NIGHT MOVES aand ULZANA’S RAID are superb.

  • “the Ford films (non-Westerns) would often fail to draw crowds at revival theaters, while TOUCH OF EVIL or THE BIG SLEEP nearly always guaranteed a full house. Screenings of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY seemed to be aimed more for ‘nostalgia’ seekers”

    Come to think of it, I don’t recall any revival screenings of “How Green Was My Valley” except at Theater 80 in New York City and the Cine Club (also in NYC) during the 1970s. During that time I did see museum screenings, both at LACMA and MOMA, and also at UCLA. The same is true for “Young Mr. Lincoln.” Those living in Chicago may have a different experience.

  • Rob Leith

    I think that HGWMV suffered critically in comparison to some of Ford’s later work because it came from a period of what one could call quality cinema during which he made several films from renowned literary sources with extensive studio support (Grapes of Wrath and Long Voyage Home being the other prime examples). Consequently Ford’s contributions had to compete with Richard Llewellyn (it is an excellent novel), John Steinbeck, and Eugene O’Neill for authorial credit, unlike almost all his work after 1946 (when he used mainly less prestigious screenwriters and location shooting). I have always loved the film and endorse Sarris’s wonderful comment that he had “never known anyone who could remain dry-eyed through Roddy McDowall’s desperate search through the flooded mineshaft for his trapped father.” McDowall gives one of the great child screen performances. It is a superb film about fathers and sons (for this reason Dave’s photos of Ford with all those children seem especially apt), another “privileged moment” being the one when all the sons but McDowell desert the dinner table to join the striking miners, following which McDowell drops his spoon to attract his father’s attention; Donald Crisp, in the best performance of his career, acknowledges him with “Yes, my son, I know you are there.” The voice-over throughout the film and especially at the end (“Men like my father never die….”), eloquently read by Rhys “He is the blood of my heart” Williams, is extraordinarily moving. Incidentally, when Stuart Byron published an eloquent obituary to Ford in Boston’s The Real Paper, he concluded with a sidebar on “My Five Favorite Ford Films” by nine critics. Four of them included HGWMV, including Sarris (in a three-way tie for fifth), Martin Rubin (#2), Jon Landau (#3), and Byron himself (#2). At the time I made a note of my own five favorites, which were: HGWMV, The Quiet Man, The Searchers, The Wings of Eagles, and, in a tie, The Sun Shines Bright and The Long Grey Line. I would rank them differently today but still feel an enormous affection for How Green Was My Valley.

  • Daniel F.

    Barry, thanks for the supportive words. I’m happy to contribute what little I can to the wealth of insights on offer here. And Alex, I quite concur with your statements. I might add THE GETAWAY to your Peckinpah list, at least for the enjoyment of the performances, even if not a spectacularly original film. I’m also looking forward to giving CROSS OF IRON a better look.

    Re: Ludlum novels — and yes, I don’t think I’ve ever made it all the way through one myself — I was more wondering aloud: “relatively speaking, what if a Sharp adaptation of Ludlum had been given big, studio backing in the early aughts, with a high-grossing draw like Matt Damon? Would it have been as successful? Had Sharp contributed (in good form, one would hypothetically hope), would Sharp’s typical depth and shadings of character have been appreciated, or even have remained intact beyond pre-production?” As has likely been stated elsewhere, I don’t think lackluster source material is necessarily a drawback in this respect; in some cases, a third-rate potboiler, or its generic equivalent, can provide a filmic advantage. To circle briefly back to Welles, one need only think of TOUCH OF EVIL, and Welles’s avowed (again, anecdotal, as often seems the case with Welles) contempt for the original novel.

    Though it’s been quite some time since I saw it last, OSTERMAN WEEKEND really didn’t strike me as the collective success it may have been, considering the respective talents contributing to it. Alas, these things happen.

  • Jonah

    I agree that “How Green” is second to none among American films–perhaps films, tout court. That said, the Walter Pidgeon-Maureen O’Hara subplot never really convinces me. I can’t recall if it was Joseph McBride or Andrew Sarris who pointed this out, but Pidgeon’s motivations would make more sense if he was a Catholic priest–if his love for O’Hara were well and truly verboten, as opposed to just inconvenient for her. As it stands I never felt his angst is adequately explained and, as beautifully shot and staged as it is, the confrontation scene feels a bit schematic, forced as a result. I also feel that Pidegon was a bit miscast: too old, maybe, not dashing enough, too stentorian in his delivery (even though he _is_ playing a preacher). I think he became a better (character) actor later in his career.

    I’ve spoken to a few fans of the book who feel, unaccountably in my opinion, that the film is a kind of whitewash. Perhaps it’s the final images and voice-over narration that make the film seem like rosy-eyed nostalgia to them, but given all that’s come before (and the devastation promised by the opening scene), the ending has always struck me as powerfully sad.

    I do think it’s fair to suggest that the film may not have won the Academy Award for entirely the right reasons. I get the feeling it was being rewarded for its epic sweep, its literary pedigree, and Ford’s reputation as much as anything else. It was a blockbuster in its day, designed as such. That it happened to be masterful isn’t completely beside the point as far as the Oscars were concerned… but… this is the same Academy that gave its highest honor to “The Life of Emile Zola” a few years before, and to “Gentleman’s Agreement” a few years later.

  • “The voice-over throughout the film and especially at the end (“Men like my father never die….”), eloquently read by Rhys “He is the blood of my heart” Williams, is extraordinarily moving.”

    Williams’ voice over was replaced by Irving Pichel’s voice (Williams, of course, was an authentic Welshman.)

  • Jonah

    Also, as usual, the screenwriter gets short shrift whenever people praise this film. I get the feeling that in comparison to Ford’s work with (e.g.) Frank S. Nugent, he wasn’t as insistent of a collaborator (or rather, co-writer) on this film, and the film’s brilliant embedded/episodic structure is really Dunne’s doing, as are the many incisive and efficient character portraits. I am not belittling Ford’s work, for this film is unimaginable as anyone else’s, but just pointing out that Dunne should be given a great deal of credit. (Interesting that he eventually moved into Oscar-bait sword-and-sandals epics; a betrayal of his talents, to some degree. Apart from his screenplays Dunne was a hero: an activist and later leader with the WGA, a prominent opponent of McCarthyite witch hunting.)

  • Barry Lane

    Jonah, I don’t think you could be more wrong relative to the Pidgeon-O’Hara subplot. It is a reflection, not just of the time but the parochial atmosphere of its place. This is made clear throughout each thread. The desire is palpable especially on Pidgeon’s part. A young man would probably and realistically be inappropriate. Here I am thinking of the struggle to become a man of education and position. He could not possibly throw away his prior effort or the community’s current need. Little that he can do is better than the nothing without him. And, of course, there is Huw…a beneficiary of all that has transpired. In any case, I see the relationship as sensual, unfillfilled and responsible.

  • “the film’s brilliant embedded/episodic structure is really Dunne’s doing, as are the many incisive and efficient character portraits. I am not belittling Ford’s work, for this film is unimaginable as anyone else’s, but just pointing out that Dunne should be given a great deal of credit.”

    Well, Dunne in his autobiography claims the film as entirely his own with a little help from William Wyler who cast Roddy McDowall, and that Ford merely stepped into the director’s shoes and picked up where Wyler left off.

    I don’t have McBride’s Ford biography at hand and I don’t remember what he had to say about Ford re-shaping the screenplay, but if Ford didn’t change a thing, then it was indeed fortuitous that he got an assignment that fit his sensibility like a glove.

    “I’ve spoken to a few fans of the book who feel, unaccountably in my opinion, that the film is a kind of whitewash.”

    Welsh fans of the book are very disappointed with the movie in as much as it lacks verisimilitude to Wales and the Welsh mining community; it could very well be an Irish-American mining town in Pennsylvania. This doesn’t harm the movie for me though, nor I would guess for most viewers since it rings emotionally true as Ford has realized it.

  • “the film’s brilliant embedded/episodic structure is really Dunne’s doing, as are the many incisive and efficient character portraits. I am not belittling Ford’s work, for this film is unimaginable as anyone else’s, but just pointing out that Dunne should be given a great deal of credit.”

    Well, Dunne in his autobiography claims the film as entirely his own with a little help from William Wyler who cast Roddy McDowall, and that Ford merely stepped into the director’s shoes and picked up where Wyler left off.

    I don’t have McBride’s Ford biography at hand and I don’t remember what he had to say about Ford re-shaping the screenplay, but if Ford didn’t change a thing, then it was indeed fortuitous that he got an assignment that fit his sensibility like a glove.

    “I’ve spoken to a few fans of the book who feel, unaccountably in my opinion, that the film is a kind of whitewash.”

    Welsh fans of the book are very disappointed with the movie in as much as it lacks verisimilitude to Wales and the Welsh mining community; it could very well be an Irish-American mining town in Pennsylvania. This doesn’t harm the movie for me though, nor I would guess for most viewers since it rings emotionally true as Ford has realized it.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, possibly everybody could do with another reading of Philip Dunne’s autobiography. He writes as length about HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and makes many points. a summery of which might go something like; 1. Dunne was a believer in the studio system of filmmaking and a very vocal opponent of auteurism which was taking hold in film criticism at the time he was writing the book. 2. As a studio system devotee, he felt that Darryl Zanuck was the ultimate influence on all Fox films. 3. If anybody is the “auteur” of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY it was the novelist. 4. He is very proud of the work he did writing the screenplay. 5. He wrote it with input from William Wyler who was set to direct. 6. John Ford replaced Wyler as the director not long before filming began. 7. The only change that Ford asked for was the re-writing of one of the supporting characters so that Ford could cast Barry Fitzgerald in the role. 8. William Wyler and John Ford are both great movie directors. 9. Had Wyler directed, there would have been differences in tone and emphasis, but it would have been essentially the same movie.

    Dunne also had a more complex relationship to the blacklist era as well. He was both fervently anti-blacklist and anti-Communist and writes at great length against both groups behavior during the period.

    It is a very interesting book by an intelligent, well spoken, honest man. And I was not in agreement with him on a number of aesthetic points.

    By the way, I had occasion to re-watch NO TIME FOR LOVE last night. In it, Rhys Williams plays an Irish-American sandhog complete with brogue. I thought that he was quite good in the part. That’s why his business card read “actor.”

  • Gregg Rickman

    Well, X, “the 1971 DGA screening [with] Ford in attendance along with Walter Pidgeon” does top my seeing the film introduced by Roddy McDowell. I meant, however, was that particular screening would be hard to top now!

    Regarding obituaries, no one’s mentioned the passing last week of John Kerr, an actor I’ve always liked for his believably adenoidal awkwardness as troubled teens in Minnelli’s TEA AND SYMPATHY and THE COBWEB. Lots of grace notes in his performances, as with his walking like a man in TEA, his reaction when he realizes he’s wrapped in the famous drapes at the end of COBWEB, or his discussion of art with Gloria Grahame at the beginning of the same film. Without being rude, can I say I’m glad Kerr was cast in COBWEB instead of James Dean? (Warners asked Metro for too much money, as I recall.) I only like Dean in REBEL, and even then he’s too old for the part, and he dates the film more than Kerr dates his. On the other hand, Dean may have found Minnelli a more simpatico director than Kazan (and certainly Stevens). Brian and Blake might be able to chip in some more on John Kerr, but I’m just happy to enjoy the lively discussion of Ford.

  • Robert Garrick

    William Wyler, only two years before he would have directed “How Green Was My Valley, had directed another epic love story, set in the U.K., with mystical, tragic overtones, and with a soaring score by Alfred Newman and cinematography by a great cameraman. It had a strong producer, too. That film was “Wuthering Heights” (1939), and if you want to know why directors matter, think of that film and then think of “How Green Was My Valley.”

    I’m not talking about a difference in quality, though I do believe that “How Green Was My Valley” is much the better film. I’m talking more about a difference in tone (the latter film is much warmer) and in weight.

    Ford, as I noted earlier in this thread, had nothing but good things to say about Philip Dunne’s script, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he filmed it just as it had been written for William Wyler. Barry’s summary of Dunne’s book (which I haven’t read) is extremely interesting.

    If “How Green Was My Valley” was something of a contract film for Ford, with Ford hired at the last minute to direct a project that had been almost fully prepared for another director, what does it say about him that the film is so utterly his own, so consistent with his life’s work? (It’s worth noting, too, that Ford shot the entire film in two months.)

    I watched “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949) last night, for maybe the twentieth time, and while that film is great beyond measure, it does have some little bits of business that I could do without. I quote Sarris a lot on this blog, and I remember Sarris saying that he didn’t care for “drunken Irish humor.” You don’t get any of that in “How Green Was My Valley,” and maybe that’s one reason it’s so high on Sarris’s list.

  • Robert Garrick

    All right, Gregg, since you brought up John Kerr, I am obliged to point out that he was the helpless guy in the oxygen tent in the Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode “An Unlocked Window” (1965), which has been mentioned on this blog numerous times. It was directed by Joseph M. Newman, with photography by Stanley Cortez, music by Bernard Herrmann, a script by James Bridges, and it was filmed at the “Psycho” house on the Universal backlot. Quite a few people (including yours truly) would rate it the most frightening hour of dramatic fiction in the history of television.

    Also, Kerr was the hapless guy strapped to the bench at the end of Roger Corman’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1961). (At least he wasn’t in an oxygen tent.) Vincent Price: “Do you know where you are, Bartolome? You’re about to enter Hell, Bartolome.”

    Eventually, Kerr quit the business and became a lawyer.

  • Jonah

    “Dunne also had a more complex relationship to the blacklist era as well. He was both fervently anti-blacklist and anti-Communist and writes at great length against both groups behavior during the period.”

    In retrospect, this seems like an admirable (at the very least, a justifiable) position, and not an easy one to maintain at the time: despite having little sympathy for Communist ideology, he went to considerable lengths, at some real risk to his career, to defend their ability to hold and speak their views and continue to work in Hollywood.

    As for the Pidgeon-O’Hara romance, I’m glad that it works for you, Barry–as it no doubt does for many. I do think the only really logical reason that Pidgeon keeps himself from O’Hara is because he doesn’t feel he can give her the future he believes she deserves (pointedly not the future she wants, which is just one of the film’s brutal ironies). Perhaps I’m missing something about the social system that’s being depicted, but I don’t see how him marrying O’Hara would be scandalous, much less cost him his position in the town. It’s his outspokenness that threatens his job, as the film makes explicit. I guess ultimately it comes down to whether you “feel” any sensual connection between the actors/characters, and I just don’t–or rather it’s all radiating from O’Hara, not reciprocated or strongly reflected by Pidgeon.

    Dunne definitely reveals some misguided ideas in his autobio, but I don’t see that as diminishing the greatness of his screenplay in this instance. His attitudes were a outgrowth of his lifelong work to get screenwriters more respect within the studio system. Even if I disagree with his conclusions about film authorship, I respect that.

    This conversation could go on and on and around and around, but I’ll give it a shot anyhow: just as postwar auteurism did a lot to dispel some critical commonplaces that had mystified the filmmaking process, one of the legacies of auteurism has been a frequent critical indifference to the role of the screenwriter which itself can produce a distorted conception of film authorship. Maybe it’s just a journalistic convenience, but I shudder a little every time a critic ascribes to a director a choice that is just as likely to have been the work of the screenwriter. With some critics, it seems that only if the screenwriter is a coequal celebrity (say, Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg) will they pointedly give him/her some explicit credit. The response should not be to do for screenwriters what Sarris had done for directors (the book I’m thinking of, whose name I can’t remember at the moment, has all of the flaws of Sarris’s typologies and pithy judgments and little of his sureness and authority and wit) but just to be more attentive to the processes of collaboration that (differently) mark any film.

  • Barry Putterman

    Jonah, I’m afraid you are compressing a bit here. x is the one who said the the O’Hara-Pidgeon relationship worked for him. I’m the guy who said that Rhys Williams did a good Irish brogue in NO TIME FOR LOVE. And the reason I was taking another look at that film is that I’ve been dared to write something about its screenwriter, whom I think is central to most of the films he worked on.

    That I’m not in aesthetic agreement with Philip Dunne on a number of points takes nothing away from his ability as a writer. I sincerely doubt that anybody who loves HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY does not think that Dunne’s work on that film was magnificent.

    The business of attributing everything to the director is something that gets thrown up at auteuriism on a regular basis. And all I can say here is what I say every time it comes up; attributing everything to the director is sloppy history and shallow analysis regardless of your aesthetic orientation; and serious critics, regardless of their aesthetic orientation, don’t indulge in it.

    By the way, I believe that the book you are referring to was written by Richard Corliss. I’m not sure about the title, but I think that it was something like “Talking Pictures.”

  • Barry Lane

    Jonah was, I believe, responding to my comment on the Pidgeon-O’Hara subplot.

  • Barry Putterman

    Yes Mr. Lane, you are right. In between two paragraphs regarding my comments about Philip Dunne is one about your comments regarding the O’Hara-Pidgeon subplot.

    Clearly one of us is going to have to change his name.

  • Robert Garrick

    Jonah is indeed thinking of “Talking Pictures,” first published in 1974, and written by Richard Corliss who was then the influential editor of “Film Comment.” Back then Corliss was in Sarris’s thrall (as were many of us), to the extent that Corliss mimicked Sarris’s rather clunky writing style. At some point Corliss “disowned his alliteration” (I forget who said that) and his prose at Time Magazine has been more straightforward.

    “Talking Pictures” was a self-conscious tribute–“an homage”–to “The American Cinema.” I think Corliss would agree with that. (And it would be great if he would comment here!) Corliss, in his acknowledgements, credits Sarris’s “pioneering work and heroically tolerant guidance.” Sarris contributed a warm introduction to the book, but made it clear that he disagreed with Corliss’s premise that the screenwriter was the most crucial author of a film.

    The book has categories, comparable to the ones in “The American Cinema.” At the top we have “The Author-Auteurs” (Ben Hecht, Preston Sturges, Norman Krasna, Frank Tashlin, George Axelrod, Peter Stone, Howard Koch, Borden Chase, Abraham Polonsky, and Billy Wilder). Then we have “The Stylists,” “Themes in Search of a Style,” “The Chameleons,” and “A New Wind From the East.” Philip Dunne is not in the book, and neither is Alan Sharp, but Sharp’s career was just getting started in 1974.

    It’s a good book, well worth owning, but like Sarris I disagree with its most fundamental idea.

    Sarris would be the last guy to attribute everything to the director, and he would also be the last guy to say that every director was an “auteur.” He would agree that many films are dominated by the writer’s contribution more than by the director’s.

    Where that’s true, it’s unfortunate, because a great director can add so much. As Nicholas Ray said: “If it’s all in the script, why make the film”?

  • Johan Andreasson

    ”Welsh fans of the book are very disappointed with the movie in as much as it lacks verisimilitude to Wales and the Welsh mining community; it could very well be an Irish-American mining town in Pennsylvania. This doesn’t harm the movie for me though, nor I would guess for most viewers since it rings emotionally true as Ford has realized it.”

    I’ve been to Wales but not to Pennsylvania, so I can’t make a direct comparison, but still I agree very much with the above comment by X. There is a 1975 BBC production of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY with a dominantly Welsh cast of excellent actors headed by Stanley Baker (his last performance) and Siân Phillips which I remember as well made but not with anywhere near the emotional impact of the Ford movie.

  • “Eventually, Kerr quit the business and became a lawyer.”

    I heard Kerr give an interview at a Hollywood nostalgia show at the Beverly Garland Hotel (sic) in North Hollywood with his co-star from “South Pacific” France Nuyen several years ago. Kerr said he quit the movie business because of bad experiences with agents, though he spoke warmly of his co-workers including Vincente Minelli among directors and Vincent Price among actors, and of course France Nuyen.