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.