How Green Was My Valley is the movie that beat Citizen Kane. Making it one of the earliest upsets in the Best Picture race. It’s a shame How Green Was My Valley developed that reputation, because it is worthy in its own right. It was the second year in a row that John Ford won for Best Director. Both The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley were based on best-selling novels and both deal with similar themes of family struggling through hard times. The latter is set in a Welsh mining community.
Although Citizen Kane is far more ambitious, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction were also worthy wins that brought the valley setting to life. Like the Joads, the Morgans are a large tight-knit family that struggle to stay together. There’s the old fashioned patriarch Gwilym, caring matriarch Beth, only daughter Angharad, five grown up sons Ianto, Ivor, Davy, Gwilym Jr., Owen, and youngest son Huw. Most of the movie is seen through Huw’s young eyes as he’s forced to grow up and become a man. A very young Roddy McDowall commands the screen several years before he went ape.
Donald Crisp won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Gwilym. Not counting Ivor’s wife Bronwen, Angharad is the one female family member with the best arc. She falls for dashing local pastor Mr. Gruffydd. Maureen O’Hara and Walter Pidgeon have plenty of chemistry, but Gruffydd is just as instrumental in Huw’s life. The scene where Gruffydd encourages Huw to walk again being a particular stand out. Although a mining strike, pregidous teachers, scandal, and a fire threaten to tear apart the family, the greenness of the valley will never be forgotten. Citizen Kane will be remembered, but How Green is My Valley will never die.