Often overshadowed by “Citizen Kane”, “How Green Was My Valley” was a progressive film and yet more fitting of its time.
As my friends and family know, I’m a fan of film. I am probably more passionate about cinema than I am about most things. I own over a thousand titles, actually, that number is over 1300 (including television series, documentaries, etc). I own every Oscar Best Picture winner from Wings to Nomadland (CODA isn’t available on disc anywhere as of yet), as well as most of the best picture nominees, many of the films that have winners in the major categories, as well as a boatload of others.
One of the things I am most annoyed by is whenever a list of “Oscar Mistakes” comes out (cf https://www.cbr.com/oscars-wrong-side-of-history/#crash-beat-brokeback-mountain-and-capote-to-snag-best-picture-in-2005 & https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/oscars-worst-films-winners-crash-b2271708.html for recent examples), and every one of them decries how “Citizen Kane” lost best picture to “How Green Was My Valley” (and often as well the fact that Orson Welles lost Best Director to John Ford).
What critics who pan “How Green Was My Valley” seem to forget is this — the John Ford directed film was also very innovative technically, and the storyline, a multi-generational saga of a Welsh family’s triumphs and tragedies, it was a prestige film in its time that was arguably tailor-made for its era (adapted from a popular novel, as were many best picture winners, especially in the earlier years of the Academy Awards), and undeniably well reflects its values a lot more than Citizen Kane did (which with its ingrained cynicism is a better fit for the post-WW2…post-1960s era). And lets not forget that HGWMV not just beat Kane, it also beat “The Maltese Falcon” and “Sergeant York”, both of them classics in their own right that also redefined cinema.
Now, I love Orson Welles, he was a great director/producer, and he did very innovative work, and as much as “Citizen Kane” was praised, his favourite of his own films was “Chimes at Midnight”, the film that many film critics (and I) think was his finest work — it’s a comedic yet serious take on political power through the lens of Sir John Falstaff (it has been described as the best Shakespearean work on film ever — cf: https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Movies/2016/0106/Orson-Welles-Chimes-at-Midnight-is-likely-the-greatest-Shakespearean-film-ever ). “Citizen Kane” is great, and it changed the world, but that’s easy to see in 50–80 years of hindsight. At the time, CK was an oddball film that took a thinly veiled swipe at a very much then alive William Randolph Hearst, whilst HGWMV was in many ways also a “safer” picture to award.
In HGWMV, the older Huw says: “Empty bellies and desperation began to conquer reason” in the film, and that’s even more true now than it was then, in the midst of WW2 with recent memories of the Great Depression fresh in everyone’s mind. The depiction of fair pay and rights for workers in HGWMV remains an ever so relevant point of discussion (go look at Starbucks and Amazon for two recent examples of that).
Let me also note that How Green Was My Valley won John Ford his third of fourth best director Oscars for directing it (he also won for 1935’s The Informer, 1940’s Grapes of Wrath, and 1952’s The Quiet Man) on top of the two documentaries her directed that won the best documentary Oscar (The Battle of Midway (1942) and December 7th (1943) — although best documentary Oscars go to their producers, not their directors — meaning the US Navy was awarded both Oscars). Orson Welles was great, no doubt, but so was John Ford. The irony of it is, John Ford, who was noted as a director of Westerns…won his four Oscars for films other than Westerns.
Crash & Around the World in 80 Days — the criticisms of those films are ones I generally agree with (although Crash was set in LA and Around the World in 80 Days had cameos of virtually every major star of that era, so both scratched the Academy’s itch), but sometimes, a great film loses to another great film, as happened here in this case.
[Note: This Medium post was originally crafted for my personal Facebook page, but I decided that I’d share it publicly as well, ergo its share to Medium.]