This tale of the dissipation of a Welsh coal-mining family at the turn of the twentieth century was intended to be another Gone with the Wind. While John Ford didn’t make the epic Daryl Zanuck had in mind, it still took Best Picture honors over Citizen Kane.
The nostalgic reminisences of an aging miner driven from his home by the encroaching slag heap which has destroyed the lovely Welsh valley of his childhood memories were recounted by Richard Llewellyn in his novel How Green Was My Valley. A screen version of such a book is a bold project, but Darryl Zanuck as producer and John Ford as director have succeeded in capturing to a remarkable degree the atmosphere of the novel. The film has been produced with elaborate care: a Welsh mining village built in the Ventura hills has been made, by skillful use of the camera, to seen both authentic and beautiful; the actors almost succeed in lending an air of reality to the highly idealized characters of the story; and the screen play has been contrived with an economy of dialogue and a quiet humor which are unusual and commendable.
The faults of the picture originate in the novel. There the characters are seen through the eyes of a child–the good are perfect, the wicked are damned – but since it is a child who sketches this oversimplified picture, the reader may add a few daubs and smears of his own, and proceed undisturbed by the unnatural greenness of the valley and the supernatural wisdom and goodness of some of its inhabitants. But here in two dimensions are Dada and Mrs. Morgan, Bronwen and Angharad, without any, of the humanizing faults which the reader, at his fancy, might endow them with – all too good to be true.
Then, too, in attempting to include too much, the film has emerged episodic and formless to an unnecessary degree, and many of the dramatic possibilities of the book have been thrown away. For instance, the development of the miners’ union in the valley is traced with considerable detail in the book and provides some excellent dramatic material, but in the screen version the matter is hastily confided, with a few highminded remarks from the preacher, Mr. Gruffyd, to the hands of God. Nevertheless, this is a serious film, beautifully photographed and brilliantly acted, particularly by Donald Crisp, Sara Allgood, and Roddy McDowall. There is some fine singing by a Welsh choir, and only in the very cinematic ending does the picture succumb to the conventional.
Why anyone should choose to live in such a dank deserted spot as that inhabited by the characters in Ladies in Retirement, and, moreover, why anyone should go to the lengths of killing off a nice old lady in order to remain in the company of two rather messy lunatics, are questions that the dramatist has left unanswered. But for those who are not too concerned with probabilities and who enjoy their murders flavored with a dash of psychology, this version of last year’s stage success should provide a pleasing chill. There is plenty of suspense, and there is an unpleasant and convincing portrait of a crazy woman by Elsa Lanthester; and while Ida Lupino has often been seen to better advantage, she does as nice a strangulation job as one could hope for. The picture is chiefly notable for its odd conception of the Essex marshes, where fog resembling boles of cotton hangs perpetually in the air, and the general impression is of an antediluvian swamp.
The American public will probably require more than a film like One Day in the Soviet Union, and the unctuous assurances of Quentin Reynolds, to convince them that, as Mr. Reynolds proclaims in his commentary, the Russians are “people like us.” Poorly constructed and photographed, this picture is a bad blunder in propaganda. Tractors and factories and undergrournds have ceased to be wonders in this country, and the pride the picture takes in the cultural and scientific developments of Soviet Russia seems very naive when accompanied by an invitation to compare them with American achievements. Despite many statements to the contrary, most people are convinced that the Russians are human beings and would be more interested in an explanation of their way of life than in assurances that they are almost civilized.