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How Green Was My Valley: Fox Studio Classics

In the 1941 How Green Was My Valley, John Ford's final film before America's entry into World War II (making documentaries for the Navy, he wouldn't direct another commercial feature until 1945's They Were Expendable), the director adapted Richard Llewelyn's popular novel about life in a 19th-century Welsh mining town to explore one of his favorite themes — how people, and especially families and communities, react to social pressures and social changes. In '41 Ford was wrapping up a three-year stretch of successful films that included such American masterpieces as Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln, Drums Along the Mohawk, and The Grapes of Wrath. How Green Was My Valley concluded this brief, enormously prolific period of Ford's career, and the film won five Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture (yes, this is the film that beat Citizen Kane). A young Roddy McDowell stars as Huw Morgan, the youngest lad in the Morgan household, where he lives with his mother and father (Sarah Allgood and Donald Crisp), his sister Angharad (Maureen O'Hara), and his five older brothers. All the men in the household but Huw work in the local coal mine, which blackens the surrounding hills with every passing year, but the much-younger Huw is expected to go to school and eventually earn his living as an educated gentleman. Because of this, he is often sheltered from the adult world his family inhabits, including his sister's unhappy marriage to a wealthy suitor, the battle to unionize the workers in the coal mine, and his father's resistance to the union — which comes at a price. But Huw watches and remembers everything as the history of his family, and his valley, unfolds, guided by his mentor, Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pigeon), the local preacher who is often the lone voice of reason in a town too often given over to gossip and infighting. Ford's How Green Was My Valley is a useful bookend to The Grapes of Wrath, as both were made at essentially the same time and examine family members in the face of social changes and economic hardships. But How Green Was My Valley is the more intimate film of the two, focusing less on social issues and more on the value of the family unit, which, to Ford, has the capacity to endure and find strength from within no matter what challenges may lie down the road. Fox's second DVD edition of How Green Was My Valley, part of the "Fox Studio Classics" imprint, improves somewhat over the previous DVD release. Still on board is the solid transfer from the restored negative at the UCLA film archive, and the monaural audio (DD 2.0) is now complemented by an optional stereo mix. New is a commentary track featuring edited comments from actress Anna Lee Nathan and John Ford biographer Joseph McBride, as well as an AMC "Hollywood Backstories" feature (24 min.). The commentary track and the documentary flesh out many details on the film's making, contributing to an outstanding DVD of a vital American movie. Also included (from the previous DVD) are stills and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.

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