Why all the hate towards How Green Was My Valley?
by Martin Hafer
I recently read an article on the Alot Living webpage entitled 15 Films That Didn’t Deserve An Oscar. I usually hate lists like this but was surprised that I actually agreed with all their choices, such as with Birdman and Shakespeare in Love winning the Best Picture award. However, one of the 15 selections bothered me…and it’s been bothering me for years..long before this article appeared. The article said that the classic John Ford film How Green Was My Valley did not deserve this Oscar as well. Well, I can’t fault them too much for saying this, as I have often heard folks saying that this was the case…and that Citizen Kane really was screwed out of the award. I’ve even read opinions saying that this was perhaps the greatest tragedy in the history of the Oscars. And I have a gripe with that, as I actually do believe that the Ford film was the better of the two…something you’ll rarely hear any film lover say.
Now there are some good reasons why folks were upset at Citizen Kane not taking how the award. It was incredibly innovative…especially when it came to the camera work. The lighting, angles and composition of the film are unique to its time and greatly influenced pictures that followed. There also was the controversy stirred up by the film and the press reaction to it that upset many fans. After all, the picture was a thinly veiled attack on William Randolph Hearst…the owner of the biggest chain of newspapers in the country. He used the might of his papers to slam the film and there’s been talk that he probably used his influence to get the Academy to vote against Kane for Best Picture.
Despite all this, I see no reason not to love Citizen Kane as well as How Green Was My Valley. Both are excellent films. The notion that you must hate the Oscar winner out of loyalty to Kane is ludicrous—though I have often seen folks trashing How Green Was My Valley. Like them both.
Here is where I am stepping out on a limb. Although I really like both, I think How Green Was My Valley was the more deserving picture. Although Kane fans would probably disagree, Citizen Kane was far from a bio-pic and in many ways it was a hatchet job by Orson Welles. While Hearst had quite a few personal deficiencies, the film portrays him almost like he’s the brother of Satan himself and his lover, Marion Davies, like a pathetic loser. This was harsh…very harsh and an exaggeration…almost turning them into caricatures instead of real people. But the names were changed as well as a few details of Charles Foster Kane’s life in the film, so Welles had deniability and could legally claim it was not a bio-pic…even though practically everyone thought at the time that it was an exposé on Hearst.
How Green Was Valley is probably John Ford’s best film and he’s considered by many to be one of America’s best directors…and who earned four Best Director awards. While Welles’ film was technically brilliant, Ford’s was emotionally brilliant…and grabs onto your heart like very few other movies can do. As a result, it leaves you drained by the time it’s over…but a good sort of drained. Additionally, technically it also is a masterpiece. Although the film was set in Wales, World War Two was raging and filming in the UK was both impractical and dangerous. As a result, they had to use nearby locations and make them look like Wales. I have visited Wales several times myself and love how Ford and his crew were able to make Santa Monica (near Malibu) look authentic. This, by the way, was why Ford filmed the picture in black and white….the California coast just isn’t the same incredibly deep green you’d find in Wales…but they sure about as close as possible given the circumstances.
Before you write and tell me how incredibly insane I am for bucking popular opinion and preferring How Green Was My Valley, try a little movie marathon and see both pictures. Then, if you still doubt my sanity, please tell me how I am wrong. Or, conversely, I’d love to hear from you if you think I am right! Stranger things have been known to happen.