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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: Movies By John Ford

How Green Was My Valley (Also Blu-ray) (Four Stars)
U.S.: John Ford, 1941 (20th Century Fox )

How Green Was My Valley is one of the most moving and physically beautiful (and, of course, Fordian) of all Golden Age Hollywood studio classics; it‘s also the movie that beat out Citizen Kane for the 1941 Best Picture Oscar. And though Kane certainly should have won (in 1941 or any other year), How Green Was My Valley is almost as great an achievement. Ford, of course, was also one of Orson Welles’ main models and mentors.

Valley is also one of the most memorable and most typical of all the great John Ford films: a classic adaptation of novelist Richard Llewellyn‘s semi-autobiographical story of a Welsh boyhood, the dissolution of a family and the fierce and ultimately ruinous labor struggles fought over the lives and livelihood of the workers in the coal mines. The project was originally intended for director William Wyler, and it has a more polished, jewel-like, Wyler-like quality than many of Ford’ rougher-hewn masterpieces — though Ford gives this family saga a rowdiness and spontaneity that Wyler probably couldn’t have mustered. (Ford liked to use first takes; Wyler was capable of running to 50 or more. And Wyler would have been the first to admit Ford probably got the finer results.)

How Green Was My Valley is seen through  the eyes of young Huw Morgan, Llewellyn’s literary surrogate and it’s one of the most magical, poignant, exciting movie childhoods ever — from the glowing portrayals of the Morgan family home life  through the day when the minister, Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon) brings Huw a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” to read while he recovers from injuries, to the last shattering tableau of the mine disaster and what it left behind.

There’s a marvelous prime Fox company of players and behind-the-camera talent — producer Darryl F. Zanuck, a script by Philip Dunne, cinematography by Arthur Miller, music by Alfred Newman, editing by James B. Clark, production design by Richard Day and Nathan Juran.

The magnificent cast includes Walter Pidgeon as the heroic pro-union minister,  Gruffydd, Maureen O‘Hara as sister Andharad, the fiery colleen who loves the preacher but marries the boss‘s son, Donald Crisp and  Sara Allgood as two of the best and finest parents a movie boy ever had, Anna Lee as Huw‘s big crush Bronwen, Rhys Williams and Barry Fitzgerald  as Dai Bando and Cyfartha, the two brawling boy-os who are always there whenever you need them, in life or death, Arthur Shields as the poisonous hissing church elder Parry,  pearly-voiced Irving Pichel as the narrator, old Huw — and, in one of the all-time great child movie performances, Roddy McDowall as Huw.

Beautiful! I can never watch this movie without crying when old Dai Bando, now blind, heads down the shaft to the collapsed mine to try to find Donald Crisp as Will Morgan, left buried under the rubble, and Dai asks Cyfartha to go with him, and Cyfartha says (one of the great lines in any Ford movie, or in any movie at all), “No Dai Bando, it’s a coward I am. But I will hold your coat.” If you aren’t moved when you hear those words or when they bring Hugh back from the mines, well, all I can say is: “Good God man (or woman), you have a heart of stone.”

Ford at Fox (Grapes of Wrath set) (Four Stars)

U. S.; John Ford, Allan Dwan, Nick Redman, 1939-2007 (Twentieth Century Fox)

The 2008 nonpareil massive re-issue of John Ford‘s films for Twentieth Century Fox comes in several ways: In the huge 25-film Ford at Fox package, and in several smaller sets. Here is an essential one, if you‘re not getting the big box (and most people, of course, aren’t). It includes four supreme classics, a feature documentary on Ford, and an earlier version, by “Last Pioneer” Allan Dwan, of the saga of Wyatt Earp and the Clantons Ford told in My Darling Clementine.

Includes: Drums Along the Mohawk (Three and a Half Stars)

(U.S.: John Ford, 1939)

Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert are the an appealing young couple coping with marital crises, crop hazards and a pretty severe outside conflict, the Revolutionary War. A robust and lyrical historical romance-adventure, based on Walter Edmonds’ novel; with Edna May Oliver, Ward Bond and John Carradine.

The Grapes of Wrath  (Four Stars)

(U.S. Ford, 1940)

Ford‘s great social family drama, based on John Steinbeck‘s novel about the Okies and the pilgrimage of the Joad family (Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, Charley Grapewin) from their ruined land to the “paradise“ of California. A masterpiece, shot by Gregg Toland in documentary-like images that sear themselves into your mind.

How Green Was My Valley (Ford; 1941).  See above.

My Darling Clementine (Both the Ford and Zanuck cuts) (Four Stars)

(U.S.: Ford, 1946) Ford‘s great town-taming western in both his and Darryl Zanuck‘s cuts. (Zanuck‘s was the release version, but Ford‘s is better, more lyrical and human.) With Henry Fonda, Ward Bond and Tim Holt as the Earp boys, Walter Brennan (a wonderful villain) as Old Man Clanton, Linda Darnell as the dance hall hirl and Victor Mature as Doc Holliday. The exciting O.K. Corral gunfight was modeled on Wyatt Earp’s own recollections (as told to Ford) and there are few more lyrical scenes in movies than Wyatt’s and Clementine’s (Cathy Downs) walk through town and dance at the church-raising.

Also in the package: Becoming John Ford (Three Stars) A fine, sympathetic bio-documentary; it includes Ford‘s short WW2 documentaries The Battle of Midway (1942 Oscar winner), Torpedo Squadron (1942) and December 7 (1943 Oscar winner). Frontier Marshall (Allan Dwan, 1940) (B) Dwan‘s earlier version of the Earp-Clanton saga, based on Stuart Lake’s biography. It’s a good movie, close to its successor in story and command, but not in pictorialism or drama. With Randolph Scott as Wyatt and Cesar Romero as Doc Holliday.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon