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John Logan leaves his parents and sweetheart in bucolic Happy Valley to make his fortune in the city. Those he left behind become miserable and beleaguered in his absence, but after several years he returns, a wealthy man. But his embittered father, not recognizing him for who he is, plans to murder the newly- arrived "stranger" for his money. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Must all director D.W. Griffith's stories make a moral point? "A Romance of Happy Valley" offers one readily: "Harm not the stranger within your gates, lest you yourself be hurt." By the film's end, this is shown to be excellent advice. At a Kentucky back-country inn, poor country boy Robert Harron (as John L. Logan Jr.) dreams about making his fortune in the Big City (New York). Hard-working father George Fawcett (as Logan Sr.) and Bible-loving mother Kate Bruce (as Mrs. Logan) don't want to see their son gallivant off to the Wicked City; they want him to remain down on the farm. Girl-next-door Lillian Gish (as Jennie Timberlake) is also afraid she will lose Harron to big city ways
Robert Harron and Lillian Gish. Corn rustling in the wind. Rustic fences. Of course, this an absolutely gorgeous picture. Griffith and photographer G.W. Bitzer create an extraordinary, classic landscape; and, "A Romance of Happy Valley" is one of their most perfect collaborations. Harron is especially poignant; portraying "Johnny Logan" as an innocent country boy who longs to better his lot in life. His is the film's struggle: the comfort and stability known in simple, rural life vs. the promise of wealth in the unknown, urban city. The story is about Temptation; and Harron must navigate it successfully, or die trying
The film begins with lovely images: Harron working the fields; Gish in her fenced lawn. Then, they court; in a great scene, the two use their hands on a farm tool, to express their emotions. After Harron decides to leave for New York, Gish and Harron's parents endeavor to change his mind. Gish dons herself in the latest fashions, and his parents trust their Minister will change Harron's wayward ways. In Church, Gish looks woeful; and Harron looks desperately ill (showing his soul). The plan works; however, Harron's salvation is short-lived. Then, Harron leaves for Sin City; where he decides to make his fortune by inventing a toy frog that swims
The symbolism is rich; and, when the toy frog swims, so does Harron. When he goes home, Harron finds his parents have grown desperately poor. Mother Bruce has faith that the Lord will provide. Father Fawcett is unable to avoid his own Temptation; so, to save the farm, he decides to assault the rich stranger in town, unaware the "city slicker" is his own son. Although he is matured by his experience in the city, Harron's character is untainted by Temptation; note the nonthreatening manner Harron displays at Gish's bedroom window, near the end. Harron startles, but does not frighten Gish; he is transformed into an ideal man, who retains his better country traits.
Robert Harron was the "Best Actor" performing in films during 1919, with the following remarkable, and highly recommended, features: A Romance of Happy Valley (1919), The Girl Who Stayed at Home (1919), The Greatest Question (1919), and True Heart Susie (1919). Frequent co-star Lillian Gish was filmdom's "Best Actress"; of these films, she is most remarkable in "True Heart Susie". Griffith's reliable supporting cast is wonderful, as always. Aside from the aforementioned supporting players, "Happy Valley" includes the reliably smarmy Bertram Grassby as "Judas", who is said to be descended from the original Iscariot. And, Carol Dempster has a nice turn as a wicked city woman. The ending is very exciting, and Griffith improves significantly upon his earlier "The Son's Return" (1909).
********* A Romance of Happy Valley (1/26/19) D.W. Griffith ~ Robert Harron, Lillian Gish, George Fawcett, Kate Bruce
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