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The Proud Valley
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Reviews & Ratings for
The Proud Valley More at IMDbPro »

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8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Paul Robeson shows the right spirit!

Author: Dr. Barry Worthington (shrbw) from dundee
6 February 2002

This film was released in Britain shortly after the outbreak of war, and it reflects that uncertain period. Coal was a national priority, yet the coal industry had a long legacy of unemployment and bitter labour disputes.

Consequently, Robeson, in the guise of a discharged American seaman, fetches up in a South wales mining village, where he is a valuable recruit to the local choir. Unfortunately, a disaster closes the mine, and a group of the miners (including Robeson, of course), march down to London to try and persuade the colliery bosses to let them find a way round the blocked section. As they march, a succession of newspaper posters chart the events leading to the outbreak of war.

This is an echo of the pre-war hunger marches - but in this situation, a clever narrative device is used, for no-one is to blame for them being out of work. As a result, the bosses and workers are later seen working together, trying to reopen a pit that is strategically valuable to the war effort.

Of course, the plan eventually boils down to detonating an explosive charge that is, in effect, a suicidal act. Robeson knocks out the miner who has drawn the short straw and sacrifices himself. Just as the soldier on the battlefield, the miner sometimes has to lay down his life for his friends. (Mining in wartime Britain was a reserved occupation.)

There is hardly any reference to colour prejudice in this film, and full use is made of Robeson's fine singing voice.

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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

excellent thirties classic

Author: didi-5 from United Kingdom
24 July 2004

Pen Tennyson's best remembered film of the three 1930s movies he made before being killed in action in the Second World War, ‘The Proud Valley' concerns a mining village in Wales which faces change on two fronts – first in finding a new singer for their choir (American bass-baritone Paul Robeson just happens to be passing through Wales looking for a place to work); and second in dealing with a major disaster in the mines.

While it may be stretching credibility to place Robeson in this setting, off the screen he developed a long-standing affinity with the people of Wales which lasted throughout his lifetime, and this was the one film he made of which he was truly proud. Whether singing ‘Deep River' with the choir, or working underground with his comrades from the village, he fits in just fine. There is a strong number of character actors in support. Little seen but unlike any other film, ‘The Proud Valley' is a fine testament both to British film-making and the huge community spirit of the Valleys.

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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

A better script for Robeson this time around!

Author: tophoca ( from Mersin 10 Turkey
19 June 2001

This film was shown to a group of Turkish students recently with a surprising result.. they loved it! Robeson suffered all through his career from dud scripts. He was usually cast as an African chief in low budget British made films, in this film he plays the part of a coal miner in Wales. Songs include "Deep River" and "Land Of My Fathers". Robeson was accepted more in England than he was in the USA probably because of his political beliefs. Communist or not he had a great voice and this film shows that given a half decent script he was a good actor. Buy it while you can, these Gems tend to go out of print very quickly never to be seen again for years.

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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

All Lovers of Music Should See this Film

Author: loza-1
6 July 2006

Don't get me wrong, I liked the film. The story, of an African-American who finds himself working in the pits in Wales, is perfectly passable, and was as leftwards as it was going to get to thread its way through the British film censors. But we know what we are going to watch this film for - to hear Paul Robeson sing.

During the 1980s, the British Bass, Robert Lloyd, listed his big four bass singers of all time. Robeson was among them. (The others were Fyodor Shalyapin, Cesare Siepi and Ezzio Pinza.) The BBC2 programme he did this for, also featured a few seconds of footage from proud valley.

The big scene comes just after his friend has been killed in a mining accident. The local Eisteddfod - a Welsh festival of music and poetry - takes place. Robeson gets up and sings "Deep River". I have heard Robeson's 78 rpm recording of this song. This version is nothing like it. It is magnificent. As Robeson performs, the shivers go up the spine and the tears come rolling down the cheeks. This is so good that only Paderewski's performance in "Moonlight Sonata" can be compared to it.

Because of this performance, no one who watches this film will be disappointed.

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7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

United in Song

Author: dougdoepke from Claremont, USA
13 December 2008

I caught this 1930's curiosity on an outlying PBS channel at 2 a.m.— thank goodness for recorders, otherwise 5 people probably saw it at that hour. In all my years of old movie watching, I don't recall Proud Valley being shown in big market LA. My point is that for decades Robeson's few films were withheld for political reasons, and when finally released, had become dated curiosity pieces with graveyard show times. Too bad, because Robeson is a cultural treasure whose misfortune was to ally with one of the most aggressive anti-racist forces of his time, the American communist party. Whatever the wisdom of that move, given the circumstances, it was an understandable alliance, at least in my little book.

Robeson's name may be above the title, but he really shares the starring role with the Welsh mining community he becomes a part of. I expect that's one reason this was his favorite film. He really has only one spotlight vocal, but it's a show-stopper, a terrifically moving version of the old spiritual Deep River. Otherwise, he blends into an ensemble cast, even though his sheer presence remains commanding throughout.

It's a good story, about a community surviving the shutdown of its central coal mining industry. There are echoes of leftist styles here, particularly in the mobilized-crowd scenes with their banners, etc. Nonetheless, as another reviewer astutely points out, labor issues are folded into the larger war effort that was then breaking out (late 1939) along the Polish corridor. In fact, by the look of the latter sequences, I wouldn't be surprised if some re- editing and re-shooting were involved to keep abreast of fast moving global events.

There are several arresting scenes. The set for the Robeson solo with the huge choral backdrop remains impressive even by today's standards and accentuates this, the film's emotional centerpiece. Another eye-catcher is the unemployed men picking over the mountainous slag heap like starving birds amid growing desperation. Also, the collapsing mine tunnel looks almost too real to be a "special effect", and I'm still wondering how they did it in those days before blue screens and digitalized computers.

Anyway, here's hoping Turner Classic Movies finally decides to show a Robeson film, especially this one, at a decent hour, so a broader American public can catch up with a cultural treasure long denied them. Too bad, the great actor-singer-athlete had to go to Europe to find the kind of dignified roles he was so beautifully suited for.

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7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

A film worth discovering.

Author: philipdavies from United Kingdom
25 June 2003

This film was recently shown to a large and very appreciative audience of all ages and backgrounds at the Paul Robeson Film Festival, organised by The National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, a Department of The National Library of Wales (situated in the beautiful University town of Aberystwyth, on the mid-Wales coast).

It is full of wonderful, humane performances, has very exciting and exceptionally well-realized scenes of underground peril in the coal mines of South Wales (when we had such long-forgotten things as mines), and a social conscience clearly influenced by the Soviet workers' epics of the period. Add to the mix a degree of seriousness in the treatment of the lives and problems of working-class communities, and of the real-life Welsh experience, and also of the experience of blacks in the workplace, and one has an English-produced film probably unique in its period for the range of its sympathies. The coming war obviously put the English of the time on their honour!

Oh, yes - and the singing is very special, too!

Of course, worker-manager relations are idealised to a degree, but not so much as to suppress quite a number of uncomfortable truths, that must have had smug metropolitan audiences of the period squirming in their seats. Altogether, a much truer, and therefore finer, treatment of the Welsh mining experience than anything to be found in that overblown, overhyped confection, 'How green was my valley'.

Naturally, this excellent early Ealing feature is not generally available to the domestic market in Britain.

However, since we know the value of these things in Wales, I understand that our Sales Department at The National Library of Wales is usually able to supply individual video copies of the film! Interested parties should make enquires directly to that institution.

The Festival of films featuring Paul Robeson, of which the above is the first, continues in association with Aberystwyth Arts Centre Cinema until the 15th of July, 2003. The unreserved tickets are free. An interesting linked exhibition at The National Library of Wales, 'Let Paul Robeson Sing!', continues 'til the 25th of October 2003. The admission to this is also free.

I'm sure this information will be of interest to IMDB patrons.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:


Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
12 August 2011

This is a very good film that gives a rare glimpse of Welsh life that has long since passed. The film begins in Wales just before WWII and a wandering American (Paul Robeson) wanders into town. Despite being a black man, almost everyone accepts him and he is soon a valued member of the community. He also is an important part of the local choral group--something VERY important in this culture. In fact, throughout the film is lots of lovely Welsh singing--and it's perhaps the best part of the movie. But, it's also a great portrait of a way of life that has passed--the grim life of a coal miner. Their struggle is chronicled in this film--with strikes, mining disasters and the like.

This sort of plot is not at all surprising for Robeson, as he was a committed life-long socialist--with some communist sympathies. This is NOT meant as a criticism--just explaining his affinity towards the downtrodden and labor unions (which were important in providing a safe working environment for the miners). But I love that the film is not preachy about--it just shows their difficulties as well as their work ethic, values, belief in God and strong wills. A wonderful film and a nice film to see in a double-feature with "How Green Was My Valley"--which as a Hollywood and highly romanticized view of these people.

All in all, one of Robeson's best films because he plays not a black man but a man--and a heck of a man at that.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Another Paul Robeson gem

Author: PWNYCNY from United States
24 February 2009

Paul Robeson. The mere mention of the name evokes images of the consummate performer, a Da Vinci of the stage and screen, a presence fully deserving of admiration. Yet, despite his exemplary talent and popularity, his list of movies is pathetically small, which can be attributed to two factors - racism and politics. How sad because Paul Robeson was undoubtedly one of the major figures in U. S. entertainment history and if one wants to know why, one just has to watch the movie Proud Valley, directed by Pen Tennyson. Here Paul Robeson plays a role that transcends the ludicrously ridiculous racial stereotypes that Hollywood wanted Mr. Robeson to play. Imagine for a moment, my friends, Paul Robeson playing a shuffling, mumbling sycophant. An outrage! Yet this is exactly the kind of silly roles that Hollywood would have had Mr. Robeson play if he had so chosen. That he starred in such movies as Show Boat and The Emperor Jones was due in large part to the fact that these films were directed by British directors who truly appreciated Mr. Robeson's talents. In Proud Valley, Robeson delivers an outstanding performance as a miner who makes the ultimate sacrifice so that others may live. The story may seem contrived, but it isn't. The movie is neither sensationalistic or melodramatic. Rather it presents in a straightforward way a story that the audience can understand, appreciate and applaud due in a large measure to the presence of one of truly legendary giants of American stage and screen, Paul Robeson.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

The Proud Valley is one of Paul Robeson's finest achievements

Author: tavm from Baton Rouge, La.
12 February 2008

In reviewing the achievements of African-Americans on film in chronological order for Black History Month, we're now at 1940 with the entry of The Proud Valley, considered by star Paul Robeson as his favorite. In this one, he's an American named David Goliah coming to Wales to find a job. After hearing his voice from outside the window while conducting his chorus in rehearsal, Mr. Parry (Edward Chapman) manages to convince David to sing in his choir and gets him a job at the mines where he also works. His son, Emlyn (Simon Lack) also works there and is engaged to Gwen Owen (Janet Johnson). I'll stop there and mention that Robeson is in fine form musically especially when he sings "Deep River" that sends chills down the spine. Perhaps because of his color, his character is sometimes in the background but by the end he does become essential. So for him, I'd definitely recommend The Proud Valley.

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Robeson shines in this patchy drama - one of Tony Benn's favourites.

Author: Richard Burin from
11 June 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ten years ago, I read a piece by the British socialist politician Tony Benn in which he wrote about his three favourite moments in film. One was the band sequence in the Powell and Pressburger masterpiece The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Another was the tear-jerking climax of The Railway Children. The third came from The Proud Valley, a vehicle for that icon of black America, Paul Robeson, set in a Welsh mining community. Here's what he wrote: "A black Pennsylvanian man starts work in a South Wales mine. The other miners are not too happy that he is black until they realise that they are also blackened. In my favourite scene a choir is singing at the eisteddfod, but the lead singer is not present. The conductor is about to sing the solo part when they hear Robeson singing outside and are spellbound." Benn slightly misremembers the story, since the racist characters are never shown to accept Robeson, despite his friends pointing out that they are "blackened", but his words on the film remain very moving. They certainly sold me on wanting to catch the movie, which I've finally done, thanks to the recent Optimum DVD release. In all honesty, The Proud Valley isn't as poetic, subtle or timeless as Benn makes it sounds, but it does have some wonderful moments.

Robeson's David Goliath is a gentle giant who pops up in the Welsh mining village of Blaendy. Initially joining forces with terrible busker Edward Rigby, he gets an in with the locals via his remarkable voice. As Benn says, the scene in which he blesses choir practice with a mesmerising solo from the street below is tremendously effective. It would be even better if Rigby hadn't been prodded into providing some unsuitable comic relief just seconds into Robeson's performance.

The film has been praised for its complex characterisation, but compared to the twin peaks of this sub-genre, The Stars Look Down and How Green Was My Valley, it's shallow at best. The pro-union politics are also muted, aside from a poorly-executed if heartfelt variation on the Jarrow March*, but the film is notable for the friendship between Robeson and his white co-workers. Graham Greene heaped opprobrium on the presentation of the star, saying he was a "big black Pollyanna", keeping "everybody cheerful and dying nobly at the end". But while I'd agree that Robeson's death is entirely unnecessary and difficult to take (why couldn't a white character buy it in the final scenes instead?), the film's treatment of race is still far more progressive than in most Hollywood films of the period.

The notable exception would be Dr Kildare Goes Home, released the same year, a standard series film featuring the remarkable sight of a black doctor going about his job without comment on his colour. Disappointingly, given Robeson's standing as a leading trade unionist, his David Goliath sticks around in Blaendy for personal reasons, rather than ideological ones, but tellingly the actor said it was the only work of which he felt complete pride. Incidentally, the Herbert Marshall who penned the story was not the urbane leading man, but a left-wing playwright.

The performances are spotty. Robeson, though he has tremendous presence, is only adequate in dramatic terms, leaving Rachel Thomas to scoop the acting honours. Playing an unbending, fiercely proud but desperately poor mother, she does well in her first film, with what's really quite a clichéd part. She reminded me a lot of Mary Gordon, the Scottish character actress who had so many nice parts in Hollywood during the '30s and '40s, most memorably in The Irish in Us.

Edward Chapman, best known today for appearing in the atrocious sci-fi movie Things to Come and playing Mr Grimsdale opposite Norman Wisdom, is also decent as the choir leader and town father figure. Chapman demonstrated his conciliatory, pro-union credentials in real life by trying to get John Gielgud thrown out of Equity for having gay sex. The Proud Valley also offers a cardboard romance between miner and management hopeful Simon Lack and Gail Patrick clone Janet Johnson, whose shop-owner mother is really hateful ("Before long, me and my girl will have cleared right out of this poverty-stricken hole" she says at one point), and a couple of tense sequences dealing with mine collapse.

It's an extremely erratic film. The production is slightly slapdash, sometimes cheap-looking and featuring sloppy editing. But every so often there's a painterly, artistic image that takes you completely by surprise: miners disappearing into the black; a slow, upsetting shot of bodies in rubble; townsfolk singing and praying in the dying light, before the motionless wheels of stalled industry. Likewise, while the plotting is often naive and over-convenient and the elements dealing with the outbreak of war are crowbarred into the narrative, the film ends in unexpectedly powerful fashion, before inexplicably leaping forward in time, robbing us of a reunion scene or the chance to pay tribute to Robeson's tragic hero.

Thankfully, the film has a calling card more wondrous than almost any other: Paul Robeson's voice. He only has around six minutes' worth of songs, but from his street-side solo to the take on Land of My Fathers that soundtracks the movie's coda, the sound of Robeson's booming, awesome baritone stirs a feeling quite unlike any other. Just a blast of it is enough to make the hairs on my neck stand up, and his version of Deep River, sung at a critical juncture of the film, is intensely moving. While not the lost classic I was hoping for, The Proud Valley remains an interesting work and - in those few Robeson songs - has a clutch of great moments to be savoured in joyous isolation.

*Trivia note: The Proud Valley was the first film to be premiered on radio, with the BBC broadcasting an hour-long version edited from the soundtrack.

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