Life is hard in a Welsh mining town and no less so for the Morgan family. Seen through the eyes of the family's youngest, Huw, we learn of the family's trials and tribulations. Family patriarch Gwilym and his older sons work in the mines, dangerous and unhealthy as it is. Gwilym has greater hopes for his youngest son, but Huw has his own ideas on how to honor his father. Daughter Angharad is the most beautiful girl in the valley and is very much in love with Mr. Gruffydd, who isn't sure he can provide her the life she deserves. Times are hard and good men find themselves out of work and exploited by unseen mine owners. Written by
John Ford was a director with a vision bigger than life, as demonstrated by his films. Richard Lewellyn's novel must have been one source of inspiration for bringing to life this story about a small town in Wales. The director had the good fortune to have Arthur Miller as his cinematographer for this tale about the stark conditions about the miners' lives. The small town comes alive by the vivid account one sees on the screen. At times, what we are witnessing before our eyes, remind us of the work of great photographers such as Margaret Bourke-White, whose pictures for the old Life magazine parallel Mr. Miller's stark photography in the film.
Mr. Ford uses songs in most of his films. In this movie as well as in The Quiet Man, this device enhances what we are watching. The songs are diversions for the stark reality in the miners' lives. Their every day misery is somehow eased when they sing with clear voices ancient folk melodies they, and their forefathers, have always known.
The Morgan family is at the center of the story. We hear the narration from Huw, the youngest member of this family. All the men work in the mine; they are all disillusioned by the working conditions and meager wages that they give without hesitation to the matriarch when they are paid. They appear content at the beginning of the film, but we watch them gradually abandon their village in search of a better life; who can blame them?
The cast assembled by Mr. Ford is first rate. Donald Crisp, as the patriarch of the Morgan family outdoes himself in this film. Walter Pidgeon as the local church pastor is excellent. The young and radiant beauty of Maureen O'Hara was so powerful, we can't stop watching her for a moment when she is on screen. Roddy McDowall as the youngest child of the clan in his first appearance is also a magnetic presence that holds the viewer's attention all the time.
The rest of the actors do incredible ensemble work to support the principals. Anna Lee, John Loder, Barry Fitzgerald, Anne Todd make us believe they are the characters they are playing.
Ultimately this is a John Ford's triumph. He is the force that welds everything together and in spite of all the bad things that happen to the family and the town, he seems to be telling us there still is hope and life will continue.
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