Worst Best Picture: Is How Green Was My Valley Better or Worse Than Crash?

how green was my valley

Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1941 winner How Green Was My Valley. Is it better than Crash?

They aren’t all fun. Hell, most of them aren’t any fun, but How Green Was My Valley is the distinct opposite of “fun.”

You’re forgiven for not knowing anything about it. For years it was just my default guess at bar trivia whenever I had no idea about a movie from the 40s. It is the ur-movie-from-the-40s, really. It’s a sad, voiceover-filled retrospective about a time gone by. There’s really no better way to sum up this subset of Oscar history, so at least that can be said for this one. It’s about mine disasters and the death of the mining economy in Wales in the 19th century. Feelgood story it ain’t.

Through the perspective of young Huw Morgan, we follow the travails of the Morgan family as they are injured, degraded, humiliated, shamed, and abused by the impossible economy of brute force underground in a mine. The light moments are all about how the family came together even in the face of misery and a lack of hope. If I sound like I’m describing something Hard to Watch then I am doing a good job.

How Green Was My Valley exists these days mostly as a good sign of what things were like in film decades and decades ago. The tone is bleak throughout. The narrator gets beat up at school and the solution offered by his family is to reward him for getting hurt fighting. If you need to know how bleak this all is, the “good” solution to “our kid is getting beat up at school” is to send some family members down there to kick his teacher’s ass, which they do in front of the class. The problem is thus solved, we out.

How Green Was My Valley isn’t bad, but it’s a relic. It doesn’t really make sense anymore. It fills you with sadness for a people you can’t help. For an economy that has already bottomed out. In America we bemoan the death of our industrial cities, but How Green Was My Valley will put it in perspective: it has been thus for a long damn time.

The Best Part: Watching the dudes beat up a teacher in a classroom — even though I was very nearly a teacher — is hilarious. We deserve it. But for real, it’s an insane scene. It really deserves to be seen.

The Worst Part: There’s some good stuff in here, but it’s overshadowed by the relentless darkness of it all. At one point the patriarch of the family is challenged for wanting to stand by his ethics of “hard work” in opposition to a strike. There’s a chance to make a statement, but most of the movie is spent on darker, less complicated material.

Is It Better or Worse than Crash? Better, but slower. How Green Was My Valley and Crash are definitely at opposite ends of every spectrum. Crash may be more interesting to a modern viewer — it’s in color — but it’s a dumber message that doesn’t deserve to be listened to. You’re better off slogging through the sad history of Welsh mining, and I realize how insane that sounds. Take that as a slight to Crash and put it on the box: less interesting than the history of mining.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement | 12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind | Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth | You Can’t Take It With You | The Best Years of Our Lives | The GodfatherCasablancaGrand Hotel | Kramer vs. Kramer | The French Connection | In the Heat of the Night | An American in Paris | Patton | Mrs. Miniver | Amadeus | Crash, Revisited | How Green Was My Valley

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

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