John Ford directs Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara and Roddy McDowall in this 1942 Best Picture winner – an episodic study of stresses, changes and compromises in a Welsh coal-mining village as it passes from an idyllic pastoral community into an exploitative industrial town.
John Ford’s politics are stamped all over this. The owners a necessary evil, yet the organised strikers the devil themselves. Has Ford essayed the grind of the future, progress and capitalism on a worthy family… or has the young lad, whose point of view we see all things from, merely lost his innocent blinkers? Ford seems against any kind of modern structure (school, unions) preferring the natural formations of family? Should we be unpacking the film this hard? Is it not really “just” a work of nostalgia… like The Quiet Man without the romance, The Duke and the epic third act bally-hoo, rewinding time with rose tinted glasses, both lament and celebration of things lost? As the family is cleaved by tragedy, the lure of the New Worlds (America, South Africa) and pragmatic marriages, are they not pulled from the ground of South Wales and exported like coal? It is not quite as heavy as that. Many of the chapters are humorous. Dai Bando’s boxing lessons have nothing but laughs and contains the only recognisably Welsh accent heard within. Sara Allgood, Donald Crisp, Walter Pidgeon and Barry Fitzgerald all do fine work. Maureen O’Hara looks magnificent. There’s treasure here, yet the ultimate message doesn’t gel. Like many a modern, targeted Oscar contender, it dances beautifully around a big issue rarely landing a blow that challenges your existing thinking on the important subject it mines.
Perfect Double Bill: Brassed Off (1996)
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