Cast: Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp, Roddy McDowall, Sara Allgood
Oscar Wins: Best Picture, Best Director (John Ford), Best Supporting Actor (Donald Crisp), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Arthur Charles Miller), Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White (Richard Day, Nathan H. Juran, Thomas Little)
Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Sara Allgood), Best Adapted Screenplay (Philip Dunne), Best Film Editing (James B. Clark), Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture (Alfred Newman), Best Recording Sound (Edmund H. Hansen)
SUMMARY: In the 1800s, the Morgans are a prosperous family living and working in a coal mining village in Wales. The family consists of parents Gwilym (Donald Crisp) and Beth (Sara Allgood), and their seven children: Ivor, Ianto, Davy, Gwilym Jr., Owen, Angharad (Maureen O’Hara) — the only girl — and Huw (Roddy McDowell). The five older sons all work with their father in the coal mine; Angharad helps keep house, and Huw is too young to work. The family quickly welcomes another member when Ivor marries Bronwyn (Anna Lee). Their marriage is performed by the new preacher, Mr. Gruffydd (Walter Pidgeon). An attraction quickly develops between Gruffydd and Angharad, but neither acts on it. Up to this point, Huw’s childhood has been rather idyllic. That begins to change when the mine cuts the pay of all the workers (basically every man in town). Many of the men, including the Morgan sons, want to go out on strike, but Gwilym refuses to endorse this. His sons also refuse to compromise, and move out of the house in protest. The workers do strike, and it lasts more than 20 weeks, well into winter. Gwilym and his remaining family are harassed by some of the men, since he did not support the strike. The threat to her husband and son is too much for Beth, who goes to a strike meeting to scold the workers. On the way home, she and Huw fall into a river. They are eventually rescued, but both are seriously ill: the doctor is unsure if Huw will ever walk again. However, Mr. Gruffydd is determined that this will happen, and plays an active part in Huw’s (full) recovery. The strike is settled, and the Morgan sons return home. Even so, things are not the same as they once were, as the mine now hires fewer people. Meanwhile, Angharad begins to be courted by the mine owner’s son, Iestyn Evans, though she has no feelings for him. She confesses to Mr. Gruffydd that she loves him, and while he returns her feelings, he tells her that he cannot subject her to the life of a poor preacher’s wife. Angharad marries Evans, and the two move to South Africa.
Huw proves to be a good student, and is accepted into a government school (the first in his family to achieve this). On his first day, he is mocked by the teacher and beaten up by the other students. His father engages the services of boxer Dai Bando and his friend Cyfartha, who teach Huw to fight. The next time a fight breaks out, Huw soundly defeats his opponent — only to be caught and severely caned by the teacher, Mr. Jonas. Huw begs his family not to retaliate, but Dai Bando and Cyfartha unexpectedly turn up at the school and give Mr. Jonas a very public lesson in boxing. Back at home, an accident at the mine results in the death of Ivor; on the same day as his funeral, their first child is born. Huw has done well enough at school to earn a scholarship, but decides to stop his education and work in the mine. He also decides to live with Bronwyn and the baby, and give her his wages. However, more bad news arrives when the remaining two older Morgan sons (two have already left for America) are fired from their jobs because they make too much money. They also decide to leave the country. Sometime later, Angharad comes back from Cape Town — without her husband. She lives in his house in town, but rumors begin to swirl about her relationship with Mr. Gruffydd, and a potential divorce. Things get so bad that a meeting of the church elders is called to discuss Angharad. Before it begins, Mr. Gruffydd gives a powerful speech against the meeting, telling the assembled townspeople that they are forgetting the example of Christ. He also announces that he will be leaving town. Before he can do so, another accident at the mine occurs, and he rushes to the elevator. There has been a cave-in at the mine, and Gwilym does not come to the surface in the elevator. Mr. Gruffydd decides to go down after him, as do Huw and Dai Bando. They manage to find Gwilym, pinned by debris, and Huw hugs his father just before he dies. The group returns to the surface, with Huw cradling his father’s head. In a voiceover, an adult Huw states that men like his father never really die, and remembers the happiness of earlier times.
MY TAKE: When I saw that this movie had Roddy McDowall in it, I was expecting him as an adult, or at least a young man. I should have noticed that this movie was released in 1941 — Roddy was an adult actor in the 1960s. However, I missed this, and my first clue that he was just a kid was the opening credits, where he’s referred to as “Master Roddy McDowall”. The film is narrated by an adult Huw, but Roddy plays the only version of Huw that we ever see. I also didn’t realize that Maureen O’Hara was in this movie, which was a pleasant surprise. Gotta love Maureen O’Hara. The overall story is kind of bittersweet: there are a lot of good moments, but there are a lot of sad ones as well. Unfortunately, it’s not all that unique: even during the 1950s in America families were experiencing the hardships of failing coal mines. It’s sad that both Ivor and Gwilym die in the mine, but you almost expect that in a movie where coal mining is the main occupation. As we see in the beginning of the movie, the mine eventually destroyed the entire town, overrunning it with mine refuse. I was irritated that we didn’t get to see what happened with Angharad and Mr. Gruffydd, especially with him deciding to leave and all. Knowing the type of characters Maureen O’Hara usually played, I’m betting that Angharad left with him, opinions be damned. Seriously, though, what did the townspeople think was going on between the two of them? He’s a preacher, and they live in an extremely small village, where you know that everybody knows everybody else’s business. If there was really some hanky-panky going on, somebody would have known. And told everybody else, obviously. It just ends on a sad note, overall, because you get the feeling that, at least for Huw, life was never as good as it was in those early years. And that’s depressing, because he had a lot of life remaining.