On February 26th, 1942 at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California, How Green Was My Valley directed by John Ford (1941) won the Best Picture over Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941) at the 14th Academy Awards. This victory made instilled questions in me, when I came across this revelation first. How could a film that has stood the test of time in so many minds be beaten? I decided to watch Citizen Kane first, and then compare it with How Green Was My Valley. It was my amazement upon viewing the films in this way, the sheer difference between both films. It must be noted however, that Citizen Kane faced massive controversy before the ceremony, which may have been considered by the academy. Other things to take note for our resident Disney fans, are the awards garnered by the company for both Dumbo (Sharpsteen, 1941), Fantasia (Disney, 1940) and for Mr. Walt Disney himself.
Citizen Kane was directed by Orson Welles and was eventually released after much heated debate by RKO Radio Pictures 4 months after its original premiere in September 1941. It would be re-released by Paramount Pictures in 1991, and is now owned by Warner Bros. Thus, emphasizing its growth in popularity over time. It was met with so much controversy because of its depiction and representation of American newspaper magnate: William Randolph Hearst. Of course, the main character of Charles Foster Kane was only in part based upon him, but this didn’t stop Hearst from prohibiting any mention of the film in his newspapers. Essentially, the story of the film is about the life of a newspaper tycoon Charles Kane, played by Welles himself. We follow a journalist on the hunt for the meaning of the last word spoken by Kane on his death bed: Rosebud. Each person he visits in an attempt to figure out what this means, tells him a portion of Kane’s life. The audience witness’s scenes from the life of the newspaper tycoon, from childhood to young adulthood through to middle age and finally, to his ultimate death depicted at the beginning of the film. Many of the scenes will be reminiscent of those some may have seen in The Simpsons, including the opening scene where Kane drops the snow globe on the floor, or the dancers and the song with the lyrics “There is a man, a certain man”. In essence I would recommend the film, as it is very good watch for a 21st century viewer, as we are use to critiques of postmodern society and the role of the media. But imagine the social and cultural norms of the early 1940’s, and you see why it wasn’t very popular and why it has become very popular nowadays. I would praise the film for its acting by both Welles and the actresses who played his wives, as well as for the script, cinematography, and score. It was nominated for nine categories at the academy awards, but only won one. Herman Mackiewicz, and Welles won for Best Original Screenplay, but lost in the other 8 categories.
Citizen Kane lost Best Picture to Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, a film which followed the life of a mining family in 19th Century Wales. The film starred Maureen O’Hara as the only daughter in the family who helps at home with her mother, while the 5 sons and their father work at the coal mine. The story is told by the youngest son, Huw, who is leaving the valley as an older man at the beginning of the film. The Valley is blackened with smoke from the mine; however the scene quickly changes to the main setting of the film during prosperous times when Huw was a child. We witness pay cuts endured by the sons who want to rise up in a union against the company because what they are doing is not right. A row breaks out around the dinner table at home, and a stern father played by Donald Crisp tells his sons to be quite and sit down. Ultimately, the sons decide to leave the family home and take up residence at the local inn. Their strong willed mother (Sara Allgood) takes it upon herself to speak to the men during an evening rally at the mine, only to find herself falling into a frozen lake along with Huw afterward. They both have to recover from the hypothermia, with Huw taking the longest. The story also revolves around the daughter’s (Maureen O’Hara) growing affections for the local preacher, who turns their love away because the controversy it would cause. The son of one of the owners of the mining company eventually comes for her hand in marriage, and she accepts with great sadness.
The rest of the film continues to follow on from Huw’s point a view, as he becomes the first member of his family to attend a local National School. Here, we witness him experiencing corporal punishment, but still finishes with honours. However, he decides he wants to work in the mine with his father and brothers, instead of going to University to be a lawyer/doctor. Eventually, his sister returns sparking controversy in the valley over why she left her husband. In essence, the film both witnesses and questions 19th century social norms in a small valley in Wales. It questions religion, family structures, gender roles, education, and the working class in the mines. It is an adapted screenplay from the book written by Richard Llewellyn. The film was nominated in 10 categories, and won 5 including Best Supporting Actor for Donald Crisp, Best Director for John Ford (his third nomination in 3 years, winning 2 in a row), and Best Picture. It offers an interesting comparison to that of Citizen Kane, however, How Green Was My Valley was a lot more Oscar friendly for the time. It is a perfect drama for the best Picture award, unlike the controversies of its competitor.
Most people will be familiar with the story of the large eared elephant named Dumbo, depicted in Walt Disney’s Dumbo (Sharpsteen) which was released in 1941. It was Disney’s fourth animated feature out of the five released before the 8 year down turn in the success of the company. Out of the five, it is the only one I appreciate as a long standing triumph of Disney animation. Some people are known to cringe at the voice of Snow White from 1937, children being kidnapped and turned into donkeys in 1940’s Pinocchio (Sharpsteen), and don’t get me started about Bambi (Hand, 1942). Dumbo, for me at least, offers the only highlight from this era of Disney, representing difference in all its both harsh and joyful ways. We also see the early era of circus’s, which looked at difference in human physical structure and earned money from presenting these people to the public. However, here we witness an elephant with large ears, with an endearing personality whose mother is taken away from him and caged because she rallied to his defence when children made fun of his ears. A heartbreaking unforgettable classic Disney scene unfolds later in the film when Dumbo goes to visit his mom. ‘Baby mine’ is sung in the background. This song was nominated for best song at the Oscars in 1942. Ultimately, it was the score that won for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. Dumbo eventually triumphs over his difference with the help of Timothy Q. Mouse, learning to fly with his ears. Of course, who could forget the scene when both Dumbo and Timothy get drunk, and the rather strange ‘Pink Elephant’ song?
Disney also won an Oscar for Best Animated Short for Lend a Paw (Geronimi, 1941). Fantasia (Disney, 1940) won an Honoury Award from the Academy for its unique way of using a score in a new way in film. Walt Disney himself won the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.