DVD Review: Valley Of Song

Jonathon Dabell takes a look at Valley of Song, released on DVD for the first time in the UK, starring Mervyn Johns, Clifford Evans and Maureen Swanson.

Currently available on DVD

How Green Was My Valley was such a popular and successful film (winning the Best Picture Oscar of 1941 ahead of Citizen Kane, no less) that there followed a surge of interest in films set and/or made in Wales. Even big Hollywood stars of the day like Bette Davis could be found in these cinematic odes to Wales and its people (in her case, the 1945 drama The Corn Is Green). Nowadays, these films are all but forgotten. They scarcely appear on television, were never released during the heyday of home video, and have not as yet surfaced on DVD either. StudioCanal UK go some way toward rectifying that with the release of the ultra-scarce and largely forgotten Valley Of Song, originally released in 1953.

A twee, remarkably old-fashioned little film with a running time barely above the hour mark, Valley Of Song’s DVD debut is a surprise indeed, continuing last year’s welcome trend for long-lost rarities turning up on DVD. The film is hardly a lost classic – indeed, it is nothing more than a mildly enjoyable time-filler – but credit should be given to the distributors for continuing to make these nostalgic obscurities available for new generations to discover.

Successful insurance broker Geraint Llewellyn (Clifford Evans) returns from London to his home village of Cwmpant in the Welsh valleys. Upon arrival he is treated with universal warmth and fondness by his old friends. With the recent death of the village choirmaster, and Geraint’s successes as a part-time singing instructor in London, the chapel committee unanimously appoint him as their new choirmaster.

It is a move which leads to sudden and incredible turmoil in the village. On his very first day in the job, Geraint decides to replace the choir’s long-standing contralto Mrs Lloyd (Rachel Thomas) with one of her neighbours, a certain Mrs Davies (Betty Cooper). All hell breaks loose, the rejected Mrs Lloyd acting with the proverbial fury of a woman scorned as she stirs up the village into a divisive dispute about the loss of her role. All round Cwmpant, Davies pick fights with Lloyds; Lloyds go out of their way to antagonise Davies… on and on and on the quarrel rumbles.

Meanwhile, Mrs Lloyd’s son Cliff (John Fraser) and Mrs Davies’ daughter Olwen (Maureen Swanson) find themselves unwillingly caught up in the feud. A courting couple who see their romance facing almost certain ruin, Cliff and Olwen may be the only ones who can find a resolution to the escalating hatred in the village.

A certain generation of viewers will get a kick out seeing leading roles for old familiar faces like Mervyn Johns (a film and TV regular in his day, best remembered for playing Bob Cratchit in the 1951 version of Scrooge) and Clifford Evans (also a stalwart of film and TV at that time). There’s also a small role for Rachel Roberts as the gossipy village milkwoman. Roberts would later gain fame as Mrs. Rex Harrison, making a number of genuinely classic films in her time, not to mention receiving an Oscar nomination for her work on This Sporting Life and, tragically, taking her own life by barbiturate poisoning at the age of 53.

Valley Of Song is rather too much a time-capsule movie to be a hit with modern audiences. The sight of blackened Welsh coal-miners breaking into hearty song, or villagers trashing the local pub over a rumpus at the choir club, is not really the sort of thing to set modern hearts thumping. Nevertheless, the film has a degree of charm and is enthusiastically acted by its cast. The love dilemma of Cliff and Olwen, central to the narrative, is quite nicely handled in its own quaint way. If nothing else, it maintains the interest of the viewer.

The point has already been made that Valley Of Song is basically a mildly enjoyable time-filler. There’s no reason to cancel all your appointments to see it, but there’s no reason to go out of your way to avoid it either. If you like films from this era, you’ll no doubt enjoy this one; if you don’t, you won’t. Overall it’s just a nice little film with which to while away an hour or so of your time.

FMV Rating **½

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