Thursday, July 21, 2011

Greer Garson, in The Valley of Decision
approximately 76 minutes and 16 seconds
60.6% of the film

The film

It tells the story of a young Irish house maid who falls in love with the son of her employer, a local steel mill owner.

You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

Valley of Decision is all about its supporting cast, and not so much about story or directing. It moves smoothly, but doesn’t risk anything and never reaches heights of story or narrative. The story deserved a much more accomplished writer, to explore its full potential.

Greer Garson as Mary Rafferty

As I’m sure you know, this was Greer Garson’s 5th consecutive Best Actress nomination (a 6th to that point, of a career total of 7), a record of BA consecutiveness equalled only by Bette Davis. Everybody loved Greer in the 1940s and she’s been a category-filler in more than one occasion. This particular nomination is somewhere in the middle: I’m sure nobody was VERY excited about the performance, but it’s definitely not her worst nomination.

Greer plays Mary Rafferty, a poor young honest woman of Irish ancestry in 19th century industrial Pittsburgh. Much against her crippled full-of-hate father’s wish, she goes to work as a maid in the house of the Scott family, the rich owners of the mill. She wins the family’s appreciation, falls in love with their oldest son, but social matters threaten to separate them. It’s a good role, but as much as the screenplay offers her in the first half, the opposite it does in the final part, almost completely ignoring its lead.

There are two main elements working against the performance, both pretty obvious from the start. First, there’s the uncertain age of the character; Greer was 40-41 when the film was made, Gregory Peck was 28-29. :) The fact that it’s black-and-white hides the age difference a bit, but they never mention or suggest how old Mary is. From what I can understand she’s in her middle 20s, which makes it a bit hard to believe and I would’ve appreciated it if they had hinted that Mary was leaning towards spinsterhood – it would’ve made the performance far more believable.

The second element hard to judge is the accent. There’s a BIG Irish accent going on here. I didn’t hate it, but also I could tell it didn’t come natural to Greer; especially when she’s… well… you know… singing. These 2 elements alone stop it from greatness. But allow me to move on to what I actually appreciated about the performance.

Most importantly, I felt like Greer understood the character, especially in the first half. Class difference is an important topic here, and there was at least a scene where my heart felt for this girl: it’s when she tries, in her full shyness and modesty, to announce dinner is served to a bunch of high-class people. As she stands there, in her maid uniform, unable to raise her voice enough, nobody listens to her and she’s invisible. Such a small, short scene had a big impact on me, because Greer made me understand what this girl was going through, in a poorly written yet surprisingly significant moment.

Another success is the display of emotion when having to refuse his love. Her eyes are tearful and she makes small emotional scenes feel meaningful, like she did before. She puts emotional effort in something that didn’t necessarily require it.

Unfortunately, as I said, she’s almost completely ignored in the 2nd part, being offered almost no good moments. And it’s a pitty. I’m running too long here, it’s also because it’s one of the hardest ratings I had to chose till now. Should I give it a 2 or a 3. I initially thought of 3, but considering I’ve previously gave 3 stars to Janet Gaynor (7th Heaven) and Mary McDonnell (Passion Fish), it wouldn’t feel right. So I’m going for a strong , which isn’t that low in my book, considering such ratings have been previously offered to Deneuve (Indochine) and McGuire (Gentleman’s Agreement).


Fritz said...

Haven't seen her yet but it sounds like typical Greer! :-)

dinasztie said...

I love Greer so much. Everyone gives backlash to her work in Mrs. Parkington but that's my favorite of her performances... :)

Alex in Movieland said...

yes, she's quite reliable. :)

yes, I'm with the rest on Parkington :D the problem to me was not the aging, but the cheap "young-looking" wig from the beginning - from what i can remember.