Proud Valley, The (1940)

Proud Valley, The (1940)

“Aren’t we all black down in that pit?”

When an itinerant Black laborer (Paul Robeson) arrives in a Welsh coal mining town, he soon finds himself involved in both the local choir and local labor issues, which are impacting the ability of a poor but ambitious young Welshman (Simon Lack) to marry his sweetheart (Janet Johnson).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Labor Movements
  • Mining Towns
  • Paul Robeson Films

One of Paul Robeson’s final films — other than appearing briefly in Tales of Manhattan (1942) and narrating the documentary Native Land (1942) — was this pro-labor film taking place in Wales, and directed by Pen Tennyson (who died in an airplane accident the next year at the age of 28). It’s certainly refreshing to see Robeson playing a more nuanced — and less demeaned — character than usual, though he’s ultimately relegated to the back stage in favor of the broader cause of labor issues, as well as town squabbles over money and class. Less easy to swallow is the final sacrifice he makes in the film — though at least the choice is his own, and seemingly based on age and marital status rather than race. The story covers some of the same thematic territory in another film from the same year, Carol Reed’s The Stars Look Down (1940), which would make for an interesting — if perhaps too-depressing — double-bill.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Beautiful singing
  • Fine b&w cinematography

Must See?
No, though of course Paul Robeson fans will want to check it out.


One thought on “Proud Valley, The (1940)

  1. First viewing. A once-must for its place in cinema history.

    I found the film to be as compelling as both ‘The Stars Look Down’ and ‘How Green Was My Valley’ and believe it can take its place alongside them.

    Robeson’s performance is of particular note, as is Tennyson’s direction.

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