The Bottom Line
Favored son Gregory Peck and darling Irish tart Greer Garson fall in love amidst mid-19th century union struggles. This is the rare 1944 melodrama whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The Rest Of The Story
The Valley of Decision is a quaint period piece, set in western Pennsylvania in 1868. Mr. Scott is the wealthy local owner of a steel mill who is facing rising union troubles from his disgruntled workers. In the meantime, his four children reunite at the house on the occasion of younger William's engagement. There's flighty Constance (played by the deliciously flirty Marsha Hunt); precocious drunk Ted; the snooty William (Dan Duryea's callousness simmers beneath his smiling surface); and the sincere Paul (Gregory Peck at his dashing finest).
Adding to the mix is the newest addition to the Scott household staff, Mary Rafferty (a gorgeous and reserved Greer Garson). She also happens to be the daughter of one of the mill rabblerousers, Pat Rafferty (played to the hilt by cantankerous Lionel Barrymore). Of course, it's not long before Mary and Paul fall in love, much to his father's chagrin and his mother's delight. However, the romance is torn asunder when the workers strike. Will there be peace, or bloodshed? Will the mill survive its misfortunes, and with it the Scott family?
At first the movie seems like the b-side to Gone With The Wind and other heartfelt melodramas. Based on a 1942 novel by Marcia Davenport, it has an interesting background in the post-Civil War steel mills of Pennsylvania, and likeable characters. Yet by the end of the film, you realize the movie stands on its own as a well-written and restrained drama - not easy to sentiment, making all of its emotions that much more sincere.
The best performer in the movie is easily Greer Garson. She steals scenes with her eyes alone, and she proves to be the most complex female character I've seen in a film in a very long time. They simply don't make Mary Raffertys for the screen anymore - her love for Paul, her anguish over her dad's rejection of her (he condemns her and Paul by wishing their children die at birth), and her hesitancy over the future of the mill are wonderfully played out, and Garson shines (she was nominated for Best Actress, but lost to the more salacious role of Mildred Pierce, played by Joan Crawford).
Peck of course is fantastic as the strong silent type. The great thing about this movie is it's an ensemble drama with two Oscar-caliber leads. Everyone from the dandy Marshall Thompson to the vixen Marsha Hunt to the cold femme fatale Louise (a young and conniving Jessica Tandy). The plot is never too outrageous (barring a few understandable twists) and the climactic final scene is compelling. All in all, the film is kind of slow, but is saved by its grace and marvelous acting.
P.S. Look for a cheeky pre-"Quantum Leap" Dean Stockwell (aged 9) making his debut as Paul's son Paulie.
Rating: 8 out of 10.
Marcia Davenport (novel)
Greer Garson as Mary Rafferty
Gregory Peck as Paul Scott
Donald Crisp as William Scott
Lionel Barrymore as Pat Rafferty
Preston Foster as Jim Brennan
Marsha Hunt as Constance Scott
Gladys Cooper as Clarissa Scott
Reginald Owen as Mac McCready
Dan Duryea as William Scott Jr.
Jessica Tandy as Louise Kane
Barbara Everest as Delia
Marshall Thompson as Ted Scott
John Warburton as Giles, Earl of Moulton
Dean Stockwell as Paulie Scott
- Watched it last night.