review for The Proud Valley on AllMovie

The Proud Valley (1940)
by Craig Butler review

There are a number of reasons to see The Proud Valley, an uneven but interesting little picture, but the biggest reason is of course Paul Robeson. He's the both the anchor and the motor of this film, a huge presence that dominates Valley even when the story doesn't call for it. Interestingly, Robeson's actual dramatic performance is not as impressive as his legendary status would indicate. The work he does here is quite fine, but just as surely is less than revelatory. But his magnetism is such that it more than compensates, making his acting appear far greater than it actually is, and that's what matters. And of course, his incredible voice is there, both in speech and in song; his rendition of "Deep River" is breathtaking. (For that matter, the choral work on display here is also simply magnificent.) Robeson and the chorus aside, Valley also has a deeply felt humanity that is very appealing, and some sensitive direction from Pen Tennyson. The use of many non-actors produces variable results, but overall is effective. The screenplay wobbles, lacking the cohesiveness that would strengthen it, and structurally some scenes are problematic. Ultimately, the problems in the screenplay catch up with the film, but even so, it comes across as a special, if flawed, little film.