How Green Was My Valley is a perfectly fine film, a multi-generational saga of a family’s triumphs and tragedies that seems tailor-made for Oscar. And no one was a greater admirer of its director, John Ford, than Orson Welles. Nonetheless, it was Welles himself, in the most audacious debut in film history, who challenged the man he called the Old Master for Oscar supremacy in 1942. History has been much more generous to Citizen Kane (pictured), which routinely tops critics lists as the greatest film ever made, than it has to Ford’s sentimental epic, but at the time, Welles was lucky to get any Oscar recognition at all. Having notoriously earned the wrath of media mogul William Randolph Hearst through Kane’s thinly veiled, often unflattering roman è clef, Welles saw his picture suppressed in theaters and ignored by Hearst papers.
Kane was nominated for nine Oscars but won only Best Original Screenplay (Herman J. Mankiewicz shared the award with Welles, who was never nominated again). The film failed to win Best Picture, Director, Best Black-and-White Cinematography, and Black-and-White Art Direction to Valley. (This despite Gregg Toland’s innovative camera work.) Welles lost Best Actor to Gary Cooper in Sergeant York, a film that also beat Kane for Editing. (This despite Robert Wise’s dazzling work with the story’s non-chronological narrative.) At least Kane composer Bernard Herrmann lost to himself, for his score for The Devil and Daniel Webster.