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A Romance of Happy Valley (1919) Online

A Romance of Happy Valley (1919) Online
Original Title :
A Romance of Happy Valley
Genre :
Movie / Drama / Romance
Year :
Directror :
D.W. Griffith
Cast :
Lydia Yeamans Titus,Robert Harron,Kate Bruce
Writer :
D.W. Griffith
Type :
Time :
1h 16min
Rating :
A Romance of Happy Valley (1919) Online

John Logan leaves his parents and sweetheart in bucolic Happy Valley to make his fortune in the city. Those he left behind become miserable and beleaguered in his absence, but after several years he returns, a wealthy man. But his embittered father, not recognizing him for who he is, plans to murder the newly- arrived "stranger" for his money. {locallinks-homepage}
Cast overview:
Lydia Yeamans Titus Lydia Yeamans Titus - Old Lady Smiles
Robert Harron Robert Harron - John L. Logan Jr
Kate Bruce Kate Bruce - Mrs. Logan
George Fawcett George Fawcett - John L. Logan Sr
Lillian Gish Lillian Gish - Jennie Timberlake
George Nichols George Nichols - Jennie's father
Adolph Lestina Adolph Lestina - Vinegar Watkins
Bertram Grassby Bertram Grassby - Judas
Porter Strong Porter Strong - The Negro Farmhand

This was once considered a lost film but a copy was found in the Soviet Union in the 1970s.

User reviews



For many years, this film was among a number of D. W. Griffith films from the 1918-1919 season which were considered irretrievably lost. In the 1970s it was discovered in the Gosmofilmfund in Russia, and through some complicated negotiations was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in time for the Griffth centenary in 1975. Prints in English have the subtitles replaced, as the Russian print was subtitled in Ukrainian. The story is a simple one and personally close to Griffith's heart - a Kentucky lad, played by Robert Harron, is an inventor and hears of opportunity in New York. Although the townsfolk, his mother and father, and his sweetheart, played by Lillian Gish, all try to restrain him from leaving Happy Valley, he does so. In New York, the boy works tirelessly on his invention for eight years and resists a number of temptations. Little does he know that back home, his sweetheart is struggling with similar issues, and when the foreclosure notice comes on the family home, his father, whose opposition to the boy's departure to New York was particularly noisome, experiences a major crisis of temptation himself. The title card identifies this as a "Griffith Short Story" vehicle, and it plays like one of Griffith's Biograph shorts, only much longer. It is not one of his most technically accomplished films, and there are some uncomfortable racial characterizations, though nothing of the kind witnessed in "The Birth of a Nation." But it is a chamber movie, sort of a sketch for "True Heart Susie" and "Way Down East," rural stories told on a more ambitious scale. It contains much of Griffith's idealized vision of his childhood Kentucky, and the desperation of the father may have drawn to some extent on Griffth's own father's struggles late in life. Overall, it is a sweet, unpretentious little film which mean, and does, no harm to anyone. Not a major masterpiece, but an attractive film in a genre that was a Griffith specialty, local in orientation but universal in theme.


A ROMANCE OF HAPPY VALLEY (Famous Players, 1919), is a small production directed by a major director, D.W. Griffith, in a simple-minded story set in a the birthplace of his old Kentucky home. Featuring a cast of Griffith stock players ranging from Robert Harron, Lillian Gish, Kate Bruce and George Fawcett, this photo-play centers mostly on Harron, close to physically resembling Richard Barthelmess during his opening scenes as a hillbilly youth sporting a straw hat and overalls to his physical self during the latter half in a mature manner with mustache, sideburns, hat and suit, with Gish in pig-tales or shoulder-length hair as his loyal girlfriend.

Opening title: "What a better place for a romance than old Kentucky in the county of MAKE BELIEVE, on the pike that never was." Happy Valley, as stated, takes place in Kentucky. John L. Logan Jr. (Robert Harron) is a country boy whose parents (George Fawcett and Kate Bruce) are lifelong farmers. After meeting with Judas (Bertram Grassby), a visiting city man, Johnny yearns on departing his no-future existence by bettering himself in the big city. Jennie Timberlake (Lillian Gish), also known as "Forgetful Jennie," who lives next door with her widowed father (George Nicollls), has loved Johnny since their childhood and fears of losing him if he should go. However, against his father's wishes, but the blessing from his mother, Johnny heads for New York on the next train and intends on coming home once he becomes successful. During his absence, Jennie continues to think about him, even by placing one of his old jackets onto a scarecrow in the cornfields and conversing with it during her moments of loneliness. As for Johnny, he obtains employment at the Eastern Toy Manufacturing Company, hoping to make a fortune with his invention of a swimming mechanical frog. After spending eight years perfecting this, he earns his $1,000 to return home where he he finds drastic changes have occurred. Aside from finding Jennie an old maid and his parents in the process of losing their farm unless they can come up with the finances needed, he suddenly finds himself mistaken for wanted bank robber on the loose.

The supporting players consist of Adolph Lestina as Vinegar Watkins; Porter Strong as a Negro farmhand; and Carol Dempster, making her debut under Griffith, appearing unbilled, as a city girl who tries to lure Jimmy away from his work.

Griffith brings forth an age taken from his own upbringing by transferring the wholesomeness of rural Kentucky to the screen, ranging from a middle-aged country woman (Lydia Yeamans Titus) smoking their pipes while sitting in rocking chairs of their front porch; community gathering together at the Locust Grove Church every Sunday; hard-working farmers knowing no other life outside their community; while little Jennie (Gish) uses the Farmer's Almanac to get the latest fashion designs to impress Johnny.

As with hundreds to thousands of silent movies distributed during this period, A ROMANCE OF HAPPY VALLEY was one of many that had been lost for many years. With the help of film historian Eileen Bowser of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, a print was located in Russia. Aside from its limited presentations at the MOMA's film department, it finally made it to television by becoming the initial movie shown on the public broadcasting eight-week series (June-August 1978) titled "Lost and Found" (premiering June 24, 1978) hosted by Richard Schickel based on WNET, Channel 13, in New York City. After the 55 minute presentation, a ten minute Griffith short, THE LADY AND THE MOUSE (1913), starring Lillian Gish and Lionel Barrymore followed, concluding the premiere episode with an after-film discussion between Schickel and Gish herself. By the expression on her face, she appeared surprised to hear how much Schickel enjoyed the movie, taken from perspective that it's a very old-fashioned story with limited appeal to contemporary audiences. Gish went on to discuss other lost Griffith film titles and going in depth about her leading man, Robert Harron, as being one of the few actors personally trained by Griffith himself, and how his career was cut short due to a premature accidental shooting in 1920. Out of circulation since then, HAPPY VALLEY has had its limitations on video cassette in 1997 through Critic's Choice Masterpiece/Killian Collection accompanied by a piano score. However, the Critic's Choice video print, at 78 minutes, runs 23 minutes longer than the original television showing of 55 either due to corrected silent projection speed or missing scenes restored.

Not in the large-scale sense of the two-hour plus epics as Griffith's earlier features of THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915), INTOLERANCE (1916) and HEARTS OF THE WORLD (1918), HAPPY VALLEY, resembles that of a small film based on a short story. Also credited by Griffith as its author, it's scenario simply comes close to his own heart, and it shows. This was Griffith's heritage. These were his people enacted on screen. This was his hometown of "make believe" known as Happy Valley. (**1/2)
felt boot

felt boot

Must all director D.W. Griffith's stories make a moral point? "A Romance of Happy Valley" offers one readily: "Harm not the stranger within your gates, lest you yourself be hurt." By the film's end, this is shown to be excellent advice. At a Kentucky back-country inn, poor country boy Robert Harron (as John L. Logan Jr.) dreams about making his fortune in the Big City (New York). Hard-working father George Fawcett (as Logan Sr.) and Bible-loving mother Kate Bruce (as Mrs. Logan) don't want to see their son gallivant off to the Wicked City; they want him to remain down on the farm. Girl-next-door Lillian Gish (as Jennie Timberlake) is also afraid she will lose Harron to big city ways…

Robert Harron and Lillian Gish. Corn rustling in the wind. Rustic fences. Of course, this an absolutely gorgeous picture. Griffith and photographer G.W. Bitzer create an extraordinary, classic landscape; and, "A Romance of Happy Valley" is one of their most perfect collaborations. Harron is especially poignant; portraying "Johnny Logan" as an innocent country boy who longs to better his lot in life. His is the film's struggle: the comfort and stability known in simple, rural life vs. the promise of wealth in the unknown, urban city. The story is about Temptation; and Harron must navigate it successfully, or die trying…

The film begins with lovely images: Harron working the fields; Gish in her fenced lawn. Then, they court; in a great scene, the two use their hands on a farm tool, to express their emotions. After Harron decides to leave for New York, Gish and Harron's parents endeavor to change his mind. Gish dons herself in the latest fashions, and his parents trust their Minister will change Harron's wayward ways. In Church, Gish looks woeful; and Harron looks desperately ill (showing his soul). The plan works; however, Harron's salvation is short-lived. Then, Harron leaves for Sin City; where he decides to make his fortune by inventing a toy frog that swims…

The symbolism is rich; and, when the toy frog swims, so does Harron. When he goes home, Harron finds his parents have grown desperately poor. Mother Bruce has faith that the Lord will provide. Father Fawcett is unable to avoid his own Temptation; so, to save the farm, he decides to assault the rich stranger in town, unaware the "city slicker" is his own son. Although he is matured by his experience in the city, Harron's character is untainted by Temptation; note the nonthreatening manner Harron displays at Gish's bedroom window, near the end. Harron startles, but does not frighten Gish; he is transformed into an ideal man, who retains his better country traits.

Robert Harron was the "Best Actor" performing in films during 1919, with the following remarkable, and highly recommended, features: A Romance of Happy Valley (1919), The Girl Who Stayed at Home (1919), The Greatest Question (1919), and True Heart Susie (1919). Frequent co-star Lillian Gish was filmdom's "Best Actress"; of these films, she is most remarkable in "True Heart Susie". Griffith's reliable supporting cast is wonderful, as always. Aside from the aforementioned supporting players, "Happy Valley" includes the reliably smarmy Bertram Grassby as "Judas", who is said to be descended from the original Iscariot. And, Carol Dempster has a nice turn as a wicked city woman. The ending is very exciting, and Griffith improves significantly upon his earlier "The Son's Return" (1909).

********* A Romance of Happy Valley (1/26/19) D.W. Griffith ~ Robert Harron, Lillian Gish, George Fawcett, Kate Bruce


"A Romance of Happy Valley" is a good smaller production from D.W. Griffith. It's very similar to and somewhat lesser than his later film also of the same year, "True Heart Susie". Both pictures star Lillian Gish and Robert Harron as lovers estranged for considerable length and are coming-of-age melodramas set in America's rural South. I'm not positive, but the same sets may have been used in both films; regardless, the locations are similar looking.

As in the later film, Gish plays a naïve, long-suffering country girl who awaits Harron's return from making good in the city. The narrative here isn't as well developed as that for "True Heart Susie" and, perhaps, one can view "A Romance of Happy Valley" as a bit of a trial run for the later film. The frog toy invention Harron makes good with seems as though it must be a joke I'm not getting. And, the contrived ending reused from Griffith's short film "The Son's Return" (1909) and the Judas character were unnecessary and irrelevant to the main story. A more abrupt reunion finale without the cheap surprise gimmicks would have been preferred.

Nevertheless, I like the film for its nice photography and good scene dissection between the picturesque countryside and closer views of the characters. The beauty of Bitzer's cinematography isn't as evident in the somewhat worn out print for this film as it is in the recent Film Preservation Associates restoration of "True Heart Susie" and in some of Griffith's other more prominent releases, but since "A Romance of Happy Valley" was considered lost until a print was discovered in a Soviet archive in 1971, we should, I suppose, consider ourselves fortunate. Additionally, arguably the best part of this picture, as was often the case in her films, is Lillian Gish's performance. She really makes her character appear featherbrained in this one, with her nervous skipping and wide-eyed look. The scene where she jerks her head right and left causing her hat to flip sides each time with her while she argues her need for more fashionable clothes to her father was especially amusing. And, her scenes with Harron's coat on a scarecrow rack, as a substitute for her estranged lover, are pitiful and poignant.


Romance of Happy Valley, A (1918)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

D.W. Griffith film was one of four he rushed at First National. A poor boy (Robert Harron) from Kentucky goes to NYC to make a fortune while his love (Lillian Gish) waits back at home. In a lot of ways this was a semi-bio pick about Griffith's own life as he too was a poor boy from Kentucky who went to the big city to make it rich. Like the character in the movie, Griffith at the time was breaking up with Gish in favor of Carol Dempster who has a small part in this film playing a NYC girl who tries to steal the Kentucky boy. On the whole, this film is rushed together and it really doesn't work in the end even though there's a lot to admire here. The performances by Harron and Gish are very good and the cinematography by G.W. Bitzer is also good. The story drags at even 70-minutes with a far fetched ending that borrows from Griffith's earlier film The Son's Return.


There are two things wrong with the title: (1) The movie is not a romance. Well, not primarily anyway. There is a romance between Lillian Gish and Robert Harron, but it is very secondary to the main plot. (2) It's not a happy valley and never was until right at the end of the movie. On the other hand, it's certainly not a dull picture. In fact, it's rather unique in its way. It's the only movie I know of in which the main character gets away with deliberately murdering someone in order to rob him – a hideous act made even more pointed because the murderer is one of those religious bigots who not only revel in their own supposed intimate relationship with God, but go out of their way to demean all those neighbors who don't go about their religious "duties" with the same fervor, or worse still, don't keep Sundays holy and churchy at all. George Fawcett plays this hideous monster most convincingly – and that, of course, makes his act of deliberate, forethought murder all the more shocking. But even more startling to all the censors – at least until a few years ago – is that the murderer is not brought to book at all. He actually gets away with it! Fortunately, this fact is not emphasized. Instead the movie ends on an optimistic note when our hero, Robert Harron, returns home to marry his childhood sweetheart, Lillian Gish. Mind you, he hasn't bothered to communicate with her or even send her a postcard for eight or ten years, even though he promised he would! But she waits patiently for him all the same. That's love! A print is now available on a good Alpha DVD.


Back in the early 20th century, D.W. Griffith was an innovative filmmaker. He managed to tell wonderful stories and was wildly popular through the 1910s. However, as the years passed, Griffith went from being an innovator to being very old fashioned and stodgy. It wasn't that his films had changed so much as times had changed and he hadn't kept up with them. This is strongly evident with his "A Romance of Happy Valley"—a film which worked in 1919 when it debuted but which would just seem hokey into the 1920s. This is because the film is extremely moralistic and the subtitles often come off as preachy homilies than anything else.

The story is one close to Griffith's heart. After all, like the characters in the story, he grew up in rural Kentucky and he idealized its simple way of life. Oddly, however, the film decries the evils of moving to the big city—something Griffith himself did when he packed up and moved to Los Angeles. While the city was hardly a metropolis at the time, compared to his native Kentucky, it was practically sin city! The story is about a country boy named Johnny. After hearing a New Yorker talk about how wonderful the big city is, Johnny is determined to go there and make his fortune. The problems are that Jennie (Lillian Gish) is in love with him and his parents have worked hard on the farm in order to pass it down to him. Regardless, he eventually does go to New York and soon learns about the drudgeries of city life. And, while he promised to return in one year, one year soon stretches to eight! What's to become of Jennie and Johnny's farm? If you could re-write the heavy-handed intertitle cards (which sound more like the teachings of Norman Vincent Peale than those of a filmmaker), didn't use white folks painted black* as well as NOT made all the references to Judas Iscariot for one of the characters, the film would have worked a lot better. After all, the ending is very creative and the cinematography was lovely. Worth seeing but is extremely old fashioned and is not among Griffith's better work. And, if you've seen other films like Griffith's "Home, Sweet Home" you'll see that the themes in "A Romance of Happy Valley" are often repeated in his work.

*After watching this film and other Griffith films (especially "Birth of a Nation"), I can only conclude that Griffith must have really hated black people. Again and again, instead of hiring black actors, he usually just had white guys paint themselves with burnt cork to play black parts. An enlightened guy he wasn't—and may help explain why such an important early filmmaker is all but forgotten today.