Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)

Americans calling my nation’s national holiday “Saint Patty’s Day” is one of those things that, as an Irishmouse, I am supposed to be Very Annoyed About. Honestly, it doesn’t bug me. Way I see it, if Irish Americans hadn’t turned March 17 into a major celebration of Irish identity and history in the eighteen hundreds, today the feast of Saint Patrick would be about as big a deal as the third Sunday of Ordinary Time so I say let ‘em call it whatever they like. At this point, it’s as much theirs as ours. Ireland and America have always had a very close relationship, culturally. This has often been a very positive thing, but it does cause problems. Picture Ireland as a man with a very quiet voice and a huge megaphone with the words “MADE IN AMERICA” emblazoned on it. Ireland has a global cultural presence and clout far, far beyond what you’d expect for a small country with a relatively paltry population and that’s largely due to the outsize influence Irish emigrants have had in the shaping of the world’s only cultural hyperpower. But what that means is that what the world perceives as “Irishness” is often filtered first through an American prism. Small Irish voice, big American megaphone. The result is that how we’re perceived by the rest of the world is often completely out of our hands.  Take a look at this picture:

The photo was taken in 1946 in County Kerry in the West of Ireland. The gentleman on the left is one Séamus Delargy, the founder of the Irish Folklore Commission, an organisation tasked with collecting and cataloguing the vast body of oral folklore, songs and poetry that had been passed down by word of mouth by the Irish people since time immemorial. The Irish Folklore Commission, incidentally, later became the Irish Folklore Department in University College Dublin where I got the degree that has made me the wealthy, eminently employable mouse I am today.

Oh, and the guy on the right is Walt Disney.

So, around the end of the second world war, Disney had set his heart on making a film based on Irish legends (Disney’s great-grandfather was from Kilkenny). He was put in touch with Delargey and over the next decade the two men corresponded continously. Delargy viewed Disney’s film as a chance to bring some of the treasure trove of Irish folklore his commission had uncovered to a wider audience, and dispatched crates of books, plays and manuscripts to Burbank. To Delargy’s disappointment however, Disney eventually decided to base his Irish film on Herminie Templeton Kavanagh’s “Darby O’Gill” books. Here we have the relationship between Irish folklore and it’s American amanuenses personified. Delargy says “Here is a huge and varied body of folktales full of magic, heroes, epic quests, tricksters and romance.” and Disney replies “That’s nice. Leprechauns, please.”

This movie’s reputation is a little hard to assess. In America, it’s fairly obscure, but amongst those who know of it it’s quite highly regarded. Hell, no less an authority than Leonard Malthin, a man who eats Disney movies and shits special limited edition Blu-Rays , called it “not only one of Disney best films, but certainly one of the best fantasies ever put to film.”

Well. Clearly SOMEONE’s never seen Hawk the Slayer.

 In Ireland it is most certainly not obscure. And our relationship to this particular movie is…complicated. It was a huge hit when it was released here, with Disney himself attending the Dublin premiere which virtually brought the city to a standstill. But it arrived at a very crucial period in Irish history, when Taoiseach Seán Lemass was trying to cast off the nation’s image as a rural backwater and promote Ireland as a modern economy ready to do business with the world. The success of this movie and it’s bucolic image of rural towns and cheerfully superstitious peasants had many in government muttering between clenched teeth: “You. Are. Not. Helping.” Today it remains a staple of Irish television, particularly around Saint Patrick’s day, and is one of those movies that almost every Irish person has seen once, along with Michael Collins and Die Hard*. But there has always been an undercurrent of resentment to this movie, with many feeling that it’s…what’s the word I’m looking for?

“Racist?”

“Ah, no.”

But “Darby O’Gill” has definitely become a shorthand for fake, inauthentic Oirishness in film. But is that reputation justified? Let’s take a look, just to be sure. To be sure.

To be sure.

So we open on a wee village with thatched cottages, and young boys playing hurling, all set to the lilting tones of “When Irish eyes are smiling”. This of course establishes our story as taking place in Monaco, the jewel of Europe and playground of the rich and famous.  Nah, just kidding. This is Rathcullen in County Kerry. The movie opens with a rather strange message from Uncle Walt himself.

Okay, so forty years before the makers of The Blair Witch Project tried to convince the world that, no really, there was a witch in Maryland taking a courageous stand against the making of student films, Disney went full on method trying to convince people that there were real fairies in his fairy film. In interviews and all the publicity he swore blind that he had actually captured “The King of the Leprechauns” and forced him and his subjects to appear in this film. Which, now that I think of it, makes this title card more cruelly sarcastic than anything.

“Make no mistake. I will break you. The question is, how many of your people will I have to drown in this bucket before you give in?”

“Alright! You win, you divil!”

“Thank you for your…gracious co-operation.”

Oh, and because this will drive me crazy if I don’t point this out; there are no leprechauns in this film despite how often the word is used. See, “leprechaun” isn’t a species, it’s a job title. A leprechaun is a fairy shoe-maker, meaning that the little people we see here are all just fairies.

Anyway, an old woman named Sheila Sugrue (Estelle Winwood) arrives at the country estate of Lord Fitzpatrick and visits the house of his gamekeeper, Darby O’Gill. Darby’s out, but she finds his daughter Katie (Janet Munro) churning butter in the kitchen. So the O’Gills have a pretty sweet set up here. Darby tends the grounds and he and his daughter get to live in the gatehouse which actually has doors and an upstairs. So we’re talking creme de la creme. Sheila, whose manner resembles nothing so much as Gollum in a shawl, has her eye on the O’Gills sweet, two storey action, and wants to see her son Pony married to Katie. Although to be honest, the way the scene is played it seems like she’s perfectly willing to seduce Katie herself if that’s what she’s in to.

If you think there’s a single Irish person who wouldn’t turn gay for some quality real estate, you are sorely mistaken.

Now, both Winwood and Munro were English actors attempting Irish accents and they both sound like they’re impersonating sheep dogs. Welsh sheep dogs. It’s really, really distracting which is why it’s kind of incredible just how much I love Janet Munro in this part. You can instantly see why Walt Disney signed her to a five picture deal as soon as he laid eyes on her, she’s just radiating charisma off the screen. It also helps that Katie O’Gill is one of the most layered and formidable Disney heroines of the era.   Her career hit the skids after she left Disney and she herself died from a heart attack at the tragically young age of 38. Breaks my heart, she deserved so much better.

Anyway, they’re interrupted by Lord Fitzpatrick (Walter Fitzgerald), who arrives with a young man named Michael and the most magnificent mutton chops in the annals of nature.

He killed the previous owner of the estate, whose facial hair was less magnificent, and took his land and women. As is the way of our people.

And before you ask, yes, that is baby Sean Connery as Michael McBride. I’d say it’s distracting that he doesn’t even bother with the Irish accent but honestly, it’s Connery, and I’d be more freaked out if he did. Lord Fitzpatrick asks Katie where Darby is and she makes up some BS about him cutting the hedges and runs off to get him before Michael can give her so much as a “Woll, hollo thar.” His Lordship tells Michael that Darby basically stopped giving a shit about his job five years ago which is why he’s brought Michael here to replace him. Fitzpatrick wanders into the kitchen where Sheila is waiting with her whole spiel which is basically “Darby’s older than shit. He’s gonna die soon. Hire my son.”  Fitzpatrick says that he’d really rather bring in someone from outside the town who’d be “more respected” and Sheila retorts that Pony is respected, and feared too, because he’s beaten up half the parish. And Fitzpatrick is all “Wow. He sounds like a peach.” As Fitzpatrick and Michael leaver, Sheila calls after him that if Pony was in charge, he wouldn’t let the estate fall “to rack and ruin while he was in the pub tellin’ STAH-RIES!”

Darby is indeed in the pub, and he is indeed tellin’ STAH-RIES, specifically about the night he caught the fairy king Brian on top of Knocknasheega (the fairy mountain). One thing I have to say is that, dodgy accents notwithstanding, the cast is pretty damn good all across the board but the movie’s MVP is definitely Albert Sharpe as Darby. It’s rare enough that a seventy-four year old man gets to headline the movie and he really anchors this whole thing. He’s got a wonderful face, all twinkles and dimples and he’s just charming. Plus, it helps that Sharpe was actually Irish.

Look at him. You can’t fake that shit.

The patrons are listening to his tale with rapt attention but he gets heckled by Pony(Kieron Moore), the Village Douche. Pony demands another whiskey and the publican tells him that he’s had enough whiskey but that if he minds his manners he can have a stout. Pony’s all “what am I, five?” and demands his whiskey and the publican, Tom Kerrigan, tells him that he’d beat him up if he was ten years younger and Pony replies “But you’re not ten years younger”, thereby winning the ancient Irish game of “I know how old you aren’t”. Kerrigan then threatens to tell the priest and have Pony banned from the pub.

It might seem weird to you that the priest can ban somebody the pub and the publican can’t. But you’re obviously wrong.

Since you’re not going to beat the priest card unless you’re on good terms with a bishop, Pony reluctantly accepts the stout and Darby continues with his story which we see in flashback. He tells them how he caught King Brian (Jimmy O’Dea) and demanded three wishes from him. This is the first look we get at the special effects and hot damn but let us never forget that Disney were the ILM of their day. The compositing is effortlessly convincing and good direction and performances do the rest.

So Darby makes his three wishes. He wishes for health (smart), a good crop of potatoes (goddamn it Darby) and of course, the old favourite, a crock of gold. But Brian asks him what he wants for his fourth wish and Darby, being the decent skin he is, asks for a crock of gold for each of his friends. Brian’s all “Psyche, bitch!” and tells him that because he made a fourth wish, his previous three are cancelled and then he dances the ancient jig of “Fuck You” and vanishes.

Back in the pub, a priest suddenly appears to the surprise of no one because this is Ireland and back in the day there were priests everywhere, watching and waiting like the Viet Cong. Father Murphy tells the people that the next parish over is getting a new church bell which means that Rathcullen can have their old one. Everyone is overjoyed at the news that they’re getting sloppy bell seconds. Father Murphy asks if there’s anyone with a horse and cart willing to go and get the bell. Pony offers to go for cold hard cash but Darby offers to do it for free, seeing as he’s been cavorting with fairies which is something the church has historically taken a dim view of and this will absolve him of his sin. Father Murphy says that his reward will be the music of the church bell, (which in Catholic Ireland was worth approximately seven thousand dollars, pre-euro).

Back at the estate, Lord Fitzpatrick tells Darby that he’s being replaced with Michael and Darby is heartbroken. But Lord Fitzpatrick is no fool, and he knows that dicking over Irish peasants is a real good way to get a civil resistance tactic named after you, so he tells Darby that he’ll retire him at half pay and that he’ll get a cottage rent free to live out the rest of his days which, I gotta say, is a pretty sweet deal. Lord Fitzpatrick asks Michael if it’s alright if Darby stays on in the gatehouse for two weeks, and Michael says he can stay longer if he likes because he feels guilty about taking the old man’s job and Fitzpatrick tells him to rent a room in the local inn. Darby asks his lordship not to tell Katie that they have to leave the gatehouse, and that he’ll tell her himself. After Fitzpatrick leaves, Darby invites Michael to stay in the gatehouse instead and introduces him to Katie and there’s clearly a spark of attraction between the two of them.

“Woll. Hollo thar.”

But Darby tells Katie that Michael is just a day labourer, not his replacement, and asks the reluctant Michael to play along for the time being. While they’re waiting for dinner, Darby plays Michael some music on his violin and tells him that he learned the tune from the fairies. Michael humours the old man, but Katie thinks she’s making fun of him. And you don’t want to make fun of an Irish girl’s father.

Fun fact. Connery prepared for the “lazer to the groin” scene in Goldfinger by having her glare at his nads.

After dinner, Darby tells Michael that he’s going to find his horse, Cleopatra, so as to be ready for the journey to collect the bell in the morning. Michael tells Darby to tell Katie that she’s going to have to leave the gatehouse, because he doesn’t like keeping her in the dark and Darby says that he will when the time is right. Darby then goes looking for Cleopatra who’s wandered up Knocknasheegha. He finds the horse looking standing beside a well with strange light and mysterious music coming from it and nope, nothing sinister about that, nossir. He goes to bridle her but Cleopatra suddenly starts glowing green.

So, were horses always terrifying and I just never realised?

Cleopatra then rears up and kicks Darby down the well and just stands there looking down, presumably to see the look on Darby’s face before he’s dashed on the rocks below.

Seriously? Horses were the devil and no one ever pointed this out?

Darby awakens to find himself in the fairy kingdom and is lead into the presence of King Brian who’s played by Jimmy O’…

“IX-NAY! IX-NAY!”

“Oh for the love of..”

“Don’t say his name! If you do, I lose control of him! It’s a reverse Rumpelstiltskin!”

Right, so Disney was so insanely committed to keeping up the illusion that these were real fairies that he refused to even list the names of the actors playing them in the credits or any of the promotional material. On the one hand, it’s kinda cool that he was so committed to maintaining kayfabe, on the other hand it kinda sucks for any of the actors who were trying to build up a resume.Whatever, this is King Brian, played by…King Brian, who we’re introduced to sitting on  a massive throne playing a set of bagpipes even though a) that’s really more of a Scottish thing and b) the music we hear is clearly an uilleann pipe, not a blowing bagpipe. This actually happens a lot in movies. You know that famous scene in Braveheart where they’re burying William Wallace’s father and there’s all those dudes playing bagpipes? Well no, they’re holding bagpipes, but the music is actually uilleann pipes. They often stand in for bagpipes because they produce a sound that’s similar to bagpipes but can also be considered…y’know. Music.

Anyway, King Brian tells Darby to sit down and make himself comfortable and also that he’s stuck here for all eternity. Darby is distraught and says that he has to get back to Katie and Brian replies “Don’t worry about Katie. She’ll throw a nice wake for you and then forget all about you.” Darby is furious, saying that he’s been telling stories about the fairies for years, warning women to watch where they throw their water and telling the men to salute swirls of dust. So…this is probably a good time to bring up the accuracy of the depiction of the fairies here which, you’ll probably be surprised to hear me say, is good to great. All the behaviours Darby mentions were real practices in the fairy faith, the complex system of rituals used to avoid currying bad luck by insulting the sí. See, while Delargy might have been disappointed that Disney didn’t broaden his depiction of Irish folklore beyond fairies or leprechauns, that’s not to say that fairies and leprechauns aren’t a massive part of Irish folklore or that Disney didn’t do his homework, because, quite evidently, he did. Brian tells Draby that he heard that he was being put out to pasture and took pity on him, which is why he’s been brought to the fairy realm where the party never stops. He asks Darby to play them some music, and Dabry’s all “Sure, let me just go home and get my fiddle” but Brian’s too cute for him and instead gives him a Stradivarius. Darby complains that he’d rather have his own fiddle and Brian’s replies through gritted teeth “Well, you’ll have to make do with this one” is just hilarious.

Knowing that the fairies are bloodthirsty little fuckers, Darby plays a hunting tune in a scene whose sheer, feverish madness I am ill equipped to convey…

So.

After…

That…

Brian and his fairies ride out through a gap in the mountain. As the gap begins to close Darby hurriedly fills his pockets with treasure and runs to freedom, only to find that there was a hole in his pocket so he’s richer only in experience. He finds Cleopatra, who whinnys mockingly at him, prompting Darby to say “Who’s side are you on, anyway?”

Which is an…odd thing to say to someone who literally just tried to kill you a few moments prior. Also, Jesus Chris this horse is fucking terrifying. Look at it. It looks like a fucking xenomorph.

Darby races back home and puts Cleopatra back in the stable. But a furious Brian follows him and demands that he return to Knocknasheegha. Darby stalls for time and offers him a drink of poitín. Poitín is a traditional Irish drink that’s…alcohol. It’s literally just 98% alcohol and 2% flop sweat from the farmer who made it in a basin in his tool shed. It’s liquid suicide, and probably quicker than a gun. So Brian and Darby end up spending the whole night drinking and singing old Irish standards like “How grand to see the landlord bleed”, “Faith and Begorrah!” and “My liver is a mass of burning agony, fetch the priest for pity’s sake.”

They sing eighty rounds of a drinking song and Brian holds his own against Darby pretty well considering that he’s literally smaller than his opponent’s liver, but eventually falls into a drunken stupor and wakes up the next morning. Now that it’s dawn, he can’t use his powers and Darby traps him and demands three wishes. Brian at first refuses but reconsiders when Darby goes full on Bond villain and threatens to feed him to his cat because Mr O’Gill DOES NOT FUCKING PLAY.

“Patience, my pet.”

Brian gives in and Darby makes his first wish; that Brian can’t leave his side until he’s granted his remaining two wishes. Which might sound like a waste, but fairies are treacherous and you have to take drastic measures to make sure they keep up their side of the bargain. Personally, I would have saved the wish and just nailed his little feet to the floor but I guess it’s a family picture or whatever. The wish granted, Darby sticks Brian in a sack who swears some of the choicest profanity that ever got into a Disney movie which no one noticed because its all in Irish. Meanwhile, in the gatehouse, Michael asks Katie where Darby is and she says his bed hasn’t been slept in but that he’ll turn up. Michael says that he thought Darby might have gone looking for the fairyking and and Katie’s all “Oh yeah, he does that”. Michael asks if he goes looking for fairies when he’s been on the gargle and Katie coldly replies that he’s “not a drinking man”. And considering we just saw Darby drinking  eighty cups of poitín that’s almost certainly true. Nothing human could do that. She tells Michael that Darby’s been lonely since her mother died and only goes to the pub for companionship. He asks her if she ever gets lonely and she says she keeps busy. She mentions that there’s a dance in the town and asks him if he wants to go with her, which kind of blew me away, honestly. It’s rare enough that the girl asks the guy out in movies even now. Darby arrives at the breakfast table and he and Michael keep up the pretence that Michael’s just there to help cut the turf. Darby tells Michael that if he does a good job he might keep him on permanently and Katie, who’s no fool, asks how he can afford to start hiring people to work for him. Darby tells her that they’re fortunes have changed and that he’s thinking of buying the manor house. She thinks he’s joking of course but he asks her what she wants more than anything in the world and she tells him that she wants him to sit down, eat his breakfast and whist his noise hole. Darby confides to Michael “She should be the caretaker. She’s got a tongue that could clip a hedge”. You know that? Something that this movie doesn’t really get credit for, it’s a damn funny script.

Later, Katie is wandering through the estate and yes, ladies and genetlemen, I can confirm that the legends are true, she hears Michael singing. Weird as it is to see 007 bursting into song, he’s actually perfectly capable. I mean, he probably wasn’t going to be headlining any Broadway musicals but he can hold a tune and he’s actually got a very nice singing voice. The two chat and flirt so shamelessly that the seven or eight priests watching from the bushes become very concerned.

Meanwhile, Darby arrives in the village with the bell and receives a hero’s welcome. He goes into the pub for a pint with the sack containing Brian and when the locals ask what he’s got he tells them the truth. As the townspeople watch in amazement, he puts a glass of whiskey in the bag which is then thrown back out, empty. Darby bids them all farewell and the landlady takes the glass and puts it on the mantelpiece saying: “There’s a story that’ll bear repeating. And if any man doubts it? There’s the very glass.”

SCIENCE.

Darby returns home to find Katie getting ready for the dance and asks if she’s going with Michael. But she tells him Michael’s busy patrolling the estate for poachers so Darby goes looking for him. In the dark someone leaps at him from behind a bush and to his surprise it’s not a priest, but Michael. Darby asks him what the feck he’s doing and Michael sarcastically says “When I saw a man running through the woods at night with a game bag, wasn’t I a fool to mistake him for a poacher?” Darby admits he’s got a point and Michael says he’s got to confiscate whatever he’s got in the bag. Darby shows him Brian, but Michael can only see him as a rabbit. Exasperated, Darby says “I wish you could see him.” and Brian says “Granted” thus using Darby’s second wish.

“Pff…rookie.”

Darby’s furious but then demands that Brian at least grant his wish and Brian points out that Michael can totally see him. As a rabbit. Darby’s about ready to choke a bitch, so Brian tells him that Michael will be able to see him tonight in his dreams.

As will we all.

Later, Darby and Brian see Pony leave Katie home after the dance. Pony tries for a kiss but Katie’s all “Newp” and heads inside. Darby’s worried about Pony making eyes at his daughter, but Brian tells him that she has bigger things to worry about. He says that if Darby doesn’t let him go, the other fairies will stop at nothing to get him back, and might even abduct Katie. Darby counters that if they do, he’ll straight murder Brian and Brian yells “You do and I’ll put a scourge on this land that’ll make the potato famine look like a Sunday regatta!”

DAMN THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY!

Okay, I legitimately love how psychotically adorable the relationship between Darby and Brian is. You ever meet someone that you just had such good chemistry with that you physically could not prevent yourself from becoming friends with them? Darby and Brian just click on every level that they can’t help being buddies even though their entire relationship has to be sustained with coercion and threats of murder and kidnap.

“Oh ho! We’re such good friends!”

“Let me go or my friends will kidnap your daughter!”

“I’ll fucking murder you!”

“I’LL GENOCIDE YOUR ENTIRE MISERABLE POTATO EATING RACE!”

“Oh ho! We’re such good friends!”

Brian reminds Darby that, as king of the fairies, he actually has important shit to do like keeping the unholy forces of darkness from running amuck over the mortal world so just make the last wish already. But Darby doesn’t know what to wish for. He wants Katie to be happy, and he and Brian reason that what Katie wants is a good man.

Or…does she?

So that’s how it’s going to go. Brian and Darby play matchmaker for Katie and Michael. Brian visits both of them and talks to them in their sleep, planting the idea in the their heads that they should go for a picnic on Knocknasheegha  and also that they should put the little elephant with the big ears in their new act…wait, wrong Disney movie.

The next day they go up the mountain and have a run in with Pony who gets handsy with Katie. Michael is about to throw down but Katie handles it, telling Pony that if he doesn’t piss off she’ll never speak to him again. Michael’s pride is wounded and he tells Katie that he didn’t need her help and she’s all “Yeah ya did, he would have killed you.” He asks her if she would have cared and she says “Not in the slightest.”

Guys. Janet Munroe is so, so, good in this part. Connery’s already an obvious star in the making, even this early in his career but Munroe is another level here. Her facial acting is just a joy to behold because all through this scene she’s just daring him to kiss her.

“Do it. Doooooooooo it.”

Darby and Brian watch them secretly (along with several dozen heavily camoflaged priests). Katie leans in to kiss him but he trolls her and walks away, which leads Brian to yell in disgust “AND HIM A DUBLIN MAN!”

Which. Fair. We are total sluts.

But Katie O’Gill isn’t going to just take that shit so she just follows him, grabs him, and kisses him her damn self. Everything looks like it’s coming up roses but then Sheila Sugrue sees a postcard addressed to Michael in the post office from Fitzpatrick and realises that Michael has been given Darby’s job. She shows the postcard to Pony and tells him that he needs to run Michael out of town.

Michael arrives back at the gatehouse to find Katie furiously packing her things. He asks what’s wrong and she tells him that she knows that he’s here to take her father’s job and take over the gatehouse. She’s furious that he didn’t tell her and Michael says that he doesn’t want her and Darby to leave and asks her to marry him.  And Katie’s all “Newp” and storms off.

Meanwhile, in the pub, half of Rathcullen has gathered to see Darby make his final wish. Everyone assumes that he’s going to wish for the crock of gold but he says that “nine times out of ten, it leads to unhappiness”. So the landlady wisely suggests he wishes for happiness, but Darby solemnly replies “Human beings need bitter with the sweet.”

“Deep, man.”

Just as Darby’s about to make his wish, Katie runs into the pub and tells him he has to catch Cleopatra because Fitzpatrick is coming home and they need to be moved out of the gatehouse beofre he arrives. She gets so angry that she throws his bag on the ground and Brian runs out (disguised as a rabbit) and Darby chases him around the courtyard while the townsfolk  laugh at him.

“Crazy old Darby!”
“He’s always good for a laugh.”

Katie goes back to the barn to get the halter to catch Cleopatra herself. Michael tells her its too dangerous and tries to stop her and she uses the halter to WHIP SEAN CONNERY IN THE FUCKING FACE.

THIS MOVIE IS AWESOME.

Michael tries to go after her but he gets jumped by Pony, who knocks him unconscious and then leaves him at the front door of the manor house with a bottle of booze to make it look like he was drinking on the job. Darby finds Michael and manages to rouse him and Michael tells him that Katie’s gone to bring Cleopatra back from Knocknasheegha. Darby is desperately worried for her safety. And then they hear the banshee wailing. Which is not a good sign.

Darby and Michael race to the mountain and Darby finds her at the bottom of a ravine with Cleopatra looking down on her handiwork.

SHOOT. THE FUCKING. HORSE.

The banshee appears and Darby manages to drive her off with his lantern (in another sign that the film-makers did their research, the banshee is coming her hair). Michael and Darby bring Katie home but she’s badly injured and in urgent need of a priest. As Father Murphy administers the last rites, Darby hears the banshee wailing outside the house and decides there’s nothing for it but to beat death over the head with a shovel until it goes away. He drives the banshee away, but it’s too late; the Cóiste Bodhar is already coming for Katie. Sorry, I’ve just realised that I haven’t explained what either the Banshee or the Cóiste Bodhar are, but then, in my defence, the movie doesn’t either. It just assumes you’re familiar with both these figures of Irish mythology. The banshee you’ve probably already heard of, it’s a female spirit who’s terrifying shriek heralds the death of someone close to whoever hears it. And the Cóiste Bodhar (“The Silent Coach”) is a carriage that fairies the dead to the next world, driven by a headless horseman called a Dullahan.

Darby calls out for Brian who appears and he begs the fairy king to send the Cóiste Bodhar back. But Brian says that he has no control over it, and that once it leaves it can never return empty. So Darby uses his last wish to take Katie’s place in the coach, which Brian sadly grants.

Darby enters the pitch black coach, which carries him off. Brian appears by his side in the coach to wish his old frenemy goodbye. He tells Darby that Katie’s fever broke the second he stepped in the coach (no word on her massive internal injuries but presumably they’re fine now too). Darby thanks him, and asks him to look after Michael and Katie, which Brian promises to do. Brian says that it’s a shame that Darby won’t see their wedding, but Darby says “It’s better for the old to die than the young.”

Brian casually says “I wish I could go all the way with you.”

Darby replies “I wish you could too.”

And then, because he’s made a fourth wish, all his previous wishes are cancelled and Brian pushes Darby out of the Cóiste Bodhar. So…because all his wishes are cancelled, Katie’s dead now? Well, maybe the Dullahan just couldn’t be arsed to make two trips.

Anyway, Darby is soon regaling the regulars in the pub about how he’s the only man to ever set foot in the Cóiste Bodhar and live to tell of it. Pony, of course, poo-poos his whole story. Michael arrives and tells Pony that he knows it was him who jumped him and then proceeds to beat seven shades of green out of him. And the entire fight scene is rendered in the sublime, wrinkly origami of Albert Sharpe’s reaction shots.

I swear to God, if they’d spliced in some Albert Sharpe reaction shots into the fight scenes, Iron Fist would have been a thousand times better. This scene, incidentally, is what got Connery the Bond franchise and you can totally see why. Michael just has this charming sadism to him as he lets Pony know exactly what he’s going to do him that is pure Bond.

And the movie ends with Darby driving Michael and Katie back to the gatehouse to begin their new lives together. And Sean Connery sings again. And it’s still weird.

***

Yes, it’s cringey. Yes, it’s twee. Yes it’s reductive and stereotypical and yadayadayada…don’t care. Fact is, on a fundamental level Darby O’Gill and the Little People is actually a really solid film. The performances are excellent, the script is witty and the special effects hold up shockingly well (mostly). Even the folklore it depicts is a lot more accurate and well researched than it’s given credit for, and I’m not even sure a movie with this many Irish actors can be accused of being “inauthentic” whatever the feck that even means. What can I say, it won me over in all its twinkly-eyed, dodgy accented charm. It’s not in the top tier of Disney’s live action output but it’s an underappreciated little gem all the same. Thanks to Kristin Q for her generous donation and requesting this review, and a huge thanks to my mother Anna Bale for providing me with a wealth of documents relating to Disney’s correspondence with Seamus Delargy and the Irish Folklore Commission  for this review. See you all in two weeks.

Oh, and a belated happy Patty’s day.

Scoring

Visuals: 14/20

So I’m going to be reviewing a lot more live action movies on this blog and I probably need a different category than “animation”. I’ve settled on “visuals” which encompasses the special effects, direction and photography. The movie boasts some special effects that absolutely hold up to this day, and others that, um, don’t. Direction is by Robert Stephenson who does his usual workmanlike job.

Heroes: 16/20

Albert Sharpe is an absolute joy as Darby and Brian is brought by a wonderfully winning performance by Jimmy O’Dea….oh crap.

“Hee! Hee! He said my name! I’m free! I’m free!”

“GODAMMIT MOUSE!”

Villains: 08/20

Pony and Sheila aren’t exactly going to be troubling any lists of all time great movie villains but they do their job. The banshee and dullahan are still pretty creepy, even if the effects haven’t aged wonderfully.

Supporting Characters: 16/20

Munroe and Connery have great chemistry which makes for a surprisingly compelling love story.

Music: 13/20

My Pretty Irish Girl is a catchy little number, and the soundtrack is fine if you don’t have an aversion to diddly-iddle.

FINAL SCORE: 67%

NEXT UPDATE: 06 April 2017

NEXT TIME: Mouse sails off through night and day, and in and out of weeks, almost over a year…

To the place where the wild things are…

*Michael Collins because it’s about the Irish War of Independence and Die Hard because it’s fuckin’ Die Hard.

39 comments

  1. Thanks for the review, Mouse! I think I really will have to see this one sometime. 😀

    Although…ahem.

    “The banshee appears and Darby manages to drive her off with his lantern (in another sign that the film-makers did their research, the banshee is coming her hair).”

    That…that’s supposed to be “combing” her hair…right? :\

      1. If it makes you feel better, I was reading this right before falling asleep and I was convinced that I had been spelling “combing” wrong all this time.

  2. Great review, Mouse! Reminds me that I need to watch this film sometime. It looks good and this review piqued my interest in seeing it again.

    This is a thought I’ve had for a while, and I wanted to know what you think. What do you think is more important in a movie? The story or the characters? Is Pixar correct when they say “Story is king”? Or are the characters the real kings of a movie? If you had to choose one type of movie, would it be one with a good story, but with bad characters? Or one that has a bad story, but good characters? Don’t get me wrong, both are very important elements in a movie (and all forms of entertainment). But at the end of the day, which one do you think is more important and why? And you can only choose one or the other.

    If anyone else wants to answer this, feel free.

    1. I’m going to agree with Mouse. A good character can elevate a mediocre plot but mediocre characters will drag down even an interesting story.

      If a character is popular & memorable enough, they practically become immortal. All you have to do is keep transplanting them into new adventures. (Case in point: Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Dracula.)

  3. This movie may have gotten less obscure since the Nostalgia Critic listed the Banshee as his top scariest nostalgia moments. (Then again, my family watches this on an annual basis; my mom’s favorite scene is Albert Sharpe’s reactions to the pub fight, which I must now and forever refer to as “facial origami” thanks to you)

    I really enjoyed this review. Something in the combination of your usual witticisms plus spot-on observations (my god yes, Darby and Brian have a close but bizarre relationship) and the minor addition to the official Shaved Mouse Disney Mythos.

    You know, reviewing the old Disney live-action movies might be worth looking into. When your schedule is no longer booked solid, I mean.

      1. At the rate it’s going, Trump will be impeached before he’ll get that far. Pity everyone can’t get along.

        Speaking of, why can’t Sean Connery to sing more often? It’s not so bad.

  4. Need to get around to seeing this one eventually. I 100% agree with you on Janet Munro being amazing in general. One of the major Disney films I grew up watching (and that I still love dearly) was Swiss Family Robinson and Janet Munro is just one of the best things about that movie. Absolutely tragic that her career never took off outside of Disney and that she died so young.

  5. Loved this movie as a kid, although my VHS copy was damaged, and some important scenes were barely glimpsed through static. This review reminded me that I really ought to track down a BluRay and enjoy it properly for once.

    Weirdly, the one work of fiction I’m aware of that actually got the “leprechaun = cobbler” thing right is the Warwick Davis movie Leprechaun. Which got basically nothing else at all right, so even a stopped clock, I guess.

    Great review, as always. Kinda wish I’d watched this movie for Saint Patrick’s Day. I watched Secret of Kells, which I love, but together they would have made a great double feature.

  6. Oh so that’s what I Dulahan does? I’ve been looking through my school’s archives and my copy of Thomas Keightley and this is the most succinct description I’ve gotten. So thank you for that.
    I’m surprised it’s that good with the folklore, but then again I guess Disney have a decent record when it comes to doing research (I’ve just found out that one of my Proffesors was consulted for Princess and the Frog’s voodoo).
    I guess I’ll have to check this one out.

  7. It’s a nice little movie…not one I would rewatch, but I guess I got to it simply a little too old. If I had seen it as a child, I think it would be more beloved by me. It belongs into the long list of Disney movies which aren’t masterpieces, but if you want a little bit distraction and be sure that you end up with a smile on your face, they are the ones to pick. Also, this song IS catchy, even though it is always weird to see James Bond singing.

  8. With this movie’s reputation I thought this was going to be one of your tear it to pieces reviews. Based on this review this sounds like a decent “watch it on Netflix if you’re bored” movie.

      1. Here in the US, people who know the movie exists tend to think Irish people would be offended by it, as though it’s cultural equivalent of blackface.

      2. Pretty much what Bri said. It’s reputation is not exactly “good acting combined with well researched depiction of Irish folklore.”

  9. Great review and awesome to get an Irish man’s perspective on it!

    I love the movie and actually do think it’s on the top tier of Disney’s live action fare. “Have you ever seen the seagulls a flyin’ o’er the heather?”!

  10. Wonderful review, Mouse! I’m so glad someone bought this one. I picked up the DVD a few years ago, not having seen the movie since childhood (and remembering very little of it), and it’s become a March 17 tradition for me.

    Incidentally, the horse is so weird and terrifying because she’s actually a Pooka, Puca, Phouka, or however you prefer to spell it. I don’t know why she stays in horse form, or how Darby manages to keep her as a common work horse, but it just goes to show how deep he’s in with the “dark forces.”

    1. Actually, that always confused me. Like, she’s a horse except when she gets onto Knocknasheega and suddenly she gets possessed or something? Or is it not really Cleopatra at all but a pooka pretending to be her? (Or is the first time she goes all green demony the “come hither” spell that King Brian cast to get Darby into the fairy mountain?) Dammit, Disney, explain!

  11. I don’t know about Broadway musicals, but when I was at drama school in London, one of my professors recalled once seeing Baby Sean Connery (shirtless!) in a production of SOUTH PACIFIC. Quoth she, “That was the hairiest line of sailors I ever saw.”

  12. “So I’m going to be reviewing a lot more live action movies on this blog”

    Okay, I’m going to have faith, but I’m still saving this quote and date for possible ‘Jump the shark’ lists somewhere else in the Net just in case.

    No pressure, of course!

  13. YOU FORGOT TO MENTION HOW PANTS-SHITTINGLY TERRIFYING THE BANSHEE IS

    I mean, I did first see it when I was, like, five, but Jesus

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