If you were to watch just one St. Patrick’s Day movie this year, Darby O’Gill and the Little People should be it.
While it was not a box office success, Darby O’Gill has become a classic. At the time, they blamed the failure on not being able to cast their original choice as Darby. Disney wanted to have Barry Fitzgerald play dual roles as both Darby and King Brian. He declined because he thought he was too old. Albert Sharpe, who ended up in the title role, was only three years older.
The talent contained in the movie is stupendous, the special effects are impressive even by today’s standards, and it brings in the magic of Ireland.
This stellar movie is on Disney+, but there is a problem with this version. Some voices are dubbed because of the thick Irish accents, which takes away from the authenticity of the movie. It’s unnecessary, sounds weird, and is a tad insulting to Irish folks. The good news is that you can also rent/purchase it on Amazon Prime Video and YouTube in the movie’s original form without this extra dubbing.
Our cantankerous caretaker, Darby O’Gill, is getting on in years and spends most of his days in the pub recounting battles fought against King Brian of the leprechauns. The problem is that he should be doing his duties of caretaking for Lord Fitzpatrick’s property instead. Due to slacking on the job, it should be no surprise that Lord Fitzpatrick fires Darby and hires a younger man to take over. Darby is at a loss over what to tell his daughter, but then he captures King Brian and gains three wishes. The problem is what to wish for that would make his daughter happy, which is all he really cares about.
The Special Effects
The special effects in this movie are great, especially given the time this movie was made. The size difference and how seamlessly the leprechauns and other people fit together is impressive.
It looks so good, but the concept is relatively simple. It was done through forced perspective. The regular-sized characters are placed closer to the camera, and the leprechauns are placed further away, but within the same horizontal plane so you can’t tell there’s so much distance between them. It is seamless. The only thing that breaks the illusion is when Darby grabs what is obviously a puppet of King Brian and shoves him into a bag. This scene is kind of funny because it looks ridiculous, but all of the other effects are spot on.
Albert Sharpe really shines in the titular role. He is captivating in both his mannerisms and expressions when telling stories about his adventures with the leprechauns. Just his facial expressions will make you laugh. The scene where he is watching a fistfight is especially amusing as you know who is winning just from how his face changes.
A Pre-James Bond Sean Connery stars as the younger man named Michael, who is set to take Darby’s place. Connery’s performance in this movie is actually what got him cast as James Bond. Albert R. Broccoli saw him and was so impressed that he cast him in Dr. No. (though it probably didn’t have anything to do with his singing pipes). Connery’s Irish accent is believable, and is one of the only times throughout his career that he didn’t speak in his natural Scottish.
Janet Munro plays Darby’s daughter and Michael’s love interest. This is one of her two best known roles, the other being Roberta in Swiss Family Robinson. She and Connery have a ton of chemistry, as evidenced by their ease of banter and facial expressions. The way she portrays her emotions, such as when she’s really angry at Michael and when she takes control of situations by initiating their kiss, demonstrates her skill as an actress. Her character is strong, opinionated, and spunky. She also has a beautiful singing voice.
The Irish Spirit… Literally
This part of the movie with the banshee is terrifying. Her shrieks are ear-shattering, and the effect of how she floats around is stunning and creepy. The idea of the banshee foretelling death and then a death carriage coming to take you away is so unsettling but adds such an interesting Irish legend into the movie. The real legend goes that when the banshee appears and her mournful wailing is heard, a family member of the person who heard her will die that night. She even combs her hair just like the legends say she does on approach when she presents herself to Darby. You need to look closely though because it is difficult to see.
There is no doubt that this movie will put you in the spirit of the holiday and quickly become an annual tradition. The combination of the leprechauns, setting, Irish legends, acting, and intriguing storyline will have you watching it over and over again.
Image credit: flat lay with leprechaun hat by 123RF