Thursday, March 17, 2016

Darby O'Gill and the Little People ( 1959 )

"Three wishes I'll grant ye, great wishes an' small! But you wish a fourth and you'll lose them all!" 

Darby O'Gill is a wily old codger, but even with all his experience he canno' match wits with the king of the leprechauns, King O'Brien himself. On a spooky moonlit night in Ireland, Darby falls down a well on Fairy Mountain and comes face to face with the king and his band of little people. Darby manages to capture O'Brien and then demands of him his rightful three wishes....one naturally being the proverbial pot o'gold. But the King has learned more than a few tricks over the course of five thousand years and Darby finds that he has to keep a bridle on his tongue in order to hold onto his wishes. 

Darby O'Gill and the Little People is one of the best live-action films that the Walt Disney Studios released during the 1950s, featuring an amusing script full of Irish wit, engaging actors, a heap o'magical effects and legions of little people. 

Walt Disney had his hand in all of the films his studio released, but he felt a special attachment to this project. Disney read the Darby O'Gill stories in the mid-1940s and decided at that time to create a film based on them. He saw Albert Sharpe performing on stage in "Finian's Rainbow" and knew then and there that he was the man to portray Darby. 


Albert Sharpe, a true Irishman, was indeed marvelous as Darby, but it was Jimmy O'Dea, as King Brian of Knocknasheega, who stole every scene he was in. Faith, this wee little man had a sparkle about him and, if you happen to be quick enough to capture a leprechaun yourself, surely he would resemble O'Dea in more ways than one.

"Oh, she is my dear, my darlin' one, her eyes so sparklin', full of fun....no other, no other, can match the likes of her!"

Janet Munro, as Darby O'Gill's daughter Katie, was such a winsome delight that Disney signed her to a contract and she went on to make The Third Man on the Mountain and Swiss Family Robinson for the studio. And, your eyes be not deceiving you, there indeed be a young Sean Connery who portrays Michael McBride, the strapping lad who is replacing Darby as the new caretaker of Lord Fitzpatrick's manor. 


The beautiful scenery of Ireland was created through matte backdrops painted by Peter Ellenshaw, which made the film a visual delight. The Emerald Isle never looked so green as it did in Ellenshaw's paintings. Eustace Lycett, Disney's resident wizard of magic, wielded his wand as well to create some stunning effects, including the truly terrifying Coiste-bodhar and the glowing Banshee. 

"It's the Coiste-bodhar! The death coach!"


To help promote the film on television, Walt Disney filmed a short entitled "I Captured the King of the Leprechauns" in which Walt travels to Ireland to talk with Darby about the proper method of capturing a leprechaun and how he was able to film the little folk during their festive dancing. Forsooth, they were not seen on camera again for many many years. 

Alas, upon its release Darby O'Gill and the Little People was not the big box-office attraction that Disney hoped it would be and that disappointed him sorely. However, over the years it has been recognized for being the grand film that it is and has grown a large following of fans. Watching this beloved classic is now a St. Patrick's Day tradition in many a home. 

2 comments:

  1. Love this movie! The effects are quite amazing when you think about the time this movie was made. I love Sean Connery in this one, but Albert Sharpe and Jimmy O'Dea are wonderful. My nephew loves to put on the scene when they're under the mountain dancing and heading out on the hunt. The ending with the banshee/death coach was always scary when I was little, though! That freaked me out.

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  2. It's a shame the only DVD available is a full frame pan & scan job. I'm hoping Disney releases a number of their live-action titles of the era with proper aspect ratios.

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