Thursday, March 16, 2023

Classic St. Patrick's Day Films

It be St. Paddy's Day on the morrow and if ye be a classic film fan, ye'll be wanting to sit back and relax and watch a grand film set on the Emerald Isle. But what film would you be wanting to watch? Faith, man can watch The Quiet Man no more than twenty times before knowing the script word for word! This is where this wee list of classic films may be of service to ye. Not all of the films are about Irish lore and leprechauns but they have enough atmosphere to get you into the spirit of the "wearing of the green".

Aye, enough now with the babbling and on with the listing! 

1. Darby O'Gill and the Little People ( 1959 )

Can any film top Darby for St. Patrick's Day? This Walt Disney classic has everything - leprechauns, banshees, pots of gold, a pretty Irish girl....and even Sean Connery! Albert Sharpe gives an excellent performance as the wily old codger who manages to trick King Brian, the king of the leprechauns, into granting him three wishes. Charles Stinson of the Los Angeles Times sums up the film well: "Being a Disney product, it is as technically perfect a job as can be had; the Technicolor, the camera work, the special effects, the Irish music and all are a rich feast for anyone's eye and ear." The special effects are indeed wonderful and sixty years later are just as impressive as when the film was first released. 

2. The Luck of the Irish ( 1948 )

Honestly, this one nearly topped the list of great films to watch on St. Patrick's Day. It is a classic all-around...a wonderful cast, a whimsical story, and excellent direction by Henry Koster. Tyrone Power plays a freelance writer named Steven Fitzgerald who befriends a leprechaun ( Cecil Kellaway ) while he is stranded in a village in Ireland. He manages to capture him and demand his gold but, not wanting to take the old man's life savings, returns the pot to him. The leprechaun is so grateful he follows Fitzgerald back to New York City and helps him realize his heart's desire. 

3. The Quiet Man ( 1952 )

Who has not seen The Quiet Man? Nevertheless, if you happen to be one of those rare folk who avoids John Wayne films, then this is the film you should watch to change your opinion of The Duke. It has a wonderful script, gorgeous Technicolor footage of Ireland, and a cast of classic Irish actors. Wayne plays retired American boxer Sean Thorton, who returns to his hometown village in Ireland and begins a courtship with the spirited lass Mary Kate ( Maureen O'Hara ) through the aid of the local matchmaker Michaleen ( Barry Fitzgerald ). When her brother refuses to accept Sean as his brother-in-law, the entire village waits for Sean to assert himself and win Mary Kate as his bride. 

4. Little Nellie Kelly ( 1940 )

Mix together Judy Garland, George Murphy, a little romance, and some lovely Irish folk tunes and what have ye? A marvelous movie, that's what. If you are a Judy Garland fan, you may be sad to see her character die within the first 20 minutes of the film....but she pops again shortly after, this time in the form of the daughter of Nellie Kelly. Nellie is the apple of her father's eye and when she elopes with Jerry Kelly ( George Murphy ) behind his back, he fills his heart with spite against the young man. Jerry takes his new bride and his father-in-law ( Charles Winniger ) to America, gets a job as a policeman, and faithfully supports both his daughter Nellie and his father-in-law. When Little Nellie finds a beau of her own she decides it is about time that her grandfather and father made peace. 

5. Top O' the Morning ( 1949 )

This is another seldom-seen gem from the 1940s. Bing Crosby plays an insurance investigator sent to IReland to catch the criminal behind the recent theft of the Blarney Stone. The village constaple ( Barry Fitzgerald ) is not too pleased to have an American poking his nose into "official policing busyness" but his daughter ( Ann Blyth ) takes a shine to him. Top O' the Morning is one of those films that you may not think much of the first time you watch it but it grows on you with subsequent viewings. The sets are well-made and evoke an Irish air and the music is lovely. Ann Blyth sings "You're in Love with Someone" and Bing Crosby croons some newly-written but old-sounding Irish tunes. 

6. Brigadoon ( 1954 )

What has Brigadoon to do with St. Patrick's Day...or even Ireland? Absolutely nothing! Nevertheless, watching the fantasy realm of Brigadoon appear before my eyes from the Scottish midst, always puts me in an Irish mood. Perhaps it's the dancing...or perhaps it is the presence of Gene Kelly, that famous Irish-Canadian. Whatever it be, if you want to dance a jig, put Brigadoon on your tele. Gene Kelly and Van Johnson play two Americans who get lost in the Scottish highlands and discover the village of Brigadoon, where everyone is dressed in "funny clothing". They soon learn that the village is a mystical village and appears only once every 100 years. This certainly dampens the spirit of Tommy ( Kelly ) because he has fallen in love with a young woman ( Cyd Charisse ) from Brigadoon. 

7. The Secret of Boyne Castle ( 1969 )

Now, this is a rarity indeed! In our house, we watch it every March just prior to St. Patrick's Day, but even a hardcore Disney fan may not be familiar with the title. Several years before Kurt Russell took on the role of Dexter Riley in a series of college-themed comedies for the Walt Disney studios, he played this Hardy Boys-type character named Rich Evans. Rich and his pal Sean ( Patrick Dawson ) are at a boarding school in Ireland when a fatally wounded man gives Rich a dying message...."Boyne Castle, the hand iron, tell Tom he will find the papers there.". Rich and Sean are quickly embroiled in a spy chase leading them throughout the Irish countryside to the final showdown at Boyne Castle itself. This made-for-television film is great fun to watch. It is filled with non-stop chasing and some lovely location footage of Ireland in the 1960s. 

8. The Fighting Prince of Donegal ( 1966 )

Yet another Irish-themed film from Walt Disney Studios, this time about the legendary Irish prince Hugh O'Donnell and his fight against the British troops in the 16th century. Peter McEnery stars as the swashbuckling youth with Susan Hampshire as his lady love. 

9. Yankee Doodle Dandy ( 1942 )

What more famous Irish-American be there but George M. Cohen? Warner Brothers certainly thought he merited a biopic and, after investing 1.5 million dollars in the production, released Yankee Doodle Dandy in 1942. James Cagney played the dandy who captured the hearts of thousands on Broadway throughout the early 1900s. In real life, Mr. Cohen wanted Fred Astaire to play him onscreen, but honestly, Astaire could never have delivered Cagney's Academy Award winning performance. 

10. The Irish in Us ( 1935 )

If you want to see a typical Irish family in action, then The Irish in Us is the film to watch. Mary Gordon plays Ms. O'Hara, the mother of three grown men, Danny ( James Cagney ), Pat ( Pat O'Brien ), and Michael ( Frank McHugh ). Pat is in love with his boss's daughter but is surprised when his brother Danny starts romancing his girl( Olivia de Havilland)! Prior to starting the film, one can easily guess that James Cagney will win the girl, but even so, it is fun to watch him spar with his brother in order to do so. 

11. My Wild Irish Rose ( 1947 )

If you enjoyed George M. Cohen's life story then why not take a gander at this biopic on Chauncey Olcott, the 19th-century singer-songwriter? Dennis Morgan gives a wonderful tune-filled performance of the popular Irishman and Arlene Dahl looks pretty in Technicolor ( incidently, this was her screen debut ). 

12. Finian's Rainbow ( 1968 )

Before Francis Ford Coppola filmed The Godfather, he made this whimsical Irish musical that starred Fred Astaire as Finian McLonergan, an Irishman who stole a pot of gold from the leprechaun Og ( Tommy Steele ). Og comes to Rainbow Valley, where Finian and his daughter ( Petula Clark ) reside, hoping to find his gold before he turns into a mortal man. Finian's Rainbow is not the best of films but it does indeed have some wonderful songs ( by Burton Lane ) and fancy dancing by Fred Astaire and Tommy Steele. 

Other films and television programs: 

The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady ( 1950 ), a semi-sequel to Sweet Rosie O'Grady ( 1943 ) with June Haver in the title role; The Wee Men ( 1947 ), a delightful cartoon about the leprechauns from Noveltoons; The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold ( 1981 ), a little-known gem from Rankin-Bass; Irish Eyes are Smiling ( 1944 ), another biopic, this time on Ernest R. Ball. 

1 comment:

  1. Of the movies you listed my favourite would have to be The Quiet Man. This despite the fact that John Wayne is in the movie. I do not, repeat do not, like Wayne in any film except this one. I love the whole cast, the location, the music, etc. It's a magical movie and as I own a copy watch it every so often. I have seen the Kurt Russell movie and liked it as well. I liked Russell in Disney movies and watch them whenever they are shown. And last, but not least, I had a mad crush on Peter McEnery when I first saw him in The Moonspinners, but was disappointed in his performance in The Fighting Prince of Donegal.

    I'll be sure to look for a few of the movies you listed, which I haven't yet seen or not seen in a long time (I'm looking at you Brigadoon).