Today in Things You Don’t Necessarily Notice As A Child, I was listening to the array of curses King Brian Connors (Jimmy O’Dea) pronounces upon Darby (Albert Sharpe) early in the movie, and one of them is that he will “eat grass that doesn’t nourish you.” I’m not sure when I first learned about the Great Irish Potato Famine—I who have ancestors from Ireland, though at least one of them arrived in the US too late to have been escaping an Gorta Mór. However, it wasn’t until college that I learned of people literally eating grass in an attempt to fend off starvation. An unsuccessful one, of course, as human life cannot be sustained on grass. Was this a deliberate reference from screenwriter Lawrence Edward Watkin? Perhaps lifted from a deliberate reference from original stories by Herminie Templeton Kavanagh? But I haven’t read them.
Darby is the caretaker at a large Irish estate. He and his daughter, Katie (Janet Munro), live in the gate house. But Darby is not a young man (Sharpe had actually been retired for a decade at that point), and Lord Fitzpatrick (Walter Fitzgerald) decides, with no notice, decides to replace him with Michael McBride (Sean Connery). Darby convinces Lord Fitzpatrick to let him tell Katie. Which includes telling her they’ll be leaving the only house they know for a cottage. The house she was born in, the house her mother lived and died in.
However, Darby has long been a friend of the Little People, and King Brian decides that he will help by taking Darby into the hill of Knocknasheega, where the leprechauns live. Forever. With no notice. Or chance to say goodbye to Katie and make sure she’s okay. Darby decides that he will himself escape, and he plays “The Fox Chase” so enthusiastically on the Stradivarius he’s loaned that the Little People feel the need to go riding off into the night. Then, when King Brian comes to remonstrate Darby, he gives him poitín and makes him lose track of time until the Sun comes up and he has no powers. He then traps King Brian into giving him three wishes, the first of which is to stay with him until he makes his other two wishes. He will figure out everything once he’s sure Katie is safe.
I’ve got to level with you; I think Katie’s better at taking care of herself than Darby probably is. I think it’s weird that there are so many movies about saucy Irish women who have to get married for whatever reason, but whatever. I get that, when he dies, she’s got a lot fewer options. And while we don’t know when this is set, it does have your standard Absentee Irish Landlord, so yeah. She deserves better than drunken, abusive Pony Sugrue (Kieron Moore), and I’m not sure what better she can get in a town and a time that won’t let her be everything she’s capable of.
While Dara Ó Briain is not wrong that some of the accents in this are dreadful (Munro was born in England to Scottish parents; Estelle Winwood was English; we all know about Connery), it’s still true that the majority of the cast was born in Dublin, Galway, and Belfast. (Two of the three of which I know how to say in Irish!) It’s also not a bad introduction to Irish mythology. We’ve got a púca, the bean sí, the Cóiste Bodhar. And there’s something in me that insists that they need to be spelled the Irish way, even if it means that spell check keeps putting accents on random vowels as I type even in words that don’t exist in Irish. Because this story does have its roots in some very old folklore. There are a lot of stories of fooling the sidhe. Even the Devil, if you read the right stories.
None of the people playing leprechauns are credited; Walt did this whole Thing where he pretended that he had won a deal with the real leprechauns to be in his movie. And not only is that weird and unfortunate for the actors but it also misses some amazing technical work. Most of it is done with forced perspective, but consider how skilled the shots are of magic. When the banshee, if we’re going with English spelling, comes at the end of the movie, it scared me as a child. And one of the characters for most of the movie comes up to the knee of the character he interacts with most.
There seems no evidence to the idea that Sean Connery and Janet Munro were dubbed for “Pretty Irish Girl.” Sean Connery is the last surviving cast member, and I don’t exactly expect him to come forward and say, “Yeah, you’re right, I didn’t sing my own song.” He has actually said that the singing was to him the worst part of the movie. So you figure he probably actually did it. Either way, there’s only so much bad he’s willing to say about this movie, given that Albert R. Broccoli saw him in it and decided to cast him as James Bond in Dr. No.