I wish I was a crazy old man… people will believe anything you say. Really, think about it.
Say I’m an old man and I start talking about the big black spiders that live in buttonholes. People will kind of look despairingly at me for a moment, changing their expression to concern or to that of listening intently if I catch their eye, when they’re really thinking, ‘Well, that’s it. Jules finally fell off his trolley. Better notify his parole officer.’
Or, say I’m an old man who thinks the glue in Post-It® notes is actually the same stuff that whales secrete and put subliminal messages into to sedate us into giving them the world for their own selfish ends. I’d be on a drip in some mental/nursing home in no time flat.
Or, say I drank too much and believed there were Leprechauns in the ruins of Castle Nocknasheega. And everytime I saw them I had to outsmart the King (named Brian) who gives me pots full of gold that I somehow always manage to lose again before I can prove it. I’d get all manner of dozy looks from folks who think I should have switched to lite years ago. And then they’d come to take me away to suffer who knows what indignities in the name of science.
Probing and whatnot.
This however, isn’t the case with one Darby O’Gill, a senile and drink-addled old Irishman who claims to frequently indulge in conversation with King Brian, a wily 5000 year old Leprechaun. With the fast-approaching autumn years, Darby's boss retires him from maintaining his estate and replaces him with Michael, played by screen darling Sean Connery. Darby’s daughter Katie was born in their cottage and so Darby eases her into the proposed move by pretending it isn’t happening.
Meanwhile, he goes on a bender with King Brian and after being outwitted of his three wishes, he in turn outwits the King and between them there’s suddenly a subtle war going on as to who can outsmart whom the best. It all culminates with Katie (firmly trying not to fall in love with Michael) risking her life and Darby finally doing battle not only with King Brian, but the Banshee who brings the Death Car to take away the (Irish) dead.
Being such an old film (it was made in 1959) things really takes a long time to warm up, but by midway through the story is going along great. It’s a bit of a silly film with some silly folks about, but it is a heartfelt awld-school family film that's told with respect to the Irish to some degree. Well, respect to their forebears and traditions perhaps. It does kinda paint a portrait of flame-haired temper-driven maidens and drunken old men who see little green men, but otherwise it’s respectful… of the proud traditions of Leprechauns anyway. There’s even a (heh heh) humourous ‘thank you’ from Walt Disney himself at the start of the film, offering gratitude to King Brian and the Leprechauns of Nocknasheega for their help, without whom the film couldn’t have been made. Good on ya, Walt.
Another crazy old man who saw little people.
While some of this looks like it was shot ten years ago, there are parts that look their age of 45 years (and counting). There are numerous scratches and crap on the stock at these points which seem to follow the regular pattern of the reel changes. I have to say, however, that the special effects in this film are mostly amazingly spectacular. I was looking for the trick and only occasionally could I see how it was done, but for the most part this is incredibly convincing footage of Darby interacting with the Leproseans. Colours are mildly washed out here and blacks are true, but flat. Shadow detail isn’t the best and flesh tones are okay but pallid. Still, the film looks fairly good for its age, though the Buena Vista releases are usually far less scuffed than the film here.
A Dolby Digital 2.0 mix does the job adequately here, although it can’t perform miracles with the numerous bogus Oirish aaksents. Sean Connery performs the worst one though, it must be said. Piling Broguey Irish onto his already thick Scots accent is like trying to lay bricks on molasses; some float for a moment.
Oliver Wallace’s score makes the most of the Irish musical history of jigs and fiddle music, though we get occasional pipe or bagpipe pieces. Overall it’s not a great soundtrack, but it suits the whimsy of the Disney theme here and the time. It does grate a little tinny in parts, but overall it’s serviceable at the least.
Most of the special effects in this film have held up remarkably well for their 45th year on the open market. While the story is a little antiquated now (as well as half the Irish portrayals) it’s a silly piece of whimsy the kids might get a kick out of. There are some humourous moments here with Leprechauns getting drunk, but they are strictly cartoon drunks of slurred voice and wobbly legs; no Irish streetfighting or Gangs of New York in the least (unfortunately).
It’s hopeless, but it’s fun, and that’s the essence that comes through the strongest and inevitably is the film’s appeal.