We’re all stuck in the house, right? There’s never been a better time to dig into those retro movies that you’ve always wanted to watch, but never had the time for. Personally, I’m a bit of a retrophile and tend to watch more older flicks than newer ones. On Fangirlish, you can now look forward to a retro review from me each Wednesday in this column. I’ll be highlighting one throwback movie a week, offering a spoiler-free review of the film, any throwback thoughts from my childhood, and where you can watch the movie yourself. Sit back, relax, and enjoy #WayBackWednesday.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I am of very Irish descent (and not just on St. Patrick’s Day), so I wanted to take a look at a film that felt appropriate for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. In preparation for today’s column, I had narrowed my search down to 8 films. I was able to watch 5 of them. There will be a few that I may visit in future #WayBackWednesday posts, but today, I want to recommend a film to you that embodies much of the mythology of Ireland–1959’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Have you seen this Disney classic? I watched it once as a kid and it scared me! Check out the trailer for Darby O’Gill and the Little People and let’s get started with #WayBackWednesday.
Darby O’Gill and the Little People is an adaptation of several of the Darby O’Gill stories by Herminie Templeton (H. T.) Kavanagh. Darby O’Gill and the Little People features an Irish cast, save for one notable Scottish actor–Sean Connery. Yes, we’re talking James Bond himself. Connery stars alongside Albert Sharpe (who came out of retirement to play the titular role), Janet Munro, Irish comedian Jimmy O’Dea as King Brian of the Leprechauns, and Kieron Moore. Here are a few of the reasons I enjoy the film.
Myth and Magic
Darby O’Gill and the Little People provides the viewer with a look at a late 19th century Ireland. The setting is quaint, rustic, and cozy small-town Ireland, with a very prominent sense of wonder and an air of myth and magic about it. The unassuming setting really adds much to the magic of the story. It is this beautiful and magical setting that I enjoy about the film. I love a good myth. I love a good legend. Darby O’Gill spins a good yarn for St. Patrick’s Day, looking at Leprechauns, the banshee, and the Cóiste Bodhar (death coach).
Special Effects That are Still Special!
In many of my posts here at Fangirlish, I have expended much ink on my love of practical effects over computer-generated effects. A film from 1959 doesn’t have the opportunity to use CGI, so just how did we get the eerie imagery of the banshee? How did the filmmakers make the leprechauns look so small? What about the Cóiste Bodhar? These effects still look great, in my opinion.
For the banshee and the Cóiste Bodhar, according to IMDB, filmmakers shot those images in black-and-white against a black background. Then they printed a negative of the film, which was then enlarged, kept out of focus, and then added to the film using an optical printer. This technique is commonly referred to as “Chroma Key.”
The leprechauns are not actually little people at all. They are simply made to look smaller through a camera trick called “forced perspective.” By lining up the “normal-sized” actors closer to the camera and the leprechauns farther away, but on the same plane, it looks as though we’ve got some real leprechauns on screen. In fact, Walt Disney, in keeping with his “Disney magic,” wanted to keep up the appearance that he had hired real leprechauns, such to the extent that none of the leprechaun players were credited in the film. The credits only give a special thank you to “King Brian of Knocknasheega and his Leprechauns, whose gracious co-operation made this picture possible.” Disney’s commitment to the presentation of magic surrounding the film makes it all the more endearing to me. If you enjoy classic practical effects, check out Darby O’Gill and the Little People.
If you’re looking for a film that captures classic Irish myth and legend, look no further than Darby O’Gill and the Little People. It’s simple, light-hearted fun, that I think embodies the spirit of a fun St. Patrick’s Day celebration. It’s also a lot of fun to see Sean Connery, before taking on his most prominent role as James Bond, NOT speaking in his trademark Scottish accent, or rocking his signature beard. Also, you get to hear him sing! It’s also important to note that this is the role that put him on Albert R. Broccoli’s radar, resulting in his casting as Bond in Dr. No. For these reasons and more, I think you should add Darby O’Gill and the Little People to your St. Patrick’s Day viewing.
Darby O’Gill and the Little People is streaming now on Disney+.