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MMYIF: Darby O'Gill And The Little People

 My Misspent Youth In Films...

Darby O'Gill & The Little People
Directed by: Robert Stevenson
Starring: Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro, Sean Connery
Released: June 22, 1960

A wily old codger matches wits with the King of the Leprechauns and helps play matchmaker for his daughter and the strapping lad who has replaced him as caretaker.

What I Thought Then

A magical story of Leprechauns in which two old men match wits against each other. The effects were so convincing that between this and The Gnome-Mobile I figured little people must exist somewhere. Also, there's a banshee at the end and it was terrifying, but not so terrifying that I didn't want to watch it again and again.

What I Think Now

You know what? It holds up rather well. The "little people" effects are well done for the time, using size-matched sets and composites with well-hidden matte lines. The banshee effects, on the other hand, don't look great. The pacing is deliberate, but it's not slow. The story is more or less how I remember it. Darby is an old codger who still respects the folklore of Ireland and tells stories about how he once cornered Brian, the King of the Leprechauns, which entitled him to three wishes. Brian tricked him into making a fourth wish, which invalidated the other three. This becomes a plot mechanic, of course. In the main narrative, Darby captures Brian again (by getting him drunk), but Brian keeps tricking him into squandering his wishes. When Darby uses his final wish as an act of self-sacrifice, Brian is then able to trick him into making a fourth, which saves Darby's life.

What I picked up on re-viewing that I had totally missed out on before is that Darby is the town drunk. He's loved by the people he tells stories to down at the pub, but he's not taken all that seriously. And, in fact, Darby's narrative driver really comes down to the fact that he feels like he's keeping the old ways and isn't being shown proper respect for that by the youth, and this is emblematic in Darby being kicked out of his role as caretaker and replaced by a pre-Bond Sean Connery. And yes, Connery sings. And you know what? He doesn't sound bad, so I'm not going to give him any flack for it. (People also give Clint Eastwood flack for singing in Paint Your Wagon, but eff that, the man's got a lovely voice.)

Overall, the movie is more nuanced than I'd expected. Brian and Darby's relationship is like that of friendly rivals whose rivalry is occasionally undercut by their friendship. The story's a bit thin, so the runtime is padded out with some musical sequences, including a big dance number put on by the little people while Darby fiddles. The matchmaking subplot feels a bit perfunctory, but it's never obtrusive. As far as representation goes, the movies feels reverent to Irish culture/lore/accents, but I don't know enough to say with confidence that it actually depicts them well. It seemed okay to me, a non-Irish person.

Recommendation?

By modern storytelling standards, it's going to feel a bit flimsy, but it's a fun curio. I enjoyed watching it again, and I generally don't care for old movies. It's available on Disney+, if you're interested.

Tune in next week to see a wizard's duel...

In My Misspent Youth In Films, Kurt is going through his the movies he grew up on. Read the explainer or see more posts.

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