"Darby O'Gill and the Little People"
by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)
Albert Sharpe as DARBY O’GILL
Janet Munro as KATIE
Sean Connery as MICHAEL MCBRIDE
Jimmy O’Dea as KING BRIAN
Kieron Moore as PONY SUGRUE
Estelle Winwood as SHEELAH
Walter Fitzgerald as LORD FITZPATRICK
Directed by: Robert Stevenson
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“Darby O’Gill and the Little People” is one of those forgotten Disney classics. Over the years, Disney has become more famous for the studio’s animated films. An occasional live action film is remembered, like “Old Yeller” or “Mary Poppins.” However, when asked to name famous Disney films, most people will inevitably list films like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” “Bambi” and “Lady and the Tramp.”
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It has been literally decades since I saw “Darby O’Gill,” and I always had scary memories of the film. This was mainly because I was rather young - probably less than five years old - and the less-than-benevolent portrayal of the leprechauns kind of freaked me out. Add to the fact there’s a ghostly scene in which a banshee comes to take Darby O’Gill away in the chariot of death, and you have one scared kid on your hands. Even today, my father reminds me of how cried during the banshee scene.
So, don’t let the G rating fool you. “Darby O’Gill” can be a bit intense for very young viewers. But then again, those very young viewers will probably get bored of it relatively quick as well since it’s not a cartoon, and the leprechauns don’t really show up until the second act anyway. However, it is still an excellent family film.
“Darby O’Gill and the Little People” is about an old Irish storyteller (Albert Sharpe) who has been trying to capture King Brian, the king of the leprechauns (Jimmy O’Dea), in order to win his pot of gold. Darby and Brian are old adversaries, each outwitting the other over the years. Of course, the folks back in town think Darby to be daft, and no one really believes him.
Darby works as the caretaker for land owned by Lord Fitzpatrick (Walter Fitzgerald), and he lives there with his 20-year-old daughter Katie (Janet Munro). One day, Lord Fitzpatrick shows up and announced that he’ll be relieving Darby of his duties. In Darby’s place, he has hired Michael McBride (Sean Connery). While Katie and Michael fall in love, Darby tries one last time to capture King Brian to get the gold and save his home.
Of course, the ancient leprechaun folklore has been sanitized a bit and made family friendly (‘cause real leprechauns have a bit of a mean streak in them, to be sure). But Walt Disney made an excellent attempt to not make the characters too cheesy. There’s a lot to respect about King Brian and his minions.
One of the first things most people point out about “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” is that is was one of the first major roles of Sean Connery. Released three years before “Dr. No,” Connery had yet to slip into the tux of the legendary super spy, and in the initial release of “Darby O’Gill,” Connery certainly played second fiddle to more well-known actors like Albert Sharpe and Jimmy O’Dea.
Probably the best part of this film is the incredibly astute special effects. Many of the 1959 effects still hold up by today’s standards. Contained on the DVD in the “Backstage Disney” section is a documentary called “Little People, Big Effects.” This reveals how the filmmakers made the normal-sized actors look knee-high on screen. Back in the 1950s, there wasn’t the option of using computer trickery, so they were left with old school techniques. And after having seen film after film come out in the theaters with gawd-awful CGI, “Darby O’Gill” reminds us how effective and realistic the old school style was.
“Darby O’Gill” used primarily matte paintings and forced perspective to put Darby in the same frame as King Brian. This is an incredibly effective technique, which was also used recently in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy to make the hobbits appear small.
Other behind-the-scenes features on the DVD include “Mr. Connery Goes to Hollywood,” which tells the story of Sean Connery’s first outing into American cinema, as well as “I Captured the King of the Leprechauns,” an episode of the Disneyland television show. In this lost episode, Walt Disney dives in with both feet, pretending to have used real leprechauns for the production of “Darby O’Gill.” This sort of wink-and-nod to the camera has been mimicked by even recent Disney releases like “The Santa Clause 2” and “The Three Musketeers.”
“Darby O’Gill and the Little People” is a great little DVD that’s probably under most people’s radar screen. With a new digital transfer, the image is crisper than any VHS tape or rebroadcast on television. Plus, even without loading down the DVD with special features, the three included featurettes make it a good choice for a family movie night.
Specifications: Dolby Digital Mono Sound. Original fullscreen aspect ratio (1.33:1). French language track; French and Spanish subtitles; English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.