St. Patrick’s Day is next Monday and “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” which celebrates its 55th anniversary this month, is the perfect movie to enjoy in honor of the day. This live-action Disney classic stars musical theater great Albert Sharpe in the title role, with Jimmy O’Dea as King Brian, Janet Munro as Katie O’Gill, and the original 007 himself--Sean Connery--as Michael McBride.
This magical film tells the story of widower Darby O’Gill, who lives in the village of Rathcullen, County Kerry, Ireland. Darby is a nice guy, and a loving father to his daughter Katie. He neglects his duties as caretaker of Lord Fitzpatrick’s estate, preferring to spend his days in the pub telling stories about the leprechauns. Lord Fitzpatrick gives Darby’s job to Michael McBride and tells Darby that he can retire on half pay and move into a small house on his estate. Michael and Katie spark to each other right off, but Katie is a headstrong girl who doesn’t want a husband.
Katie gets angry with Michael when he doesn’t believe Darby’s stories about the leprechauns. It turns out that Darby has had a long friendly rivalry with Brian Connors, the king of the leprechauns who live in the fairy mountain. Darby is always after Brian’s gold but Brian tricks him out of it. Despite Darby’s seeming lust for Brian’s treasure, what he really wants is for Katie to be happy. The two old friends set out to play matchmaker for Katie and Michael, but the road to love is rough.
“Darby O’Gill and the Little People” is based on Herminie Templeton Kavanagh’s books “Darby O’Gill and the Good People” and “The Ashes of Old Wishes and Other Darby O’Gill Tales.” These delightful books of short stories about Darby O’Gill’s adventures with the fairies were published in 1903 and 1926 respectively.
Walt Disney wanted to make a movie about Ireland and traveled there to begin researching the project in 1947. In 1949 he saw actor Albert Sharpe in the original Broadway production of “Finian’s Rainbow,” and remembered him years later when he settled on making a movie based on the Darby O’Gill stories. Sharpe came out of retirement to star in the movie.
Sadly, this charming movie has been all but forgotten. It’s never on TV and hasn’t been released on Blu-ray. Luckily, it is available on DVD in an edition that was released in 2004 with some wonderful extras. There’s a feature with Sean Connery reminiscing about the making of the movie, and another about the movie’s special effects. There’s also an engaging episode of Walt Disney’s “Disneyland” TV series called “I Captured the King of the Leprechauns” in which Disney travels to Ireland to meet with King Brian to convince him to appear in the movie.
“Darby O’Gill and the Little People” is an essential part of any home video collection. It’s available very affordably at Amazon.com. For more fairy themed movies on home video for St. Patrick’s Day please click here.
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