Director: Martin Ritt; Main Cast: Sean Connery, Richard Harris, Samantha Eggar, Frank Finlay;
Martin Ritt takes us back to 1876 and the harsh life of Irish immigrants in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. He focuses on the social drama of the early struggles between workers and company owners and, in particular, on the rather violent methods adopted by both sides. Written and co-produced by Walter Bernstein, this film is based on a novel by Arthur H. Lewis. We follow the actions of Jack Kehoe (Connery) and James McParland (Harris): the former a hardened worker and leader of the titular secret society, the latter an undercover detective of the Pinkerton agency, employed by the local police to infiltrate and unmask the Mollies. In a stunning opening scene of almost fifteen minutes, without any dialogue, we are made acquainted with the grueling work of the miners and the trenchant approach of the Mollies to battling exploitation. I must add that the score by Henry Mancini is not only very effective in the opening scene but a nice complement to the whole film. We meet then James McKenna (McParland’s undercover identity), new in town and looking for a job in the mine, of course his first stop is at the pub for a pint and a brawl (there will be more of both down the line), the Irish way to present oneself as a potential friend? Well, it works… sort of… slowly but surely James gets closer to Jack and in the inner circle of the Mollies. At times, the viewer might doubt where his loyalty really lies (kudos to Harris for playing very well the ambiguity) since James and Jack are both working class immigrants from Ireland with essentially the same aspiration: advancement in this new society. In the end, however, the law will prevail but it is a sour victory, James is left with the weight of his betrayal, although he tries his best to shake it off and justify it as a mean to an end. It was promoted more as a Connery’s film since he was fresh from his stint as 007 but, to me, this is a Harris’ film, he has the lion share of the story and the acting chops to carry it. The supporting cast is solid and Ritt has some inspired directing choices. To add more Irish flavour to the tale there aren’t only pints and bar brawls but a heated rugby match and a few traditional songs in the score (played with period instruments), so it makes for a perfect St. Patrick’s day film if you are not looking for light entertainment. Satisfying —7.5/10
This is my contribution to The Luck of the Irish Blog o’thon hosted by Diana & Connie at Silver Scenes, you can read all the other entries here:
6 responses to “Oldies but goldies: The Molly Maguires (1970)”
‘Tis a sad thing indeed when a movie I saw when it was first released has reached the status of “oldie”. I recall Mancini’s score and the “look” of the film from James Wong Howe very well. You have reminded me that this is one due another look. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Well, let’s just say that is a “goldie” then!
Thanks for reading and happy St. Patrick’s day!
If the talents of Martin Ritt, James Wong Howe and Henry Mancini weren’t enough, Sean Connery and Richard Harris in a good old fashioned mustache-off is all the pitch needed to sell me on watching this film.
I hope you enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day!
Mustachioed Connery and Harris are always great! Thanks for reading
It was by listening to Henry Mancini’s score to The Molly McGuires on a record that I became familiar with the film, but have yet to see it. Now that certainly must be amended! Thanks for participating in the blog o’thon and for sharing a great review of an often neglected film.
My pleasure! Enjoy the film, it’s definitively worth your time.