Tag Archives: Richard Harris

Oldies but goldies: The Molly Maguires (1970)

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Director: Martin Ritt; Main Cast: Sean Connery, Richard Harris, Samantha EggarFrank 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:

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Oldies but goldies: This Sporting Life (1963)

Director: Lindsay Anderson, Main Cast: Richard Harris, Rachel RobertsColin BlakelyAlan BadelVanda Godsell;

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This beautifully shot drama made in 1963 is a perfect example of kitchen sink realism i.e. the British New Wave. Set in Yorkshire, it tells the story of Frank Machin (Harris), a bitter young man who works in a coal mine but dreams of better things. Anderson uses a flashback-narrative for the first half of the film, with a bold cutting style, mixing Frank’s past and present in an effective and haunting way. The viewer learns how he succeeds at a try-out for the Wakefield rugby team, making quite an impression with his ruthless and aggressive style of playing, so much that the owner, Gerald Weaver (Bendel) signs him up in the top team as loose forward. It is also clear that, unlike his sporting life, Frank’s personal life is not so great, he is clearly in love with his recently widowed landlady, Mrs. Margaret Hammond (Roberts), but she treats him rather coldly and doesn’t think much of him. This attitude is an additional spur that pushes Frank to improve his social status and  to obtain the things he wants. Unfortunately for him, life is far more complicated than rugby, although the director appears to suggest a parallel between mining and playing: both are harsh, dirty and consuming. While things seem improving with Margaret, Frank starts to have problems with the team’s management, in particular Mr. Weaver, they do not appreciate his cocky attitude and his recklessness on the field. This happens, purely coincidentally (yeah sure!), right after Frank refuses Mrs. Weaver’s (Godsell) advances, who is not only a predatory woman but also a vindictive one. Naturally nothing will end well, Frank will be left only with his sporting life (which, of course, won’t last very long), vulnerable to the ravages of time and injury. Harris portraits Frank with the right mix of angst, vulnerability, smugness and violence, he gives us a touching and convincing performance that really makes the film. All the scenes between Frank and Margaret are tense, charged with what is not said or done, making this story of amour fou real and believable, the terrible fate of wanting something unattainable. Impressive and gut-wrenching —8/10

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Filed under Kitchen sink realism, Oldies but goldies, Seen at home