Thursday, October 8, 2009

Paging Warwick Davis*

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)

Imagine a world just beneath our own, where people have fantastic powers and abilities. They all wear cool clothes and even do wire fu. No, I’m not talking about The Matrix, but the world of the leprechauns in Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

This must have been a favorite of the Wachowski Brothers, creators of The Matrix as there are some fun parallels. In both films you have the wise older man who knows all the secrets of that other world – in the Matrix it’s Morpheus, here it’s Darby O’Gill. In both stories a handsome young man is drawn from his ordinary life into the world of the fantastic – Neo into the Matrix and his Irish counterpart Michael MacBride (Sean Connery) in Darby. There’s a beautiful girl at stake - Trinity and Katie O’Gill. And a big unstoppable force is out to get the hero – Agent Smith and Pony Sugrue.

All cyber-kidding aside, this was a fun movie filled with incredible visual effects supervised by the legendary Peter Ellenshaw. The forced perspective work that creates two foot tall leprechauns out of six foot men is nothing short of brilliant. The matte work, an Ellenshaw specialty, is terrific turning Los Angeles locations shot in Technicolor into convincing Irish hillsides, mountains and towns. This film was released in 1959 and it absolutely holds up very well against today’s effects-filled bonanzas. It far surpasses recent TV mini-series like Tin Man, The 10th Kingdom and ALL those CGI-filled TV disaster movies that have cropped up lately (you know who you are).

Irish actor Albert Sharpe is great as Darby, the town’s teller of tall tales, specializing in the wee folk, in particular their King, Brian O’Connor (Jimmy O’Dea). He’s like an Irish Yoda sometimes with his impish laughter. Dublin-born O’Dea is a fine foil for Sharpe. The King is a prankster and he’ll not give up his wishes easily, but he’s never mean for mean’s sake.

Sean Connery is serviceable in the role of Michael, but the spark he had as James Bond, which was three more years down the road from this film, is missing. He’s likeable, but anyone could have played this role as written. Janet Munro as Katie is another matter. She’s obviously beautiful, but for at least half of her screen time she comes across as being blind. (In her first scene I thought the character WAS blind.) She never seems to be looking people in the eyes when she speaks to them, preferring to look just to the left or right.

For a G Rated Disney movie there are some good fun creepy moments toward the film’s end, with the appearance of a banshee and a headless coachman drawing a Death Coach which flies across the sky. This movie shows you how to do good old-fashioned scares for the whole family.

And this must be the first G Rated movie to have SO MUCH DRINKING. A pub is a major location, where they’re drinking Guinness and whisky. And at one point Darby gets King Brian drunk off his leprechaun butt with some homemade hooch. I guess it just wouldn't be Ireland wit out all tha drinkin'.

Next round's on me, lads.

* Warwick Davis not only played lead ewok Wicket in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, but the evil Leprechaun in the six (!) films in that cheesy horror series.

Star Trek image copyright 2009 and Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is implied. Image from

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