At the risk of having one of the wee folk put the come hither on me and replace my kids with changelings, I’m going to go ahead and declare that Darby O’Gill And The Little People was nothing so much as a lot of potato-breathed blarney that even an Irishman full of cheap stout could not have enjoyed.
The concept seemed sure fire enough: James Bond vs. a bunch of leprechauns. The execution though left me in such a deep snooze that not even a wailing banshee informing me of my impending demise could rouse me!
One of the main reasons this movie really puts the sham in shamrock is because their leader, King Brian, spends about ninety percent of his time engaging in a pitched battle of wits with Darby O’Gill, the elderly town rummy.
The sad part of all this is that he spent most of the movie being completely dominated by Darby. Darby didn’t get to be a 70 year old drunk by being stupid (I’m pretty sure that research would show it was genetic) and he used his barroom smarts to get King Brian under his control in an effort to get some more wishes after he botched up his earlier ones.
How does he do this? By getting King Brian drunk! He spent the whole night in the barn with King Brian singing and pretending to drink while watching as Brian gets wasted like a college girl on wine coolers and roofies.
The next thing you know the sun is up and Brian realizes that he’s been bamboozled. His powers apparently don’t work during the day so he can’t phase through the closed barn door and is at Darby’s mercy.
Darby lays on the humiliation pretty good as he menaces the mighty king of the leprechauns with his pet cat! Are you the most powerful ruler of the little people or the Incredible Shrinking Man? I am so embarrassed for your race, King Brian!
Those of you who have already suffered through this exercise in too little James Bond and way too much everyone else are halfheartedly trying to save face by saying “what about the Death Coach?” Shoot, I’m not about to deny that a phantom coach with a headless rider coming screaming down from the sky to pick up some poor doomed soul to carry them off to the great hereafter isn’t the best thing in the movie, but it happens almost 85 minutes into this 90 minute entertainment famine!
Even as Darby and Brian were embroiled in their self-absorbed tete-a-tete (no one cares what these two are up to – the people in the pub are just humoring the old coot and hoping to scam free drinks off of him), it turns out that I wasn’t that only one that noticed that Darby O’Gill was a waste of a perfectly good bottle of hooch.
Darby works as the caretaker for a lord’s summer place and as the lord so succinctly puts it “Darby quit five years ago and forgot to tell me.” Enter Bond. James Bond.
Undercover as a replacement caretaker from Dublin, Bond is brought in to whip the place into shape and to ease Darby out to pasture in two weeks time. The only complication though is The Crawling Eye‘s Janet Munro!
She’s Darby’s daughter Katie and Darby can’t quite bring himself to tell her that he’s gone and got his drunk ass fired!
In Darby’s defense though, he is really busy what with getting captured by the leprechauns after his possessed horse knocked him down a deep well up at the old ruins on the hill outside the village. I think we all can agree that that’s the sort of thing that could happen to any of us.
And it turns out that King Brian did all that as a favor to Darby! As a sign of respect for Darby (despite their frequent battle of half-wits, Brian does give Darby credit for keeping their leprechaun legends alive in the village) he figures to save Darby the stigma of being an over-the-hill-drunken-ex-caretaker by letting him live out his final days in the land of the leprechauns.
After a pot of fool’s gold worth of plot developments, the film remembers it needs a climax and immediately sets about injecting some drama into things. This takes the shape of the pushy old broad who wants her son, the village bully (the unfortunately named Pony), to take over Darby’s job and to take over Darby’s daughter.
Pony whacks Bond on the head and dumps booze on him to make him look like a drunken lout and thus jeopardize his new job. (That’s a plan they could come up with only in Ireland.)
Katie also ends up plastered on a bunch of rocks and almost dies before Darby uses his last wish to take her place on the Death Coach. (Dumbest wish ever! Why didn’t you wish that Pony or King Brian taker her place, you old lush?)
A surprisingly boring effort that attempted vainly to capture the magic of the old country and their superstitious ways, but didn’t bother to use all their mythical creatures to do much that was very interesting.
The film should have focused a little more on James Bond and Katie and their story if they were going to make it the centerpiece of the big finale. Bond only appeared sporadically and Katie generally just babbled occasionally while wearing either a vapid grin or that vacant and stunned look that all children of alcoholics wear as a defense mechanism.
And if you’re going to have a leprechaun in your movie, try not to have him in a bag for the middle part of things. I’m paying to see tiny dudes perform impish antics, not watch something in a bag move around. It could only have been the luck of the Irish that rescued James Bond for a future in real movies instead of consigning him to being the European Tommy Kirk.
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