Monday, March 16, 2009

The Luck of the Irish

If we could make chains with the morning dew
The world would be like Galway Bay
Let's walk over rainbows like leprechauns
The world would be one big Blarney stone.
-John Lennon, "The Luck of the Irish"

When a movie becomes associated with a particular holiday, it is doomed. Who wants to watch Miracle on 34th Street (1947) in July? Of course, many films are only bearable because they are only shown on holidays, like The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) or It's a Wonderful Life (1946). The Quiet Man (1952), a John Wayne movie set in Ireland, which is unbearable even on the single occasion, St. Patrick's Day, when it is shown all across America, is like a time capsule of Irish cliches, and it is too bad that it cannot be cemented into the foundations of a building under construction so that some unsuspecting future generation can puzzle over its appeal when the building is torn down.

A much less offensive film, The Luck of the Irish (1948), should be the one that is universally aired on American TV on Match 17. Even if it, too, is presents a disfigured and sometimes grotesque picture of the Irish. But I would take Anne Baxter over Maureen O'Hara any day of the week, even if Baxter is no more Irish than the backfield of the Notre Dame "Fighting Irish."

Tyrone Power plays Steven Fitzgerald, an American journalist who loses his way in the Irish countryside, where the location shots fit in nicely with those of the studio back lot, sees a shoemaker with a green coat and brass buttons, played by the cherubic Cecil Kellaway, beside a waterfall, and spends the night at an inn where he is assured by the inn's keeper that what there was no waterfall where he said it was and that the little man was a leprechaun, and that if you manage to catch one of them you must make him give you his "pot of gold." (By now we have been introduced to the innkeeper's daughter, Nora [Baxter]). Later that night, "Fitz" as everyone calls him,(1) goes back downstairs to fetch his pipe when he sees the innkeeper leave a bottle and a glass on his stoop. When Fitz sees out the window the same little man he saw by the waterfall take the bottle, he runs after him into the woods and manages to tackle him. Only kidding, Fitz demands that he be given his pot of gold, whereupon he produces a shovel and digs it up. Of course, only Tyrone Power would fail to realize that the little man is really a leprechaun, and, not wanting to take the little man's life's savings, he gives it back to him. Whereupon the little man swears to him his lifelong loyalty and gives him one gold coin as a keepsake.

So the story begins - written by Philip Dunne, who had a knack for this sort of thing (he also wrote How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947). The Luck of the Irish, which everyone should know is an ironic saying, is whimsical enough and charming enough to make up for what it lacks in originality, not to mention credibility. There is an altogether unsettling moment that you should look for. When Fitz's manservant in New York, who is none other than the leprechaun disguised as a manservant, says goodbye to him and goes into the kitchen of his ultra-chic New York penthouse apartment, Fitz follows him, only to find there's no one in the kitchen. Fitz stands there, peering into the empty kitchen, with a sorry look on his face. He leaves and, for some reason, comes back to look again. This quiet moment more than makes up for the blarney of the rest.

And here I sit, on the other side of the world from Ireland, where leprechauns were probably hunted to extinction centuries ago.

(1) A bit of Irish trivia: Fitz is a corruption of the French word for son - "fis." When the Normans invaded Ireland, the French knights produced such a number of illegitimate children that their Irish mothers took to calling them "Son of Gerald" or "Fitzgerald" (or "Fitzsimon" or "Fitzgibbon," etc.)

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