The life of Irish politician Charles Stewart Parnell, following from 1880 onward his struggle to secure Home Rule, pursued in prison, Parliament, and elsewhere. Emphasis is on the ...
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Robert Z. Leonard
The life of Irish politician Charles Stewart Parnell, following from 1880 onward his struggle to secure Home Rule, pursued in prison, Parliament, and elsewhere. Emphasis is on the relationship with married Katie O'Shea which threatens to bring all Parnell's plans to ruin. Moderately accurate historically. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
I watched Parnell and waited for the awfulness. It never happened. What may have thrown off audiences in 1937 is that this is a period piece with absolutely no action and lots of speechifying. I thought Clark Gable was good and believable in his role as Charles Stewart Parnell, Anglo Irish politician and champion of Irish home rule, but this was not what people expected when they went to the movies to see a Clark Gable film. I guess it would have been like seeing Johnny Weismuller on a marquee in the 1930's, buying a ticket, and finding out he is portraying Abraham Lincoln instead of Tarzan or a Tarzan like figure. Thus many people say this film was a case of miscasting in the star role. I think it was more a case of unexpected casting.
The film keeps moving with Parnell dealing with one problem after another. There's even a murder trial thrown in at the middle of the movie! Then there is the married Kitty O'Shea (Myrna Loy) as Parnell's love interest.I thought the romance built slowly and credibly, and the charisma between Gable and Loy is electric. Kitty is unhappily married to Willy O'Shea, who is a complete weasel with high political aspirations. How many husbands are so unpleasant that their wives would rather pay their expensive bills to keep them away from home? That's what Willy kept threatening - pay this or that bill or I'll simply have to move back in with you. It does make you wonder why they married in the first place.
One strange thing that the film did was have Billie Burke, who was 53 at the time, playing Clara, Kitty's rather flaky sister, when she was old enough to be Myrna Loy's mother and only one year younger than Edna May Oliver who plays Clara and Kitty's aunt Ben. Billie Burke had been playing matronly characters with grown children for some time, so making her up and dressing her up to be somebody in her 20's who didn't have a real place in the plot other than being Oliver's comic foil just seemed a little weird.
As usual with biopics, this film got some facts about Parnell wrong. He actually toured the American south with his brother in the 1870's, not places associated with the Irish Americans in the 19th century such as Boston and New York. His affair with Kitty O'Shea was not that innocent. He actually fathered three of her four children while she was still married to her first husband. I can see how for the sake of dramatic license and the production code MGM would just make them guilty of holding hands and gazing into each other's eyes for years and years.
Great performances all around, good production values, a plot that kept my interest, and great supporting characters who often starred in MGM's lesser films of the time - thus I'd say this film is probably a 6.5/10, but I had to give a whole number rating so I rounded up to 7. It certainly held my interest and made me curious enough to want to learn more about this part of Irish history of which I know so little, thus I consider it a success, not a failure.
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