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In 1921 Dublin, the IRA battles the "Black & Tans," special British forces given to harsh measures. Irish-American medical student Kerry O'Shea hopes to stay aloof, but saving a wounded friend gets him outlawed, and inexorably drawn into the rebel organization...under his former professor Sean Lenihan, who has "shaken hands with the devil" and begun to think of fighting as an end in itself. Complications arise when Kerry falls for a beautiful English hostage, and the British offer a peace treaty that is not enough to satisfy Lenihan. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Toward the end of the movie, Jimmy Cagney throws a hand grenade under the British armored car, but the subsequent explosion emanates from inside the vehicle on the upper side, while the undercarriage is completely unscathed. See more »
A Fictionalized telling of a crucial turning point in Irish history.
The politics of Shake Hands With the Devil have been eclipsed by the excellent biographical film Collins that starred Liam Neeson. But the other theme about war, especially endless civil war, is timeless and very relevant for today and not just in Ireland.
The setting is 1921 and the Rebellion is in full swing. James Cagney is a professor of medicine at Trinity College in Dublin by day and an Irish Republican Army commander at night. One of his students, an Irish-American played by Don Murray, gets innocently caught up in the Rebellion and chooses to join the IRA after being captured by the special British unit, nicknamed the Black and Tans who are not terribly squeamish in their methods.
Eventually the British opt for a truce and the General played by Michael Redgrave goes to London to sign a treaty giving Ireland Dominion status. Redgrave of course is Michael Collins and anyone who's seen the film Collins is aware of the politics. Redgrave was a great deal older than the real Michael Collins, then again he had to be in order to say that he's been fighting with Cagney for Irish independence for over 20 years.
Cagney is against the treaty and like he said in the film, the split over that treaty led to a long and bloody Irish Civil war in the 1920s, with far more blood spilled than in the struggle against Great Britain.
Gradually over the film it becomes apparent that Cagney has a lot of issues, violent and sexual. Think Cody Jarrett in the IRA and you'll have some idea. And there's no Ma Jarrett to control him. The tragic and luckless Glynis Johns is a victim of his wrath and Dana Wynter who is an IRA hostage almost becomes one as well. This is where the real acting talents of James Cagney are shown.
Among some of the IRA members in his cell is Richard Harris who got his first real notice in this film.
It's not Irish history per se, but it is a great story of the effects of interminable civil war.
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