James Francis "Ginger" Coffey has no luck finding a job in his native Ireland and him being a dreamer, he decides the place to find a job is Canada. He moves his wife, Vera, and 14-year old daughter, Paulie, to Montreal in hopes of a better life. After six months nothing has changed and his family despise their new surroundings. The Coffey's do have one thing in their favor: a rich friend named Tom who lands Ginger a job at a Newspaper. It's a dream come true for Ginger who always fancied himself a journalist and he waltzes in expecting a reporting gig and a by-line on his first day. The blow to his pride is almost too much for him when he discovers the job is as a proofreader but he accepts it begrudgingly. The job does not pay enough and Ginger is forced to take a second job as a delivery man for a diaper-laundering service. Just when things are going well, Ginger's pigheadedness and unfounded self-importance cause him to make poor choices and his life begins to spiral downward ... Written by
Beautiful Dangerous Vision of a Canadian Immigrant's Dream
When this film first appeared in 1964 I was a child of 11, newly arrived in Montreal myself from the (then) small city of Edmonton Alberta. Montreal was the 'big cosmopolitan city' , where men were men, and women were goddesses. And so they were. Even I, a small gorfy kid, got my first wolf whistle on those very streets before I was 13.
I wanted to see this vision of that time, even if in black and white, because my Montreal included only b&w TV at that time, even though Montreal was a collage of colors, snow & more snow. And this film IS my Montreal, complete with bilingual signs, belching buses and the beginnings of the English/French conflict that would eventually send me fleeing to English Toronto.
Within my own family, there were Irish, English, Polish immigrants and more
my father was French Albertan, my mother Quebec English - truly
Canadian, we epitomized the Silent Revolution. Clinging to my Irish/English background, I understood the prejudices immigrants knew.
Robert Shaw is brilliant as Ginger. He is the quintessential immigrant convinced that life in Canada will be the bright future he deserves. His wife, Vera (Mary Ure) is the terrified woman who has followed her husband's dream, but longs for home. His daughter Paulie is me - scared and defiant in a new world.
Ginger can't find a good job' he's hampered by the lack of a proper college degree since he ran away to War instead of finishing school. He also believes that his age and experience qualify him beyond a training position, as he feels he's quite capable of positions above his actual education and experience. He may be right, but his employers disagree. In the one instance where his natural instincts and intelligence unite to shove him above the average, he's too particular to even see that he's found his own niche.
The story of one man's struggle in the New World is not unique; Brian Moore's belief in the essential optimism of the Irish character lifts this small tragedy to a greater good. Despite the apparent spiral into despair and alcoholism, the ending suggests that there is hope, that Ginger and Vera will persevere, and that Ginger's inherent belief that "Life is in the Living" will pull all of them through this struggle to a future that may not be of their dreams, but will be sufficient to take them to a better world than they could have hoped for in Dublin.
Ginger Coffey's story is not a tragedy, it is a monument to the people who came to Canada and the US to raise the bar for those lucky enough to be born in these countries. It's a lesson for all of us who take our birthright for granted, who will never understand what it's like to be a "Stranger in a New Land".
If you are lucky enough to see this film, most likely on television, take a moment to remember the time, and the circumstances, before political correctness allowed every Canadian and American, born or newcomer, to a piece of the pie we call the North American Dream.
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