Life is rough in the coal mines of 1876 Pennsylvania. A secret group of Irish immigrant miners, known as the Molly Maguires, fights against the cruelty of the mining company with sabotage ... See full summary »
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Life is rough in the coal mines of 1876 Pennsylvania. A secret group of Irish immigrant miners, known as the Molly Maguires, fights against the cruelty of the mining company with sabotage and murder. A detective, also an Irish emigrant, is hired to infiltrate the group and report on its members. But on which side do his sympathies lie? Written by
John Oswalt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Molly Maguires is the kind of film that would simply never be made today: a major studio picture about social injustice and betrayal in the coalfields of Pennsylvania in 1876 that became one of the most colossal box-office flops of all time (despite a massive budget and the presence of Sean Connery, it actually grossed even less than John Sayles' low-budget Matewan). Set in the aftermath of a failed strike where a group of miners are trying to win with dynamite what they lost with industrial action as their powerlessness turns into violent action, it's a surprisingly bitter film for a studio picture, even in the 1970s. There's no doubting that Richard Harris' infiltrator is damned. Screenwriter Walter Bernstein was blacklisted, and the experience clearly fuels much of the script. Certainly the end, where absolution is denied, recalls Abraham Polonsky's comment that he got through being blacklisted "because I knew for me one day it would end. For those who named names, it will never end."
But there's more to his script than mere words: huge sections of the film are played without dialogue it's 15 minutes before a single word is spoken and 40 before Sean Connery speaks despite his background presence quietly dominating much of the proceedings. James Wong Howe's astounding scope photography is a major asset, quietly confident as it paints with light a real portrait of a time and place, conveying a sense of the way the pits worked in the beautifully timed establishing shots. There's real intelligence in the framing of the film, whether turning a door frame into an impromptu confessional booth or, in the haunting final shot, turning a rehearsal for one man's execution into another man's silent purgatory. Henry Mancini's score, along with The White Dawn his most beautiful and atypical, is another major plus in a seriously undervalued film.
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