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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 <email@example.com>
According to the Films of Sean Connery, the genesis of The Molly Maguires was a visit to the set of Director Martin Ritt;s Hombre in which Connery's then wife Diane Cilento was in the cast. Ritt had the idea for The Molly Maguires back then and asked Connery if he'd give him the commitment. Connery was intrigued and said yes. But it took over four years to get the project rolling.
The Molly Maguires has the ring of authenticity to it because Martin Ritt chose to shoot it in an almost abandoned Pennsylvania coal town of Ecksley. Filming the story in a place where the Molly Maguires were active lends a lot of credibility to the film.
The Mollys were a secret cell within the Catholic fraternal society of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The Irish immigrants spread all over America and a good deal of them arrived in the Pennsylvania coal country where they became miners. A trade not unknown in Ireland as that country has considerable deposits of the stuff.
The workers were terribly exploited, having to live in the company town, buy at the company store, and pay for damaged equipment. That together with the health problems we know now about in the mining industry.
There was no organized labor movement yet and the Mollys were at times the only protections those miners had. They'd be considered terrorists now, but an important thing to remember is that unlike today's terrorists, their acts of violence were never random.
One thing I did like was the fact that the company policeman were Protestant and Welsh. That was the generation who were the previous people in the mines. The next generation of coal miners were from Eastern Europe, but that's getting ahead of ourselves. The ethnic conflicts are quite explicit in this film.
Richard Harris plays James McParlan another Irish immigrant sent by the Pinkerton Detective Agency to infiltrate and destroy the Mollys. Connery is Jack Kehoe the leader of them and very suspicious of Harris when he first arrives to work at the mines.
The story as told in the film sticks pretty close to the truth of what happened in Pennsylvania in the 1870s. Informers are not a group that's looked up to in any culture, but the Irish traditionally do have a special disdain for them.
The film is a clash between two men, Harris who wants to rise in class and willing to sell anyone out to do it and Connery whose methods maybe wrong, but has the genuine interest of his fellow miners at heart. After the business in Pennsylvania is concluded and after the action of this film, the real McParlan rose high in the Pinkerton agency, but his name was an anathema among his own people.
The Molly Maguires is a well crafted piece of cinema that unfortunately failed to find an audience back in 1970. Today it's considered a masterpiece and deservedly so.
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