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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.
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.
Having been born and raised in the area this picture was filmed in,naturally I feel a bond to it. Add to that the fact that Richard Harris,one of my favorite actors stars in the film,and its a must see for me. Looking past that the film is riviting. Harris and Connery carry the film as the Cat and Mouse in this Coal town saga each playing to their professional strengths while adding a bit of their own to the roles. The supporting cast is just as strong,particularly the lovely and talented Samantha Eggar and the underused shakespearean actor Frank Finley.
On a personal note,two of my early mentors in theatre,J. Gerald Godwin and Jane Tomassetti have small roles in the film as the Paymaster and Miliner respectivley.
To sum it up..Molly McGuires is a film that you can sink your teeth into..and no matter which side of the conflict you find yourself on you can see what it was that drove men to do what they did.This film will not fail to keep you on the edge of your seat and make you think in the process.
Good story line. Well played. Excellent cast, with some lesser seen actors. Enjoyed this film throughout. Constantly moving story. Historically accurate as I understand. Good example of Sean Connery's earlier (non-Bond) work.
I just wanted to add that I worked in the Carbon County Prison in 1993. They filmed the movie in the actual prison where I worked and to be totally honest, nothing really changed since the 1870's to the current time. I was amazed when I rented the movie right after working my first shift and it was exactly the same, nothing was changed. They built a new prison and all the inmates where moved in the spring of 1994. In the old prison, the hand print was still visible in the cell left by one of the molly Maguires that swore his innocence. They were hung in the middle of the cell block. The cell block was repainted an ugly lime green years ago and the hand print still came thru the paint. This cell was always closed and did not house any inmates. I remember they even had the TV show "Unsolved Mysteries" come and look at the hand print. They currently run tours in the old prison which is located in Jim Thorpe, Pa.
A must-see for any Irish-American. Harris is superb in his role as an undercover Pinkerton investigator. We see his character grow to admire the maguires even though he knows he will eventually betray them. Connery is also great as the attractive leader of the terrorist group. This movie touches on an area tha is often ignored, working conditions in 19th Century America. I especially like the American Football/Rugby hybrid they play against the Welsh town. A unique movie that let's us see both Harris and Connery shine. Good score, pacing, photography, and supporting characters as well. One of my favs!
Adaptation of Arthur H. Lewis' book, which was based on actual accounts, about a Pennsylvania coal-mining town in 1876 and the secret group of rebels who are sabotaging the mines. Stranger-in-town Richard Harris is actually a detective sent there to ferret out the culprits. Downbeat story might have stood some tightening (and possibly a little mood-lightening levity), but is otherwise quite good. Director Martin Ritt works exceptionally well with his cast, getting a terrific, surprisingly low-keyed performance out of Harris in particular; scaling back his high voltage nature, Harris is even approachable enough to make the romance sub-plot between he and Samantha Eggar rather sweet. Sean Connery is sturdy as always, and the colorful supporting cast includes Frank Finlay and Anthony Zerbe, an intriguing character actor who pops up in a myriad of '70's films. **1/2 from ****
This film is a gem! The cinematography, costumes, sets, script, and
acting are all excellent. The story is totally engaging. Some people
might be turning off by the slow start, but it's the perfect set up to
a brilliant piece of cinema. With all of that said, some people take
this film as historical truth. That's where there are major gray areas.
This film was based loosely on the accounts of one man, James McPharlan (Harris' character), and at that doesn't stick too close to his account of infiltrating an underground organization of Irish coal miners who were fronted by the Ancient Order of Hiberians. Hollywood, of course, sexed up the plot and stream lined it so that it would be easier to follow. Not surprising really. The realities of the situation in the Pennsylvania coal fields in the 1860's and 1870's and America in general following the Civil War were very complex. The film didn't have time to cover these details. Like so many historical topics it would take a mini series at least to cover it well.
What this film does do very well is inspire one to study. It's an interesting and little known or understood part of American history. There are a lot of opinions on all sides of the situation that still stir people today. This was effectively the beginning of the labor movement in America. The course of action portrayed in this film led to the establishment of unions.
I watched this movie many times as a child and still do today. It inspired me to read a lot about the Molly Maguires (if they really existed at all) and even go all the way across country (I'm from Seattle) to rural Pennsylvania to see the place for myself. That's what brilliant film making is all about. To inspire a person to understand the world around them more and hopefully take a closer look at it.
Another thing that this film does brilliantly is it leaves the protagonist very open and allows the viewer to decide where, ultimately, their loyalties lay. Connery's character appeals to our sense of social justice. The little guy going against the big machine that oppresses him and all like him. Harris on the other hand is the man who goes against what he feels is right to do what is ultimately correct by catching, what are after all, a group of thugs and murderers (in reality McPharlan didn't have this complex clash of conscience. He thought they were all guilty scum who deserved to be hanged.). It's very Hollywood, but very effective.
The Molly Maguires is a movie which has become better over the years. I am surprised that it was commercially unsuccessful in it's day, since it's absolutely no worse than similar movies of those years such as "Ryan's daughter", "Emperor of the north", or much appraised movies of later years like "Matewan", which explores the same topic of conflict between oppressed working class and the system that's exploiting them. This film is beautifully photographed, and the acting is brilliant, especially from Richard Harris and Sean Connery. The sets are magnificent, and the viewer can feel and sympathize with the burden of the coal miners and their families working and struggling against the system that is grinding them down, and that they can not change, even if they give their lives in the course of that struggle. This film deserved much more and I just think that this is a classic that has to be recognized. 9/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is a real sleeper. Great cast, well acted, beautifully written, scored, and photographed. There are scenes in it, particularly between Harris and Connery, that are among the best acted by either of these two gentlemen. And if you are a fan of either? You will be seeing them in a fine yet overlooked gem of a film. While in their prime. And doing some of the very best work of their careers. Connery, in a part light-years from James Bond, plays the ultimately doomed Jack Keogh with an understated eloquence and quiet nobility. While Harris as the Detective James McParland, and infiltrator of the Mollies, plays his part with an amiable flair that at first wins us over just as he wins the affection and trust of the men and women he eventually betrays so that in the end, we are let down and made to feel the coldness of his Judas act just as if he has betrayed us as well.
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