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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.
*** 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.
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 ***
"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never
will." - Frederick Douglass
Loosely affiliated with radical leftists, director Martin Ritt spent several years under a Hollywood blacklist. When McCarthyism died down, and directorial reigns were returned to him, Ritt made a series of socially conscious films, most of which were about struggles for equality, or which portrayed the downtrodden in a sympathetic light.
In this regard, Ritt's "The Molly Maguires" stars Sean Connery as Jack Kehoe, the leader of a secret organisation of Irish miners who seek better pay from their corporate employers during the late 1800s. Ritt has made such "pro-unionist" films before see "Norma Rae" - but "The Molly Maguires" shoots off in unique directions. Here the Mollies use terroristic tactics to destroy factories, equipment and even people. This leads to Pinkerton Detective James McParlan (Richard Harris) going undercover and infiltrating the group. From here on, the film morphs into a gangster flick or undercover cop show, McParlan attempting to subvert the Mollies from within.
Today, whilst violence reigns across capitalism's peripheries, the system's core maintains an air of manufactured tranquillity. Here, the marginalised are effortlessly swept away, demonized, demoralised or rendered invisible. From the 1860s to the 1930s, though, hardly a year passed without deadly clashes between American workers and management. At the forefront of some of these clashes were the Molly Maguires, a secret miners' society which operated in Pennsylvania. Their history stretching back to feudal Ireland, the group is rumoured to have been named after one Molly Maguire, who opposed burgeoning rental and land ownership laws. After being expelled from Ireland, the followers of Maguire found work in Pennsylvanian coal mines, but savage work conditions resulted in them hurling scorn at both weak-willed labour leaders and coal bosses.
Though vilified, the Mollies improved the working conditions for miners and would be described by historians as "the first martyrs of the class struggle in the U.S." Their victories, though, were but a drop in the ocean. The ruling class quickly invented ways to subdue upheavals, creating police and/or militia forces to keep workers in check, and inventing new injunctions designed to deprive workers of their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, press, and assembly. These acts were accompanied by armed government-sponsored vigilantes, deputized citizens who enforced injunctions and who were given a green light to attack and arrest anyone suspected of participating in strike activity.
Today, the First World has been beaten into compliance. The Third World, meanwhile, is pretty much as Pennsylvania was in the 1890s. That there is a (causal) relationship between capitalism's core and peripheries, between wealth and poverty, value and debt, creation and destruction, is the chief denial of neoliberal orthodoxy, a stance which is increasingly contested by modern thermo-economists, who see capitalism as a heat engine in which money is essentially a loose avatar of energy, and so subject to thermodynamic laws; you cannot get something for nothing and the total order of a 'thing' is always less than the total disorder that is created somewhere else by the 'thing's' creation, a facet which commodity fetishism conceals.
Concealment is itself what "The Molly Maguires" is about; bosses want invisible workers, workers want to be heard, and both sides have foot-soldiers working in the shadows. The film's drama itself unfolds in the gaze of a giant coal sorting factory, a monstrous juggernaut which kills surrounding vegetation, and whose hands sap life out villagers, families and subterranean miners. Poetically, the factory's long tramlines recall the hill-steps of Ritt's "Hombre", another film which had an air of futility about it, men trapped in their own private Sisyphus Myths, doomed to toil.
"The Molly Maguires" was shot by master cinematographer James Wong Howe. Howe bathes Ritt's film in rich blacks and browns, and captures well a tone of grim beauty, his spaces lit by dying kerosene lamps, his faces marred by soot and soil. Elsewhere the film utilises impressive sets - the best frontier sets since Altman's "Mrs Miller" - one of which is a near full-scale replica of a 19th century mining town.
Interestingly, Sean Connery's character spends most of Ritt's film as a cypher, held at a distance and given very few lines. Still, with his broad shoulders and chiselled face, Connery exerts a commanding presence. Equally tough is Richard Harris, both actors large, carved from granite and sporting magnificently macho moustaches. Their relationship recalls the battles in Ritt's "The Brotherhood", "Hud" and "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold"; brothers on opposite sides of an ideological divide.
Like many of Ritt's films, "The Molly Maguires" is also preoccupied with groups being infiltrated, changed or subverted. Some of these films watch as activists infiltrate and emancipate proletariat groups, others watch as Power smuggles spies into communist or unionist groups, thereby eroding them from within. Typical of Ritt, the Church is also seen to side against the working class. Also complicit are the lower classes themselves, who sacrifice brothers for lucre and who slowly internalise the values, mores and beliefs of their masters.
Fittingly, "Maguires'" climax carefully juxtaposes tragedy and hope. As workers erupt into fiery violence, their impotency momentarily giving way to life-affirming ecstasy, death draws near. Final shot? A hangman's noose, one life about to be crushed so that another might climb the social ladder. Samantha Eggar co-stars.
8.5/10 Underrated. See "Viva Zapata", "Matewan" and "Bread and Roses".
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