Category Archives: Sean Connery

FILM REVIEW: THE MOLLY MAGUIRES (1970)

“maybe its my Christian heart but I never could stand the sight of a man carrying a cross”

The Molly Maguires

Growing up in England the opportunities to express pride in your Irish roots were very few and far between. The rare moments would come along, we had St Patrick’s Day, Celtic, our pubs and clubs and church and lets face it very little else. On the TV we were a figure of ridicule and nightly we were informed that the people sat right next to us in our living rooms were thick and stupid and steeped in superstition or dangerous and drunkards or trying to bring down the rule of law and that ordinary folk should inform the authorities of anything suspicious among the Irish community. Innocent people were sent to jail with little more evidence of guilt than their accents or their family backgrounds. With that going on in the background we learnt our history at home and among our family, friends and neighbours but one of the defining moments of my childhood was watching The Molly Maguires as a kid. It ticked all the necessary boxes for a young 2nd gen Irish lad with a identity crisis. Not only did it portray the Irish outside of Ireland and showed how badly they were treated and exploited but, and most importantly of all, how rather than except their fate and roll over they resisted that oppression and fought back, even though eventually it end in tragedy. The Molly Maguires were a secret society of militant Irish Catholic coal miners who resisted violence from the mine owners with violence themselves. The film is based on real events and the gripping story is a sympathetic and accurate depiction of the struggle for justice of the Irish-American miners.

CREW

Cinematography- James Wong Howe * Director- Martin Ritt * Music- Henry Mancini * Producer- Paramount Pictures

CAST

Sean Connery as “Black Jack” Kehoe * Richard Harris as Detective James McParlan/McKenna * Samantha Eggar as Miss Mary Raines * Frank Finlay as Police Captain Davies * Anthony Zerbe as Tom Dougherty * Bethel Leslie as Mrs. Kehoe * Art Lund as Frazier * Philip Bourneuf as Father O’Connor * Anthony Costello as Frank McAndrew * Brendan Dillon as Dan Raines, Mary’s Father * Frances Heflin as Mrs. Frazier * Malachy McCourt as The Bartender

Running time 123 minutes

“You either end up on the gallows or coughing your lungs out, what’s the difference?”

With the Great Hunger still vivid in the minds of the newly arrived Irish immigrants to America as they spread across the country, many of them washed up in Pennsylvania coal country where they became miners. The mine workers were treated abysmally and most died young of diseases picked up in the mines or in the ghetto’s that surrounded them. The years between ‘Black 47’ and the depression of 1920-21 saw great turmoil in industrial America. Violent confrontation between workforces and bosses over poor working conditions and even poorer wages, as well as the threat of workers uniting in trade unions, were common in the cities and the coal fields that fuelled them. The promise of work for the unskilled and a better life drew large numbers of Irish people to north-eastern Pennsylvania. The choice for the poorest of the Irish poor was the coal mine. They came mostly from west Ulster and north Connacht. The Irish didn’t confine themselves to coal but to get the black gold to New York and Philadelphia they also dug canals as well as building embankments, tunnelling and laying track. But more than anything, the Irish dug coal. A Mayo-man looking round a coalfield is quoted at the time as saying

“Do you mean to tell me that this is America?”

In 1880, the ‘foreign-born’ accounted for 23% of the region’s population and Ireland was the birthplace of 41% of those, the figure underestimates the Irish as many would have been born in America, England and Scotland. It is thought well over 30% of the regional population would have been Irish. These were dark times of persecution for Irish Catholics and they were not to get better by crossing the Atlantic. These were the men and women who built America. A people who had escaped poverty and death only to find a world where they were still enslaved the only difference being the company had replaced the empire.

The Molly Maguires

We have no idea exactly when The Molly Maguires came into existance but they gained prominance in the mine fields in the years around 1860. They were a militant secret cell within the open catholic organsisation the Ancient Order of Hibernians. With no organized labour movement to speak of it became the Mollys who were the only protection those miners had. Protection was needed from anti-Catholic and anti-Irish discrimination, more than any other race they were used as scapegoats on whatever stage their enemies deemed fit. Irish working men started organising together while the, predominantly protestant, mine owners organised a paramilitary force to take them on. Violently breaking strikes and trade unions. Strikers and activists were sacked and evicted, their jobs and houses given to scabs, and ‘troublemakers’ often attacked and killed. In return the miners engaged in sabotage. Mines were flooded, breakers burned, stores dynamited and trains derailed. Mine bosses, superintendents and foremen, generally of English, Welsh or German extraction, were intimidated and killed and blacklegs and informers in the Irish community were ruthlessly punished. The rebellion came to an end with the execution of twenty people rounded up as Molly Maguires. They bravely went to the scaffold without betraying themselves or their comrades. The majority of the twenty had links to the same part of Ireland in west Donegal. At the time and right up until modern times (possibly around the time this film was made) the twenty men hanged as Molly Maguires in north eastern Pennsylvania were either valiant defenders of labour or

“the most noted band of cut-throats of modern times”

That controversy has ended and its clear now to all that the hanged men were innocent victims of a terrible miscarriage of justice.

So the stage was set in 1969 with radical politics and a vision of a better life for all not just a distant memory for a film to be based on The Molly Maguires to be made. In 1967 Director Martin Ritt was making ‘Hombre’ in which Scots-Irish actor Sean Connery’s then wife Diane Cilento was cast. Ritt had the idea for The Molly Maguires and asked Connery what he thought. Connery was interested but it took over four years to get the film off the ground. Both director Martin Ritt and screenwriter Walter Bernstein had been blacklisted by major studios in the communist scare of the 1950s.

leader of the Mollys Jack Kehoe

leader of the Mollys
Jack Kehoe

The film is dirty and relentless and coal dust gets everywhere.  It was filmed in the abandoned Pennsylvania coal town of Ecksley, a place where the Mollys were active in their day, that adds credibility and authenticity to the picture. The colliery still stands along with the Emerald House pub, the company store and all the Mollys homes. A frighteningly impressive Sean Connery plays Jack Kehoe, the leader of the Mollys, while Richard Harris plays James McParlan. Kehoe is suspicious of McPharlan when he arrives to work at the mines but over time he begins to trust and allows him to join the Mollys and take part in their activities. Unbeknown to Kehoe, McPharlan is in fact working for the Pinkerton Detective Agency and has been sent to infiltrate and destroy the Mollys. The film is basically a clash between two ways of life. McPharlan who is willing to sell out and betray anyone to rise in class and Kehoe who puts the interests of his community first and is prepared to sacrifice all for the benefit of others. As McPharlan states in the film

“I’m tired of always looking up. I want to look down”

The history of Ireland has unfortunately been plagued with informers. People seduced by wealth or promises of land and power or simply those with no conscious they are rightly despised by all  to but we Irish have a special disdain for them. The story as told in the film sticks closely to the truth of what happened and is as gripping and well made a piece of radical cinema as has ever been made. From the soundtrack to the costumes and location and acting the film is dazzling and is today considered a masterpiece, and deservedly so, which makes it incredible to think it bombed so badly upon release. It put paid for a time the idea that either Connery or Harris would make leading men. In the critics minds the wordless 15 minute prologue as well as the decision to not let Sean Connery speak until 45 minutes into the movie couldn’t have helped.

Maguire1

Connery and Harris

There were no ‘Marquis of Queensbury’ rules in early industrial America. Decent people sometimes did terrible things. They still do. It is the way of the world. The Irish fought oppression first with dynamite and powder and then with political power. Soon the Irish were to rise to all levels of political influence and the old guard were dispensed with. Martin Ritt thought the films financial failure being down to audiences being unable to decide whether Jack Kehoe or Jim McParlan was the hero.

“They should have understood, that Kehoe, who was a murderer, was the hero of the film”

In another interview Ritt acknowledged that life was changing and some of the decent values that America was built on were also changing.

“I wanted to show that the villain in the film was the informer, a man who wormed his way into the graces of his fellow workers and then turned them in. To me that is a villainous act. And in the American tradition, an informer is a villainous person, although those ethics have been somewhat undermined by the hysteria of the communist scare”

In 1970, Middle America couldn’t accept Kehoe as the hero he has now become. As the films ends and with McParlan’s true identity revealed, he visits Kehoe in prison. It is a significant moment between the two of them, ending a relationship based on trust and bringing to the fore the differences between them. The final image that imposes McParlan against the gallows he has helped to build emphasises that we have an awful lot to be grateful for free men that will stand against oppression and fight back. Their is no Hollywood here. What the Mollys gave was their all. Their is no romance just two solid hours of an uncompromising and heartbreaking look into what working people have had to endure. Our job now is to make sure those conditions never return.

(the following clip is the final scene of the movie so don’t watch if you haven’t seen the whole film!)

Molly Maguires SoundtrackThe Molly Maguires Soundtrack

Composed, Arranged and Conducted

by Henry Mancini

For the film, composer Henry Mancini composed one of his finest musical scores, filled with jaunty Irish tunes and roaring dramatic evocative themes. Whether depicting early morning at the mines (the astonishing opening cue) or the resistance activities or the blossoming love affair, Henry Mancini’s score is right up there with his greatest soundtracks including such masterpieces as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade, Days of Wine and Roses, Hatari!, Two For The Road and many others. amazingly it doesn’t appear to be available on CD anywhere.

Tracks

(click on the tracks in green to hear them)

Theme from The Molly Maguires (New Day in 1876)
The Mollys Strike
Main Title
Room and Board
Sandwiches and Tea
Work Montage
Pennywhistle Jig
A Hard Day’s Work
On Your Knees
Jamie and Mary
Trip to Town
Strike Two/Strike Three
The Hills of Yesterday
There’s More
The Mollys Strike Again
A Suit for Grandpa
Kehoe Lights Up/The Last Strike
The End

Buy The Film

plenty of places on the web or try Amazon  AllYourMusic as a last resort!

The Soundtrack

is out of print but since this article came out I have been sent a download link for it. Rather than put it here I will include it as a comment as these things have a habit of being taken down. So check the comments and download this rather brilliant album.If it does disappear leave a comment and we’ll try and upload it again.

Molly Maguires statue by Zenos Frudrakis in Molly Maguires Memorial Park, Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, USA

Molly Maguires statue by Zenos Frudrakis in Molly Maguires Memorial Park, Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, USA

FILM REVIEW: ‘The Offence’ (1972)

“after 20 years, what Detective-Sergeant Johnson has seen and done is destroying him”

The Offence4

When I was a helluva lot younger than I am now I came across a film late one night hidden among the schedules. Strangely it starred the great Sean Connery which made me even more surpised that a film starring the biggest actor of our time could be hidden away with no fanfare so, intriged, I settled down for exactly what I wasnt sure. ‘The Offence’ finds two of Scotland’s greatest ever actors in a stripped-down, rough and tough little movie that pits his hard bitten veteren detective against the late Ian Bannen’s child molester suspect. The battle of wits between the two breaks only to look at the cop’s equally distressing marital life. Yes, a tough film to watch but incredible to marvel at the sheer power of Sean Connery’s performance as the driven yet ambivalent detective. Both Connery and Bannen are at their darkest best in this deeply disturbing film that examines exactly what men might be capable of doing if they are pushed to the edge.

“nothing I have done can be one half as bad as the thoughts in your head”

Somewhere just outside of London, 1973: Detective Sergeant Johnson (Sean Connery) is a burnt-out British police detective of some twenty years in the force and one of the lead detectives working towards the capture of a serial child molester who is menacing the satellite town which he calls home. Johnson is an abrasive man who is barely able to contain his simmering resentment towards his lack of promotion, the superiors whom he considers to be witless and a loveless marriage. His animosity towards the world is driven to breaking point when he crosses swords with Kenneth Baxter (Ian Bannen), a successful family man who becomes a suspect in the investigation. Over the course of one night, events come to a violent head whilst Baxter is in police custody; but what precipitated the violence? And what was the real motivation behind the offence?

The Offence

Sean Connery

‘The Offence’ is an important film for two reasons: Firstly, it was one of the first widely released theatrical films featuring a major star to deal with the subject of child molestation (and it’s consequences) in a popular medium; and secondly it is one of about three films where the audience is treated to the sight of Sean Connery ACTOR rather than Sean Connery MOVIE STAR. For my money, Connery , though a great actor he had, post-Bond, coasted through the majority of his career playing a caricature of his 007 persona and who only ever really got to flex his acting chops to the max in two films – ‘The Offence’ and ‘The Hill’, both of which were directed by the late, great Sidney Lumet. Personally speaking, this film pips ‘The Hill’ (which is similarly brilliant) to the post for me because Connery as an actor expresses a degree of emotional vulnerability and psychological fragility that we were never to see again. It’s fairly apparent that post-Bond, Connery was attempting to shrug off the cast typing of Ian Fleming’s character once and for all, and his bravery as an actor here is formidable. His thinning hairline is, for the first time in his career exposed to the world for all to see and the charismatic calmness and composure of Bond is nowhere to be seen beneath Johnson’s moustache, sheepskin jacket, hat and tirades of blunt accusations.

“in this room you discover something like the truth about yourself”

The Offence

Sean Connery

But there is far more to this film than just Connery’s performance. The screenplay, brilliantly adapted for the screen from the stage by John Hopkins, remains the most disturbingly brilliant examination of a man succumbing to what we would now call ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ that has ever been committed to film. It is all the more impressive because it is told in a way in which the audience first observes the aftermath of the offence itself without context; then the context of the situation; and finally the devastatingly catastrophic interrogation that immediately precipitates the offence itself.

“why ain’t you beautiful? You’re not even pretty”

Lumet as a director perfectly captures the soullessness of England’s then burgeoning ‘satellite’ new towns – vast, monolithic, semi-industrialized estates of office buildings, clone homes, motorways and underpasses which were constructed in the home counties in order to house the overflow population of London – using a drab pallet of rainy greys, caustic strip lighting, and shadow. No other film has ever rendered the experience of living in one of these towns so effectively. The movie took just one month to film, at the low cost of $1 million and despite this and excellent notices, it failed to make any profit for nine years, and went unreleased in several countries including the major market of France.

Ian Bannen

Ian Bannen

This troubling psychological thriller is the kind of film that, for the most part, just doesn’t get made any more by big budget studios that are more interested in pandering to the lowest common denominator in pursuit of big bucks than telling an original story. It’s intelligent, erudite, understated, subtle and profoundly disturbing. An extremely tough film to watch but just marvel at the sheer power of Connery’s performance as the driven yet ambivalent detective.

(you can watch The Offence below. If the link goes down then please leave a comment below but sometimes theres not a lot we can do)

Language: English   Year: 1972   Runtime: 112 minutes

Eureka Video have re-released The Offence as part of their Masters Of Cinema collection. You can find Eureka here.

Buy The DVD

DirectFromEureka  Amazon  Play.Com

a great link to watch the movie can be found here.

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