Tuesday, July 30, 2013

THE LUCK OF THE IRISH (1948) (shown March, 1994)

    Leprechauns are all about luck ... good luck, bad luck, tricky luck ... and it was just our luck when we originally tried to show this film in March of 1993 that a blizzard came roaring in and forced us to cancel the show! Not to be beaten, we waited one year (just long enough for a new batch of four-leaf clovers to sprout) and presented this bit of blarney.


     It involves reporter Stephen Fitzgerald (Tyrone Power), who is rushing to a seaside port in Ireland with his editor Bill Clark (James Todd). Fitzgerald has been offered a position with one of the biggest papers in New York and is eager for the job, the big city ... but most importantly, the money. While crossing an old wooden bridge in the car, the supports give way and the car sinks into the river, stranding the men and making Fitzgerald miss his boat. Fitzgerald goes to find help, telling Clark,"You stay here in the car in case someone comes along, and I'll scout up the road a bit. It must lead somewhere," to which he replies (in a nice bit of foreshadowing), "Don't be too sure. Irish paths are whimsical - like the Irish character."


     While walking through a forest, Fitzgerald comes upon an eccentric old fellow (Cecil Kellaway), who is dressed all in green with a buckle on his cap and fixing a pair of shoes. Sitting beside a small waterfall, he is so intent on his work he never notices Fitzgerald until he is standing before him. When the stranger asks for directions to the nearest village, he is floored. "You're not looking for me"? When he is told no, he is delighted and tells the young man where to go, then promptly disappears into the woods.

     Upon arriving at the village, the men take up residence at the Kittiwake Inn, where they meet innkeeper Tatie (J.M. Kerrigan) and his lovely daughter Nora (Anne Baxter, last seen by Conjure Cinema viewers in the 1970 TV movie RITUAL OF EVIL - see my October 7th, 2009 entry). Fitzgerald relates his encounter to Tatie, who stares gobsmacked throughout and tells him that he met a leprechaun! He tells the men about a villager who met and caught one once, forcing it to reveal his pot of gold and all the misfortune that followed the poor devil the remaining days of his life. Why? Because of a little-known fact: once you've caught the leprechaun and have his gold, you're supposed to spit on it to keep them from tricking you!

    
     That evening, Fitzgerald notices Tatie leaving a bottle of whiskey on the front step of the inn for the leprechauns. Fitzgerald says, "I thought the traditional thing for leprechauns was a glass of milk." A very offended Tatie replies, "Milk! Good night, Mr. Fitzgerald!"

     While getting ready for bed, Fitzgerald sees the leprechaun through his window gleefully running off with the whiskey and immediately takes off after him. Catching him in the forest, he demands the fellow unearth his pot of gold. The leprechaun is dismayed and tries to get out of doing so, but finally digs it up, bemoaning that it represents his savings of many lifetimes. Fitzgerald thinks this is all a stunt dreamed up by the old codger and Tatie, the innkeeper, and gives the pot back to the astonished leprechaun, who for a change can't believe his good luck and takes a shine to the clueless fellow, giving him a piece of gold to keep as a good luck piece.

 

     Others have taken a shine to Fitzgerald, as well, particularly Nora. He is a handsome and
refreshing change from the fishermen and other villagers she sees day in and day out, but she sadly knows nothing can come of their friendship, as he is eager to be away to the Big Apple and Big Money. While holding the coin (a Spanish doubloon) he wishes he could be on his way ... and the ship to take him across the ocean appears on the horizon! He still hasn't made any connections ... either to the wish and the coin or to Nora's feelings for him. He's a rather slow one, that Fitzgerald!

     Fast forward to New York City and Fitzgerald's meeting with newspaper editor David C. Augur (Lee J. Cobb), who knows and likes the young man. He should - Fitzgerald is engaged to his daughter! Augur is the man who offered Fitzgerald the job, but not for the newspaper. After years behind the desk, Augur has decided to run for the Senate and wants Fitzgerald on his team as his official speechwriter, which leads to this comic gem:

                             Augur: "You know the oldest and noblest occupation of them all?"
                             Fitzgerald: "I think so."
                             Augur: "I mean politics!"
                             Fitzgerald: "Well, you'll admit there are certain points of similarity."

   

      Upon his acceptance of the job, he is given all the perks: the keys to his own furnished apartment in New York City, complete with servant. Upon hearing this, Fitgerald says he's never had a servant in his life and wouldn't know what to do with one. He's voted down by Augur, who doesn't want him worrying about the menial things in life ... so he can completely concentrate on his speechwriting for the campaign. Knowing he's not going to win this argument, he goes off to meet Augur's daughter Frances (Jayne Meadows), who was the one responsible for getting him the job ... and the apartment ... and the furnishings. What Daddy's girl wants, Daddy's girl gets. Frances is a spoiled city girl through and through and is the diametric opposite of the plain and soft-spoken Norah. She has it all (including Fitzgerald) and knows it.

     The manservant arrives from the Acme Employment Agency, introducing himself as "Horace" ... and a suspicious Fitzgerald is sure he's seen him somewhere before. A few mishaps strengthen that suspicion (too strong drinks, stealing the milk left out in front of other people's doors), but he doesn't have time to ponder it. The next morning finds Fitzgerald being chauffeured on the way to a series of business meetings and lunches, all in the service of Augur. The car breaks down on a busy street and Horace suggests he take the subway, where his wallet is lifted and he runs into Nora, who is in New York to attend a wedding. Delighted, he goes with her to a news stand and tries to pay for her purchase only to find his wallet gone. Nora interprets this as his being broke and takes him to an Irish restaurant and has the proprietor feed him helping after helping of Irish stew to fatten him up, thinking he hasn't eaten! The wedding reception is going to take place there that evening and the proprietor invites Fitzgerald back to join in the celebration. He politely refuses, citing work.

     Later, as reporters are grilling Augur on his foreign policy, they read a statement that Fitzgerald wrote (before coming to work for him) that is the opposite of what Augur is pushing. After the reporters have left, Augur takes him aside and tells him to write a retraction piece about how he now sees it Augur's way ... essentially, to sell out. Resigned to the job, he goes in to write it up only to find Horace in his office (supposedly to bring him some handkerchiefs). While he thanks him, the following exchange occurs:

     Fitzgerald: "There's such a thing as taking one's job too seriously."
     Horace: "No, sir, not when your heart is in your work."
     Fitzgerald: "It's just a job, Horace."
     Horace: "No, sir, it's more than that. It's a life, indeed. When a man enters the personal services of another man, he must be prepared to surrender himself into that vocation. It's the master that matters, not the man. If the man takes to his work, the master's wish will become his wish ... the master's thought, his thought ... the master's soul, his soul. When the master gets hot, the man will cry out. When the master's nose itches, 'twill be the man who sneezes. He will live for the master, not for himself. Perhaps you will find it difficult to understand, because you ... you are the type that wears no man's collar. You are a proud, free man. It is for that reason that I am proud to serve you. Will that be all, sir?"

     The speech has its intended impact, causing Fitzgerald to go to Augur's home to resign. Cutting him off is Frances, who tells him of her father's future plans - to turn the editorship of the paper over to Fitzgerald after he has won his Senate seat. Fitzgerald gets an even better look at her own plans, as she wants to be a silent partner in running the paper according to her agenda. 

  
Confused, he leaves (without resigning) and goes to the wedding reception. Nora has been commandeered by an Irish fireman named Cornelius (Charles Irwin) for dance after dance. Fitzgerald pulls her aside repeatedly to talk to her, which leads to a brawl between the two men which (of course) spreads out to the entire restaurant. Fitzgerald is knocked out cold and awakes to find Nora tending him in the back room. They kiss and he walks her home, only to find out she is leaving on the next day's steamer back for Ireland. She invites him in, but he tells her he is getting married in a month to Frances. Her hurt look says it all and she wishes him a happy life. As he turns to head home, he reaches into his pocket for his doubloon ... only to find it transformed into a hunk of stone.

     Fitzgerald rushes home to find Horace working on shoes again and chases him all over the apartment, catching him and forcing him to admit his identity as the leprechaun that he first met. He asks Horace if he is responsible for Nora being in New York. He denies it, saying that was Fitzgerald's own thoughts that brought her over. Fitzgerald then asks if he is trying to ruin his life, to which Horace responds, "I offered you gold ... 'tis not my fault that you prefer a pebble." Horace sadly admits he is homesick for Ireland and can do no more for Fitzgerald and magically departs.

     We next see Fitzgerald at a blow-out dinner for Augur, who makes the announcement that Frances foretold. When Fitzgerald is called to the podium in front of the audience for a photo with Augur, he looks out and sees ... Horace! First one, then another, then a whole AUDIENCE of leprechauns (including the paintings on the walls) all grimly applauding his life choice. At that moment Fitzgerald refuses the position - when he is asked what his own plans are, he responds, "I haven't any ... except to sit under a waterfall with an old friend on mine." He then gently breaks off his engagement with Frances and leaves.

     The final scene is back at Tatie's inn, with Fitzgerald, his wife Nora and their friend (and his editor) Bill Clark. They all retire to their rooms for the evening, when Clark realizes he forgot his pipe downstairs. He goes back for it only to see Fitzgerald leaving a bottle of whiskey on the front doorstep, "for an old friend, in case he gets cold," he says. The final shot shows Horace picking up the bottle, smartly saluting Fitzgerald, and prancing merrily back to the forest.

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     The first thing that strikes me about the film is the running similarities to I MARRIED A WITCH (1942, see my blog entry from September 29th, 2009). Both starred Cecil Kellaway and both involved magical creatures getting involved with modern politics to change people's lives. This film is the more gentle fantasy of the two, as WITCH has a somewhat darker tone in certain spots of the film, particularly Kellaway's 'Daniel', who is always trying to think of ways to kill off Frederic March's Wallace Wooley character.

          The film is available on DVD in a Tyrone Power double feature disc (along with I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU) and as part of the Tyrone Power Matinee Idol Collection box set. It also pops up every March on such stations as Turner Classic Movies, always around St. Patrick's Day, surprise, surprise. Give it a look if you're in the mood for a cute tale of the wee folk.

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     Next Time: Fantasy of a whole different nature, as the legend of St. George and the Dragon is given the B.I.G. treatment by "Mr. Big" himself, Bert I. Gordon, in THE MAGIC SWORD!