Friday, March 15, 2013

The Bad Luck of the Irish (Filmmaker)

Since it is St. Patrick's Day, I thought I'd veer off course from my normally serious vivisection of the pop culture landscape to talk about Irish-themed entertainment. And by entertainment, I don't mean the usual list of best Irish movies -- there are plenty of lists out there on the blogosphere that give the topic the shamrocks it deserves. We could talk all day about "My Left Foot" or "The Crying Game" or even the John Wayne classic "The Quiet Man."

But everyone else talks about them too. What makes this list more interesting, especially to a crowd that might be too pickled in green beer this weekend to really care, is to list a bit of the off-the-wall blarney that movies with Irish characters have produced. The filmmakers had to have been imbibing in more than a touch of the Irish whiskey to have considered making some of these classic howlers.

Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Sean Connery (who is actually Scottish) sings! In this 1959, lesser-known Walt Disney film, Connery and bunch of "wee people" dressed as leprechauns spice up this nonsensical Irish folk tale. While few remember the plot of this convoluted story, it features a famous fiddling scene  that goes on forever, with small actors who have appeared to have dipped too often into the apple gin.  Rotten Tomatoes features one review at the time that stated "I have to admit that by the second or third time I saw leprechauns depicted as magical by speeding up the film, I was hoping for someone to show up with a gun."

Far And Away

Tom Cruise and then-wife Nicole Kidman show why their union was fated to fail: bad acting in films done together -- OK, maybe "Eyes Wide Shut" had its voyeuristic thrills, but "Days of Thunder" was also a bit of a car wreck. This 1992 epic about an Irish couple wandering the Wild West in the 1880s has no reason to exist, other that bad Irish accents right out of the Lucky Charms cereal box and constant squabbling. It also has some great movie quotes, including this gem from Cruise: “You're a corker, Shannon. What a corker you are.”

Mary Reilly


In perhaps Julia Roberts worst film role, she plays an Irish washerwoman who has a love affair with the wrong man: the dashing Dr. Jekyll. She must not have read any Robert Louis Stevenson or she'd know him as Mr. Hyde by night. Reportedly, our dearest Julia hired a voice coach to help her with the lilts and cadences of an Irish accent. It didn't work, and the movie was as dead on arrival as Hyde's victims. Critic Susan Stark wrote in the Detroit News: "Unfortunately, your response to the bizarre story of terror and lust that dare not speak their name is pretty well limited to Roberts' response -- which is, in turn, limited by her technique." She should have known better than to date a disturbed John Malkovich in this film.


The Jackal

I love Richard Gere as much as Julia Roberts, but here's a movie he'd like to bury underneath the nearest Irish meadow. The Philly-born actor plays an Irish terrorist as a stereotypically violent bad Irish bloke (with another horrible accent). What's really surprising about this 1997 dud is the lengths that many involved go about distancing themselves from it. Gere, a devout Buddhist, said he regrets making such a bloody film. Fred Zinnemann, who directed the great 1973 thriller "Day of the Jackal," on which the movie is loosely based, fought with the studio to have the new film carry a different title. And "Day of the Jackal" novelist Frederick Forsyth wanted his name removed from the credits. All for a movie that few saw anyway.

Check out Bruce Willis in a platinum blonde wig in this movie clip.

Finian's Rainbow

This smash Broadway hit was turned into a film in 1969, becoming Fred Astaire's last musical and notable for its misguided direction by future "The Godfather" major domo Francis Ford Coppola. But while the movie wasn't considered half-bad when it came out, today it would elicit dropping jaws for its racist subtext. Astaire plays an Irishman carrying a stolen crock of gold who is being chased by both a leprechaun wanting it back and by a racist Southern senator, played by Keenan Wynn.  In a scene that never would be filmed today, the leprachaun turns the senator into a black man to teach him a lesson. There is even a scene where one of the senator's associates tells a black botanist how to act more "Negro." Jaw-dropping might not be a strong enough word for this. Unbelievable and intolerable might be better used.

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