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Film / Darby O'Gill and the Little People

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When you've seen The Quiet Man one too many times.
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Darby O'Gill and the Little People is a 1959 Walt Disney Pictures feature film starring Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro, Sean Connery, and Jimmy O'Dea, in a tale about a wily Irishman and his battle of wits with leprechauns. The film was directed by Robert Stevenson and is based on the books of Herminie T. Kavanagh.

The plot revolves around Darby O'Gill (Sharpe), an old caretaker who lives with his daughter Katie (Munro) in the Gatehouse of Lord Fitzpatrick's estate. Darby spends most of his time at the pub, telling stories of leprechauns, most notably King Brian (O'Dea), who is Darby's friendly rival.

Lord Fitzpatrick (Walter Fitzgerald) feels that Darby is past his prime as a laborer, so he replaces Darby as caretaker with the handsome, strapping young Michael McBride (Connery) from Dublin. Michael falls in love with Katie, which is all right with Darby; but the lad has a rival in local ruffian Pony Sugrue (Kieron Moore), the son of a devious widow who wants her boy to be the caretaker. King Brian's supernatural assistance is necessary to make everything come out all right, but the sneaky leprechaun won't play matchmaker without a fight.

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A major source of Nightmare Fuel due to the banshee. Possibly also because this is one of, if not the only, times you will ever hear Sean Connery sing on-camera. No, seriously, see for yourself. Reportedly, it was Connery's role in this film that helped him land the part of James Bond years later in Dr. No after the Bond producers saw the fight between him and Kieron Moore at the end.


This movie contains examples of:

  • Afterlife Express: The cóiste-bodhar.
  • Balancing Death's Books: Darby uses his third wish to go in his sick daughter's place when Death comes to claim her.
    • But then subverted: King Brian tricks Darby into making a fourth wish which negates the previous three wishes, but by that time his daughter has already recovered.
    • Apparently just the fact Darby was willing to sacrifice himself for his daughter was enough to let the last one stick.
  • Bedtime Brainwashing: While Michael McBride and Katy O'Gill are asleep, King Brian talks to them to influence them into falling in love with each other.
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  • Chekhov's Gun: The fact that asking for a fourth wish negates the previous wishes. King Brian uses this to save Darby at the end of the movie.
    King Brian: Three wishes I'll grant ye, great wishes an' small! But you wish a fourth, and you'll lose them all!
  • Chroma Key: Two remarkable examples are the moments where Darby plays "The Fox Chase" on a fiddle to an audience of dancing leprechauns and, most notably, the Banshee sequence.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Michael towards Katie, despite her snapping at him and letting Pony take her home.
  • Drunken Song: King Brian comes looking for the escaped Darby, who offers Brian a jug of poitín (the Irish version of moonshine), with Darby and Brian making up short rhyming song verses between cupfuls.
  • Exact Words: Part of King Brian's trickery. When Darby tries to show King Brian to Michael, Michael says he only sees a rabbit (and in fact, his POV only shows a little rabbit inside the bag). Darby wishes for Michael to be able to see Brian, to which Brian says the wish has been granted. Michael is able to see King Brian... as a rabbit.
  • The Fair Folk: King Brian and the other leprechauns. Also, Darby's horse, Cleopatra, who is actually a pooka.
  • Fallen Angel: In the companion Walt Disney Presents episode, "I Captured the King of the Leprechauns" it's explained that the Little People were angels who were cast out of Heaven by Gabriel, because although they were against Satan's rebellion they didn't fight (they believed they were too small to fight so they hid until the fighting was over).
  • Forced Perspective: Used to make the leprechauns look so small.
  • Friendly Enemy: Played with. Darby and King Brian aren't enemies. Darby just wants his wishes and King Brian regards it as a challenge to try and trick him. Basically, it's an ongoing game of trying to one-up each other that they both enjoy. King Brian is very grateful to Darby for keeping their legend alive, looks out for his well-being, and won't hesitate to come to Darby's assistance when the need arises.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Darby makes one to save Katie's life. Not that he ends up actually sacrificing his life, though, since he makes a fourth wish which nullifies the other three wishes.
  • Jerk Ass: Pony Sugrue
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: King Brian. Yes, he does just about everything he can to trick Darby, but he goes out of his way to be nice to him. He takes Darby into his kingdom with the intention of having him live a light-hearted existence there for the rest of his days and even though Darby didn't wish for Katie to fall in love with a steady young man, he still tries to get Katie and Michael together because he knows that Darby would want that. Plus, one of the times he does trick Darby, the trick works in such a way that it works out excellently for Darby.
  • The Kindnapper: King Brian. When he hears that Darby has been evicted from the gatehouse, he decides to put the come-hither on Darby so that he can come live in the leprechaun kingdom instead. It's rather nice down there, too, with merriment, riches, and a Stradivarius violin for Darby to play, so it's obvious why King Brian sees it as a favor to Darby. However, King Brian doesn't intend to let Darby leave, and Darby doesn't want to stay down there, either.
  • Land of Faerie: King Brian's kingdom inside Knocknasheega.
  • Leprechaun: Unlike modern examples where they're roughly the size of a dwarf, these leprechauns are shown to be closer to their mythological size.
  • Literal Genie: King Brian, any chance he gets. Including the climax, when he uses it to save Darby's life.
  • Magic Is Evil: The leprechauns are referred by other characters as "the Powers of Darkness". Subverted in that the leprechauns are just mischievous, not malicious.
  • Matte Shot:
    • Used to complete the roofline of the village, to extend King Brian's cave beyond the set constructed on the sound stage, and for various other shots.
    • To show Darby walking into King Brian's cave, they used a mirror to combine a Matte Shot with Forced Perspective. An angled mirror was set up between the camera and the actor playing Darby, so the camera saw the more distant set with the actors playing leprechauns. Then some of the silver coating of the mirror was scraped off, producing a hole that showed the actor playing Darby (essentially treating the mirror's reflection of the leprechaun set as a matte). Finally, an additional matte was used to complete the cave.
  • Meddling Parent: Pony's mother, Sheelah Sugrue.
  • Mouse World: The domain of King Brian and his people - they some how have tiny horse for them to ride.
  • My Beloved Smother: Sheelah Sugrue, Pony's meddlesome mother.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Darby capturing King Brian was supposed to be his life long triumph. In reality, it put his family and all of Ireland at risk. King Brian tells Darby that his second in command, Phadrig Oge, will stop at nothing to get him back, even if it meant putting a spell on Katie. Darby says he would murder King Brian if Katie is hurt, but Brian says his death would bring numerous curses on the Irish populace. King Brian tells Darby that he and his powers are the only thing keeping all the evil spirits in check and from running wild across Ireland. Capturing King Brian and subduing his power, might have later led to a Banshee appearing.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Sean Connery, as usual. Well, actually there are one or two scenes where he does try to sound Irish but for the most part he talks in his usual Scottish accent. Interestingly enough, Connery's paternal grandfather's parents were actually Irish emigrants who moved to Scotland.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: King Brian
  • Oh, Crap!: Darby has two, when he sees the Banshee and again when he sees the Death Coach. Even King Brian has one, when he realizes the Death Coach is approaching and knows there's nothing he can do about it.
  • Oireland
  • Old Maid: Katie gets warnings about becoming one of these if she doesn't settle down soon.
  • Our Banshees Are Louder: The banshee that appeared to warn that Katie was about to die. It also summoned the Cóiste-bodhar (Death Coach) to take away her soul to the afterlife.
  • Our Monsters Are Weird
  • Papa Wolf: When the banshee and the cóiste-bodhar death coach come for Katie's soul, Darby makes his third wish to go instead of Katie, with the cóiste-bodhar transporting Darby's soul to the afterlife, allowing Katie to recover.
  • Portent of Doom: The banshee that wailed mournfully when someone was about to die.
  • Psychopomp: The cóiste-bodhar and its driver, the Dullahan.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Though we don't know for sure about the other leprechauns, we are told that King Brian is around 5,000 years old.
  • The Rival: King Brian to Darby.
    • Pony Sugrue to Michael.
  • Romantic False Lead: In the first scene of the film, we see Sheelah Sugrue telling Katie what a good man her son Pony is, but Katie ends up with Michael instead.
  • Stealth Pun: Pony's last name Sugrue sounds similar to the Gaelic word "súghrad", which means play, and he's noted for roughhousing, or "horse play".
  • Take Me Instead: Darby volunteers to take Katie's place in the Death Coach
  • Three Wishes: "Three wishes I'll grant ye, great wishes an' small! But you wish a fourth and you'll lose them all!"
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Leprechauns can only use their magic during the night; they're powerless during the day.
    • Darby mentions that Leprechauns can walk around invisible during the day, and Brian is still able to take the form of a rabbit. So they have some magical protection during daylight.
  • Wishplosion: After Darby makes his third wish to have the cóiste-bodhar take him instead of Katie, he regrets that he won't be around to see Katie and Michael get married or have grandchildren, and Brian wishes he could go with Darby all the way, and Darby wishes that he could do the same, making his fourth wish which nullifies his previous three wishes, and Brian pushes Darby out of the cóiste-bodhar back to the land of the living.

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