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Film / Darby O'Gill and the Little People

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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 elderly 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 him 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.

A major source of Nightmare Fuel, due to the banshee. And possibly also because this is one of the only times, if not the only time, you will ever see 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 in Dr. No three years later, 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.
  • The Alcoholic: Virtually every man in Rathcullen can be found drinking in the tavern during non-work hours. Darby himself, however, is not a drinking man, but simply goes to the pub for the social interaction.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: King Brian may wield powerful magic, but even he can't drive away 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.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • Darby pulls a rather devious one on King Brian. Knowing that Brian will be coming by to force him to come back to the Leprechaun Cave, he brings out a pot of poitín, knowing His Majesty is definitely not the type to turn down a drink. And since Brian loses in powers during the daytime, he gets the monarch drunk until dawn, then captures him.
    • Earlier, Darby tricks the leprechauns into letting him leave Knocknasheega. Knowing their fondness for the hunt, he plays a traditional hunting song to whip them up into a frenzy, upping the tempo until they're ready to charge out into the wild. The leprechauns sound the horn and open the pathway to the mountain, leaving the path open for him to escape - though unfortunately, he doesn't have time to bring any of their treasure with him.
  • 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.
  • Benevolent Boss: Lord Fitzpatrick. Sure he's putting Darby out to pasture, but he makes sure he's still taken care of in his retirement.
  • Betty and Veronica: In a Gender Flipped example, the sober, mild-mannered Michael McBride is the Betty to the Veronica that is the violent, drunken Pony Sugrue. Katy (the Archie) chooses Michael.
  • The Bully: Pony Sugrue. He may act Affably Evil but he's a real son of a bitch. His main hobby is picking on and intimidating people.
  • Can't Move While Being Watched: Not completely immobile but captured leprechauns can't run away if they're being watched.
  • 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!
  • Character as Himself: Jimmy O'Dea was not directly credited as King Brian during the film's original release, as Walt wanted to market the film as starring genuine leprechauns, seen in the "Special Thanks to King Brian and the Leprechauns of Knockasheega" credit in the film and within the Walt Disney Presents episode promoting the film, "I Captured the King of the Leprechauns", where Walt Disney goes to Ireland and hires Darby and King Brian to play themselves in his planned Irish folklore movie.
  • 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.
  • Death by Falling Over: While we don't see it happen, it's hinted that this is what put Katie on death's door: she had been chasing Cleopatra up the craggy side of Knocknasheega in the dark. She pulls through, thanks to Darby's Heroic Sacrifice (and King Brian helping Darby trick the Death Coach).
  • Death Wail: Played with; when Katie is badly injured and the banshee is heard (and, unusually, seen) wailing for her, and then later when the banshee comes to the O'Gill house to warn Darby that Katie is near death. Darby, as the Papa Wolf that he is, bargains for the Death Coach to take him instead. In the end, King Brian resolves the problem (Katie recovers and is reunited with her father), but the banshee herself if nearly correct in her news.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Michael towards Katie, despite her snapping at him and letting Pony take her home.
  • Dope Slap: Darby swats Michael upside the head to wake him up when he finds him unconscious and reeking of booze. He immediately changes his tune from annoyed to concerned when Michael wakes up far too alert and clear-eyed to be drunk.
  • Dirty Coward: Despite having at least half a foot and a good 20 pounds on Michael when they brawl, Pony still has to grab a whiskey bottle as a club for backup.
  • 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. Darby, however, isn't actually drinking any of it, and is only pretending to be drunk.
  • 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, plus the banshee. 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). None of this is touched on in the film itself, however.
  • Forced Perspective: Used to make the leprechauns look so small. For a 1959 movie, it looks pretty good.
  • 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.
  • Gargle Blaster: Poitín is real, folks. It's basically Irish Moonshine, and it has a massive kick. 80 proof is the lower end: it usually is around 150! Brian drank about the equivalent of 15 swimming pools of the stuff, in case you were doubting his immortality.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: Before Pony leaves Rathcullen, Michael sends him off with the asskicking Pony has had coming for a very long time.
  • Guile Hero: Here we see what happens when two Guile Heroes have a Friendly Rivalry. Using nothing but his smarts, Darby manages to escape the fairy mountain of Knocknasheega, dupe King Brian into getting drunk enough to get himself caught in the daytime, and then later saves Katie by using his last wish to trick the Death Coach. Then there's King Brian, who's as clever as he is ancient: despite a number of close calls and near-misses, he always manages to outfox Darby in the end, ending the movie by tricking him, and by extension the Death Coach, and making sure both Darby and Katie survive. For reference, he outwardly admits the Death Coach is a power beyond him, and he still manages to cheat it!
  • 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, though we can credit King Brian for that: Darby fully intended to go through with his sacrifice.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Katie can go from warm to furious in a split second.
  • Jerkass: 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.
  • Mouse World: The domain of King Brian and his people - they somehow have tiny horses 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: Darby's tales of meeting King Brian are dismissed as flights of fancy until Darby presents a sack with Brian stuffed in it; a glass of ale goes into the sack, the glass comes out empty, and it gets put on the shelf as proof of what the bargoers just saw.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Darby's expression when he realizes Brian tricked him into a fourth wish, losing him the pot of gold, is a combination of this and looking like he wants to kick himself.
    • He later has two in quick succession, 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.
    • King Brian has one earlier when he hears the rooster crow the dawn (he loses his power during the day) and Darby's laughter turns mocking and triumphant. Afterwards, he has another one when Darby threatens to feed him to the cat unless Brian grants him another set of wishes.
  • Oireland: And then some! Rustic, rural setting, carefree populace, magical creatures abound, a "begorrah" sprinkled here and there...
  • Old Maid: Katie gets warnings about becoming one of these if she doesn't settle down soon.
    • Very much Truth in Television: for 1850s Ireland, it was extremely uncommon for a woman to be 25 and not yet married.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Reaction Shot: Much of Pony's beating at the end is punctuated by the bargoers' reactions at how hard said beating is.
  • The Rival:
    • King Brian to Darby. Definitely of the friendly sort.
    • Pony Sugrue to Michael. Definitely NOT of the friendly sort.
  • 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.
  • Shipper on Deck: Darby and King Brian work together to get Katy with Michael.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Played with. Darby is ready to use violence against the banshee to protect Katie, but the banshee herself is just trying to warn him about Katie's possible death. The banshee, or bean-sídhe, in Gaelic means "woman of the fairy folk" and she is a guardian spirit to the old Gaelic families (namely, those families whose surnames begin with "Mc", "Mac", or "O'"); the sound of her wail is distressing, but it is only a warning to the family that one of them will soon die and she herself means no harm. That the banshee has traditionally had her human counterpart, the keening-woman, who is a professional mourner hired to lament for the deceased and lead the community through their grief, the banshee herself is in a very real sense mourning the pending death.
  • Same Language Dub: In The '60s, Disney re-released this movie with Albert Sharpe and Jimmy O'Dea dubbed over by actors with less thick-sounding accents. The DVD, iTunes digital copy, and Blu-ray restored the original vocals. However, sometimes the redubbed version resurfaces on TV; Disney+ also posted it instead of the original version.
  • 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
  • Tap on the Head: Pony knocks Michael unconscious and pours alcohol over him, intending for Lord Fitzpatrick to find him and mistake him for a drunk then hopefully give his job to Pony.
  • The Teetotaler:
    • Darby, to the surprise of some, isn't a drinking man. He goes to the pub to hang with his friends and tell stories.
    • Michael isn't a drinker, either. The one time Pony tries to make it look otherwise, it's not hard to figure out the deception.
  • Three Wishes: "Three wishes I'll grant ye, great wishes an' small! But you wish a fourth and you'll lose them all!"
  • Ungrateful Bastard: How the leprechauns react when Darby says he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life living with the leprechauns, as this is an extremely high honor they are offering him.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Darby O'Gill and King Brian of Knocknasheega may butt heads often, but that doesn't mean they don't care for each other deeply.
  • 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.