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Film / Young Cassidy

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Young Dame Maggie Smith!

Young Cassidy is a 1965 British film directed by Jack Cardiff and an uncredited John Ford.note 

It is a fictionalized biography of the early life of Irish playwright Sean O'Casey, referred to as "Jack Cassidy". (In Real Life O'Casey was born "John Casey" before changing his name to the Gaelic form "Seán Ó Cathasaigh" and then splitting the difference as "Sean O'Casey".) The film begins in 1911 with Cassidy (Rod Taylor) working as a manual laborer by day (he is literally digging a ditch) while writing pamphlets on behalf of a labor union at night. He also is part of an anti-British militia unit and participates in military drills, but resigns due to disputes with leadership and thus misses the Easter Rising of 1916.

Cassidy falls in love with a spirited bookstore clerk named Nora. In the meantime, despite his lack of formal education, he becomes a rising star in the literary world, with his play The Shadow of a Gunman debuting in 1923. The climax of the film comes with the premiere of his controversial 1926 play The Plough and the Stars, which made him famous.

This film was originally supposed to be directed by John Ford but Ford fell ill and had to leave the production after two weeks (he only directed one more film before his death in 1973). It features two actresses who were both just hitting the big time in 1965: Julie Christie in a supporting role as Daisy Battles, a cheerful prostitute who enjoys a one-night stand with Cassidy, and Maggie Smith playing the female lead, Nora. Michael Redgrave appears as William Butler Yeats.


  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: A woman who lives in the same apartment building as Cassidy gives him some lustful glances. One night a British police raid causes her to run into Cassidy's room clad in nothing but her bedsheet. She says that "you're a good young man, and would never take advantage of a woman alone in your room at night with nothin' on but a loose tablecloth between you and this swift bit a-courtin'." Then she looks him straight in the eye and says "Wouldn't you?" Cassidy moves to embrace her and she happily shucks the bedsheet.
  • As You Know: Some dialogue to this effect between Cassidy and his mother about how his sister Ella married an English soldier and was eventually abandoned by him, leaving her with a bunch of kids.
  • Based on a True Story: Based on the early life and literary career of Sean O'Casey. There really was a riot at an early performance of The Plough and the Stars. (On the other hand, the real Sean O'Casey was a bespectacled, short-statured fellow, not particularly resembling Rod Taylor's husky brawler.)
  • Bittersweet Ending: Cassidy's relationship with his old friend Mick ends decisively after Mick gets very very angry over a negative caricature of himself in The Plough and the Stars. Shortly after this Nora breaks up with him, believing that Cassidy is headed to international fame and that she would not belong in that world and would hold him back. Cassidy despairs that he's losing everything—but he is becoming internationally famous, as symbolized in the last scene where he's taking a boat to London.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Cassidy gets very drunk in a bar after his mother dies, then grabs and drunkenly kisses Nora on his way home.
  • Fighting Irish: A performance of The Plough and the Stars devolves into chaos as an angry audience hoots and jeers and throws vegetables at the actors. As Cassidy waits nervously in the lobby, two drunk men stumble in from the street, literally looking for a fight. When Cassidy says the men want to create a disturbance, one grins and says "Maybe just addin' to it." Cassidy promptly punches both of them out.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Cassidy innocently wonders how Daisy affords an apartment as an only sporadically-employed chorus girl. She lets him know that she is either a kept woman or a full-on call girl by saying "I have an uncle as well," and giving him a Meaningful Look; Section II of the Hays Code forbade such things.
  • Historical Domain Character: Jack Cassidy himself, as a fictionalized version of Sean O'Casey. Also, Dublin theater director William Butler Yeats, who really did confront a mob to defend O'Casey's play, and Lady Gregory, writer and theater director.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Cassidy's mother coughs, and excuses herself to go to bed, saying she has "a bit of cold." In the very next scene Jack finds her at home, dead.
  • Large Ham: Cassidy's brother Archie, who is an actor, demonstrates for the family an amazingly over-the-top rendition of the opening lines from Richard III.
  • Meadow Run: Well, it's Nora and Jack running together through a grassy meadow, not at each other, but it's the same romantic vibe.
  • Meet Cute: Nora the bookstore clerk catches Jack trying to steal some books from the store, namely a couple of literary books as well as the book on military drill that Jack needs to train recruits to the Irish Citizen Army. She later sends those books to him as a gift.
  • Mythology Gag: The Love Interest in The Plough and the Stars is named Nora.
  • Produce Pelting: The outraged audience at a performance of The Plough and the Stars flings garbage and what looks like heads of lettuce at the actors.
  • Shaming the Mob: The audience at The Plough and the Stars flings garbage and boos the actors and a couple of people actually try to get on the stage and fight them. Finally a pissed-off W.B. Yeats stomps out to center stage and yells at them, shouting "You have disgraced yourself again!" (The "again" is a reference to a similar riot at a 1907 performance of The Playboy of the Western World.)
  • Spiteful Spit: Daisy spits at a saber-wielding British soldier on horseback. She nearly gets slashed with that saber before Cassidy jumps in and saves her.
  • Title Drop: Yeats tells Jack that he'll have to mature as a writer by saying "you are young, Cassidy, and that makes your passion effortless and artless."