Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959)

93 or 95 mins | Children's works, Fantasy | July 1959

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HISTORY

The opening credits include the following statement, signed with Walt Disney's signature: "My thanks to King Brian of Knocknasheega and his leprechauns, whose gracious co-operation made this picture possible." The film contains many notable special effects, including those of the spirit horse, banshee and costa bower, all of which appear luminous and ghost-like; and the combination within the same frame of regular-size actors with those who appear to be two-foot-tall leprechauns.
       According to a Nov 1946 Atlanta Constitution news item, Walt Disney, who was half Irish, originally considered producing a film in Ireland about leprechauns to be entitled The Little People . That film was to star Barry Fitzgerald and feature a combination of live action and animation. Studio press materials note that in 1947 Disney hired Lawrence Edward Watkin to write the film’s script, based on the many “Darby O’Gill” stories written by H. T. Kavanagh. A Jul 1949 NYNews article stated that in that year Disney was still working on The Little People and planned to cast Bing Crosby as Fitzgerald's co-star.
       As noted in studio press materials, Disney made four pre-production trips to Ireland, during which he perfected the story, backgrounds and casting of the film. He concocted a story about meeting the real King Brian and bringing him and his complement of leprechauns to Hollywood for the film. The story was widely quoted by contemporary sources and Disney remained faithful to it.
       Although the final production of Darby O’Gill and the Little People , begun on 17 Mar 1958, featured mostly Irish actors, it was shot entirely in California, on the Disney lot and on location ... More Less

The opening credits include the following statement, signed with Walt Disney's signature: "My thanks to King Brian of Knocknasheega and his leprechauns, whose gracious co-operation made this picture possible." The film contains many notable special effects, including those of the spirit horse, banshee and costa bower, all of which appear luminous and ghost-like; and the combination within the same frame of regular-size actors with those who appear to be two-foot-tall leprechauns.
       According to a Nov 1946 Atlanta Constitution news item, Walt Disney, who was half Irish, originally considered producing a film in Ireland about leprechauns to be entitled The Little People . That film was to star Barry Fitzgerald and feature a combination of live action and animation. Studio press materials note that in 1947 Disney hired Lawrence Edward Watkin to write the film’s script, based on the many “Darby O’Gill” stories written by H. T. Kavanagh. A Jul 1949 NYNews article stated that in that year Disney was still working on The Little People and planned to cast Bing Crosby as Fitzgerald's co-star.
       As noted in studio press materials, Disney made four pre-production trips to Ireland, during which he perfected the story, backgrounds and casting of the film. He concocted a story about meeting the real King Brian and bringing him and his complement of leprechauns to Hollywood for the film. The story was widely quoted by contemporary sources and Disney remained faithful to it.
       Although the final production of Darby O’Gill and the Little People , begun on 17 Mar 1958, featured mostly Irish actors, it was shot entirely in California, on the Disney lot and on location at the Albertson Ranch in Agoura, CA and the Rowland V. Lee Ranch in San Fernando Valley, CA. The studio borrowed Scottish actor Sean Connery from Twentieth Century-Fox for his role as “Michael McBride.” Darby O’Gill and the Little People marked the first film Connery made in the United States.
       According to a 3 Jul 1958 HR news item, the leprechaun’s palace set measured 240 x 230 feet, large enough to accommodate 40 horses in a circular dance routine. The Var review noted that the effect of leaping leprechauns was produced with the use of trampolines. A studio report found in the file for the film at the AMPAS Library relates the following special effects information: The mixture of regular-size actors with 21-inch-high live-action leprechauns within the same frame was achieved by blending two shots, one in which actors worked with huge props, according to mathematically determined perspective lines. The banshee and costa bower effects derived from shooting the original in black-and-white against a black background, then printing the negative, which was enlarged and kept out of focus.
       Modern sources note that Stevenson considered dubbing another singer over Connery’s voice for the song “Pretty Irish Girl,” but eventually decided against it. The song was released as a single in Apr 1959; later, a wider-selling version was cut for Columbia Records by Ruby Murray and Brendan O’Dowda.
       As noted in a 26 Jun 1959 HR news item, Darby O’Gill and the Little People had its world premiere in Dublin, Ireland on 24 Jun 1959. The day was dubbed “Walt Disney Day” and was proclaimed a school holiday, and the screening raised funds for the country’s St. Vincent de Paul Society. The American premiere on 26 Jun 1959 took place at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and marked the first time a Disney feature played there. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Atlanta Constitution
11 Nov 1946.
---
Box Office
4 May 1959.
---
Daily Variety
29 Apr 59
p. 3.
Film Daily
29 Apr 59
p. 6.
Filmfacts
1959
pp. 159-60.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jan 1958
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Mar 1958
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Mar 1958
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Mar 1958
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Apr 1958
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Jul 1958
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jul 1958
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Apr 59
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jun 1959
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jun 1959
p. 3.
Los Angeles Examiner
21 Jan 1958.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 Jul 1958
part II, p. 6.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
2 May 59
p. 244.
New York News
21 Jul 1949.
---
New York Times
1 Jul 59
p. 26.
Variety
29 Apr 59
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Spec art styling
Spec art styling
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
SOUND
Sd supv
Sd mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting dir
ANIMATION
Anim eff
SOURCES
LITERARY
Suggested by the "Darby O'Gill" stories by H. T. Kavanagh.
MUSIC
"The Dance of the Leprechauns" by Oliver Wallace.
SONGS
"The Wishing Song" and "Pretty Irish Girl," words by Lawrence Edward Watkin, music by Oliver Wallace.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Little People
Release Date:
July 1959
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Dublin, Ireland: 24 June 1959
Los Angeles opening: 26 June 1959
New York opening: 29 June 1959
Production Date:
17 March--late July 1958
Copyright Claimant:
Walt Disney Productions
Copyright Date:
26 January 1959
Copyright Number:
LP13491
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound Recording
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
93 or 95
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19015
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Rathcullen, Ireland at the turn of the century, Darby O’Gill runs Lord Fitzpatrick’s estate with customary inattentiveness, preferring to tell stories at the pub about his experiences with the leprechauns that live in the nearby Knocknasheega hills. His daughter Katie keeps the estate tidy and tries to cover for her father, but Lord Fitzpatrick catches on to Darby’s benign negligence and quietly hires a young Dubliner, Michael McBride, to replace the older man. Meanwhile, Katie’s neighbor, Sheelah Sugrue, fancies her arrogant son Pony as the next caretaker, and urges an uninterested Katie to respond to Pony’s romantic advances. One day, Father Murphy overhears Darby narrating a tale about his brush with the king of the leprechauns, Brian Connors, in which Brian outsmarted Darby by tricking him into asking for four wishes instead of three, thus immediately canceling all previous wishes. When friend Paddy Scanlon warns that leprechauns are dark magic, Darby jokes that he could cleanse his wished-for gold via the church coffers, prompting Father Murphy to reveal that he has been listening. The priest asks for a volunteer to pick up a church bell donated by a neighboring town, and after Pony refuses to run the errand without pay, Father Murphy convinces Darby to purge his sins by going. As a reward, the priest promises Darby the music of the bells. When Darby returns home, Fitzgerald is there with Michael, showing him the estate’s state of disrepair. Darby accepts his demotion, which includes ample lodging at the guesthouse and half pay, but insists that he be allowed to inform Katie. Scheming, Darby then invites Michael to stay with him and Katie in the manor house, and tells ... +


In Rathcullen, Ireland at the turn of the century, Darby O’Gill runs Lord Fitzpatrick’s estate with customary inattentiveness, preferring to tell stories at the pub about his experiences with the leprechauns that live in the nearby Knocknasheega hills. His daughter Katie keeps the estate tidy and tries to cover for her father, but Lord Fitzpatrick catches on to Darby’s benign negligence and quietly hires a young Dubliner, Michael McBride, to replace the older man. Meanwhile, Katie’s neighbor, Sheelah Sugrue, fancies her arrogant son Pony as the next caretaker, and urges an uninterested Katie to respond to Pony’s romantic advances. One day, Father Murphy overhears Darby narrating a tale about his brush with the king of the leprechauns, Brian Connors, in which Brian outsmarted Darby by tricking him into asking for four wishes instead of three, thus immediately canceling all previous wishes. When friend Paddy Scanlon warns that leprechauns are dark magic, Darby jokes that he could cleanse his wished-for gold via the church coffers, prompting Father Murphy to reveal that he has been listening. The priest asks for a volunteer to pick up a church bell donated by a neighboring town, and after Pony refuses to run the errand without pay, Father Murphy convinces Darby to purge his sins by going. As a reward, the priest promises Darby the music of the bells. When Darby returns home, Fitzgerald is there with Michael, showing him the estate’s state of disrepair. Darby accepts his demotion, which includes ample lodging at the guesthouse and half pay, but insists that he be allowed to inform Katie. Scheming, Darby then invites Michael to stay with him and Katie in the manor house, and tells Katie that Michael is a hired hand. Although she is attracted to the Dubliner, Katie spurns Michael after he expresses patronizing disbelief about leprechauns. Later, Michael urges Darby to tell Katie the truth, but Darby refuses, instead fetching his spirit horse, Cleopatra, from where she grazes in Knocknasheega. There, Cleopatra leads Darby to a well and nudges him down. Upon landing in the leprechaun palace, a magnificent salon filled with treasure and merrily dancing little people, Darby learns that King Brian believes he is “rescuing” him from his troubles by offering a life of rest and amusement. Not understanding why Darby asks to be returned to Rathcullen, Brian refuses to release him, prompting Darby to plan his escape. Knowing that leprechauns love whiskey, dancing and hunting above all else, Darby plays a hunting tune on his fiddle, playing faster and faster until the little people are whipped into a frenzy. They jump on miniature horses and tear out of the palace to begin a hunt, leaving Darby free to escape through a hole in the wall. He returns to his barn, only to find Brian awaiting him in a fury. Hoping to keep the king until sunrise, at which point his magical powers ebb, Darby tempts him with whiskey and song throughout the night. By morning, he is able to deposit Brian in a sack and order him to grant him three wishes, the first of which is to have the king at his command for the next two days. Darby then enters the manor house and informs a skeptical Katie and Michael that he is hiring Michael permanently with his “new fortune.” Later, Katie brings lunch to Michael as he works and the two flirt. After fetching the church bell, Darby brings the wriggling sack into the pub and impresses his friends when the unseen contents consume a glass of whiskey. That night, Darby sneaks outside with the sack and Michael, assuming he is a poacher, waylays him. Trapped, Darby agrees to show him the sack’s contents, but Brian transforms himself into a rabbit. When Darby then wishes that Michael could see Brian, Brian deviously agrees, but remains a rabbit. Soon after, Michael and Darby catch sight of Katie as she struggles to avoid Pony’s kisses. Darby admits to Brian that he would release him if he could decide how to use his last wish, and Brian, realizing that Darby worries most about Katie’s happiness, promises to find her a good man to love. To that end, Brian visits Michael and Katie that night as they sleep, instructing Michael to fall in love and Katie to remain aloof. The next day, the pair cannot help but carry out Brian’s commands, and as Katie teasingly runs away from Michael, she collides with Pony, who picks a fight with Michael. After preventing fisticuffs, Katie urges Michael to kiss her. Brian, who is watching with Darby, dances with delight, but just then Darby hears “his” bells and, entranced, puts off making his final wish. The next morning, Sheelah reads a postcard from Fitzgerald that identifies Michael as the new caretaker. After leaving the card where Katie can read it, she encourages Pony to run Michael out of town. Soon after, an angry Katie informs Michael that her father is only trying to save face with his tales about Brian, and although Michael begs her to stay on at the house as his wife, she rebuffs him. Instead, she runs to the pub, where she angrily pulls the sack out of Darby’s hand, unintentionally humiliating him by revealing to the crowd a rabbit inside. Later, Michael and Darby discover that Katie has gone to the dangerous hills to retrieve Cleopatra. Michael tries to follow but Pony knocks him out, until Darby finds and revives him. Together, they race into the hills, only to discover Katie near death, a banshee spirit hovering above her. They bring her home, but her fever rages, and as the costa bower, or death coach, approaches, Darby uses his last wish to turn it away. When Brian informs him it will not leave empty, Darby wishes the coach would take him instead of Katie, and Brian sadly accords his wish. As he leaves in the coach, Darby is heartened to see Brian beside him. Brian praises Darby as a grand adversary, and informs him that Katie is now awakening in Michael’s arms. He then tricks the despondent Darby into wishing that they could travel to heaven together. Gleefully, Brian announces that this fourth wish has rescinded all previous wishes, and the coach whisks Darby home. Days later, when Pony scoffs at Darby’s tale of cheating death, Michael punches him, then announces to the cheering crowd that King Brian told him to do it. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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