One morning Katie O'Gill (Janet Munro) is visited in the Gate House home she shares with her father Darby (Albert Sharpe) by the widow Sugrue (Estelle Winwood). She is looking to borrow some tea, but has an ulterior motive to put the pressure on Katie to marry, pointing out that she won't be young forever and time will run out for her until she simply won't be asked by any man anymore. Yet the man the widow has in mind is her son, the local bully Pony (Kieron Moore), and Katie could do better, say with Michael McBride (Sean Connery) who works for the landowner round there, as does Darby. And where is Darby? Telling his tales of the leprechauns in the pub, where else?
A pet project of Walt Disney for many years, Darby O'Gill and the Little People finally came to fruition in the late fifties, an adaptation of the stories by H.T. Kavanagh. It wasn't a great success on first release, much to Disney's disappointment, but over the years it has gathered fans of those who saw it as children; it hailed from the days when a Disney movie was just as likely to scare them as it was to entertain them, not that the scares weren't part of the entertainment. Overall, it was the exemplary special effects work that made this so memorable.
That, and the tone that was presumably intended to inspire the twinkly feeling of roguish folk tales, but actually came at certain passages to resemble the gleam in the madman's eye. Whether Darby (Sharpe is ideal in the role) is really seeing the leprechauns or not isn't discussed - the townsfolk humour him but aren't convinced one way or the other, they accept his stories as something to enjoy with their drinks in the pub. However, the experiences are certainly true for Darby, and startlingly brought to life by director Robert Stevenson and his team.
We first see Darby as he is regaling all within earshot with his encounter with King Brian (Jimmy O'Dea) and how those much sought after three wishes that can be drawn out of him can be foiled when you get greedy and ask for a fourth, so there goes Darby's pot of gold and there goes the King. But later, the old fellow falls down a well while trying to catch his horse and ends up in a hall of leprechauns, told that he will never be allowed to leave. He ends up playing his fiddle for the Little Folk in a sequence that is hard to match for wild delirium, threatening to spin out of control with the frenzied dancing and lunatic violin music.
Darby manages to get away, but yet again his greed is not sated when all the jewels he steals fall out of his pockets in his rush for the exit. In a way this is Disney's version of The Quiet Man - it even ends with a punch-up - as to contrast with the faerie folk there's a hot blooded romance between Katie and Michael that weaves its way through the fantasy. There are misunderstandings, strong willed arguments, sweet-natured moments and a villainous rival in Pony, but never mind that because you get to hear Connery singing. And not only that, but he appears to be attempting an Irish accent in some places; he wouldn't try that again, not even in The Untouchables. If the Oirish charm is laid on a little thick, then there's always the remarkable scenes with the Little People to make up for it, and the climactic appearance of the Banshee and the Death Coach are always good for chills. Music by Oliver Wallace.