Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Luck of the Irish

St. Patrick’s Day is usually the occasion to watch “The Quiet Man” (1952), but this year I was in the mood for something different. Going through the piles of unwatched DVDs I remember that I had “The Luck of the Irish” (1948) from the Tyrone Power box set I received as a Christmas gift. What could be more appropriate for viewing on March 17?

“The Luck of the Irish” is a charming movie, nicely played by a good cast, evocative production design and nicely scored by Cyril Mockridge. While watching it I was thinking to myself, “This is a nice movie.”

Nice may be a pejorative term to some, but there’s a time and place for all kinds of movies, and last night I was in for a bit of blarney, er, I mean, whimsy.

In “The Luck of the Irish”, Tyrone Power plays a reporter named Stephen Fitzgerald, on assignment in Ireland, where he has an accident with his car. On foot, he spies a funny looking man (Cecil Kellaway) by a waterfall and asks for directions to the nearest house or village. He directs him to a home owned by Tatie (J.M. Kerrigan) and his daughter Nora (Anne Baxter). Fitzgerald, or Fitz, as he likes to be called, tells his hosts about the odd character he met by the waterfall. His hosts tell him there’s no waterfall anywhere around and hearing about the shiny gold buttons and pointy shoes convinces them that Fitz saw a leprechaun. He scoffs at this and returns home to New York.

His publisher David Auger (Lee J. Cobb) and social climbing daughter Frances (Jayne Meadows, older sister to Audrey) convince Fitz to give up reporting and act as p.r. man for Auger’s less-than-reputable political ambitions. With Fitz’s new position he needs a manservant to take care of his daily needs. Who shows up but a funny looking man who looks suspiciously like the man Fitz encountered in Ireland. He gives his name as Horace. Horace acts as his conscience as Fitz questions whether he is doing the right thing with Auger and Frances, especially when the lovely colleen Nora comes to New York to visit a cousin.

Like I said, this is a charming movie. The fine folks at Fox Home Video present us with two versions of the film on the DVD, the black and white version and the original release which had the Ireland-based scenes tinted green. The photography in the forest and Irish countryside is especially evocative, and the green tinting gives it a nice effect.

Director Henry Koster has a gentle touch, without overdoing the sentimentality or the whimsy. I believe this was his first film under a new contract at Fox. He had scored a big hit the year before for Sam Goldwyn with “The Bishop’s Wife”, so Fox likely thought he would be ideal for their leprechaun script. And he was. “The Luck of the Irish” is never overdone or filled with too many special effects. There is a funny sequence where Fitz chases Horace around his apartment, and boy, does he move fast for an old man.

The film’s score is by Fox staff composer Cyril J. Mockridge, and it’s a delight. I hope some enterprising film music label has access to the tapes, as this would make a fine CD for St. Patricks’ Day. I’m not sure how much of the score consists of original Mockridge material and how much based on folk music. One sequence is scored with a nice rendition of “Greensleeves” as only the Fox Orchestra string section can play. Has there been any folk song that has appeared on as many soundtracks as “Greensleeves?” I’m sure there are, though I’d be hard pressed to think of one.

The film marked a return for Tyrone Power to light comedy, after a decade of dramas and adventure films. He seems to be enjoying himself and has a nice rapport with Baxter. She had won a Best Supporting Actress two years earlier opposite him in “The Razor’s Edge” and no doubt enjoyed the reunion. Her Irish accent is well done too. Her father in the film is played by J.M. Kerrigan, always a welcome face. He has one scene with Power when he talks about leprechauns that had me believing in them.

Like I said, a nice film, and one I would not mind recommending to friends interested in a nice touch of whimsy around St. Patrick’s Day.

Rating for “The Luck of the Irish”: Three stars.

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