The Molly Maguires

1970, Movie, PG, 124 mins

Review

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As depicted in this biased but absorbing film, the Molly Maguires were members of a secret union organization made up of malcontent coal miners in eastern Pennsylvania, circa 1876. In order to improve working conditions and correct the inhuman treatment members received from cruel mine owners, the Mollies dynamited or sabotaged mines and killed bosses. They were a formidable and often lethal underground force that struck terror into the heart of the government itself. The leader of the Mollies is Jack Kehoe (Connery), a tough and shrewd adversary. The owners hire Harris, a Pinkerton detective, to infiltrate the Mollies and report on their activities so they can eradicate the Irish menace. Harris rents a room in the home of a disabled miner and promptly begins to court his daughter, Eggar. He also lets it be known that he is wanted for murder. Connery, though he is given in-depth reports about Harris confirming that he is an enemy of the owners, is skeptical about the man and delays recruiting him into the Mollies. To prove his loyalty, Harris helps Connery's football team defeat a Welsh group on the field and later, savagely beats a sadistic policeman. These actions win over Connery and Harris is tentatively admitted into the secret society. To further convince Connery of his sincerity, Harris votes to murder a mine boss and even rescues one of the Mollies involved in the killing. When Eggar's father dies, Connery and Harris--now fast allies--break into a company store to steal a suit for the burial, then set fire to the place. Later, Connery and Costello plan to blow up a mine, but when Harris gets wind of the plan he turns them over to police. Private policemen lead raids against the society's leaders, many of whom are shot to death while in bed with their wives. Connery is captured and Harris's testimony condemns him to death. Harris meets with Connery as he waits to be hanged. He seeks absolution from the Irish leader, but there is only hatred as Connery brands him a traitor. Eggar also rejects Harris, calling him a Judas. The Pinkerton detective leaves to head the agency office in Denver as Connery is led to his execution.

This film cost more than $11 million. It was shot almost wholly on location in eastern Pennsylvania in Eckley, Llewelyn, Wilkes-Barre, Bloomsburg, and other nearby towns. The period is superbly recreated in the crude mining town sets (the film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration), the homes, and the music which includes such traditional Irish songs as "Gary Owen," "Eileen Aroon," and "Cockles and Mussels." Ritt's direction, however, is airless and sluggish and, when scenes are set in the mines, outright claustrophobic. Camerman Howe--normally an outstanding cinematographer--dwells on long shots, and the lighting is so dim, it's next to impossible to discern many of the scenes in the mines. In his attempt to reach authenticity and use only available torch and helmet light (the weak candles affixed to the miner's helmets), Howe pitched the production into dismal darkness. Connery and Harris turn in good performances, but Ritt allows them to sink into dialects that are sometimes difficult to understand. The script is decidedly prejudiced in favor of Pinkerton and the owners of the mines. The awful plight of the miners at the time--having no job protection whatsoever, and wholly at the mercy of the owners--is given little attention. Instead, the miners are portrayed as savage, murderous, and unfeeling creatures, not worthy of empathy or understanding. The film cannot compare with John Ford's masterpiece about coal miners, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. However, it does offer some memorable moments of quality and passion. It failed miserably at the box office, returning only $1.5 million in its initial release. leave a comment

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