Wednesday, March 16, 2011

'Luck of the Irish' A Bit O' Blarney

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! In honor of all things Irish, here’s an odd film that 20th Century Fox released in 1948.

It’s called “The Luck of the Irish,” and I wonder if this movie – about a leprechaun – was made because of the enormous success of Fox’s 1947 hit “Miracle on 34th Street,” a film about Santa Claus. The problem is that “Irish” isn’t really about the leprechaun or luck. It’s about a man facing a post-war crisis. And a love story. And a political story.

In fact, “Luck” is many movies squished into one. Unfortunately, no matter how hard the filmmakers try to recreate the “Miracle” magic, “Luck” just doesn’t come together.

Tyrone Power plays Stephen Fitzgerald, a World War II correspondent who must choose his next move now that the war’s over. He’s planning to go to New York and meet with Senator David Augur (Lee J. Cobb) for a possible job, but his own views are the opposite of Augur’s, and he worries that he’s selling his soul to advance his career aspirations, which is to be an author.

While in Ireland awaiting transport to New York, Stephen stays at a charming Irish inn and meets Nora (Anne Baxter), a lovely lass. One night, from his window, he spies a leprechaun (Cecil Kellaway) and follows him. Stephen manages to capture the leprechaun and asks for his pot of gold (below). But he then lets the leprechaun and his gold go free, for which the leprechaun bestows undying devotion and luck.
Once in New York, Stephen wrestles with his conscience as the Senator hires him and sets him up in a posh NYC apartment while the Senator’s daughter, Frances (Jayne Meadows), worms her way into Stephen’s life.

Meanwhile, Stephen can’t figure out why Horace, the new manservant Augur hired for him, has a familiar look. That’s because it’s the leprechaun, although Stephen’s memory of the leprechaun seems to have disappeared. Also in town is Nora, whom Stephen does remember and runs into by accident, and she reminds him of his former life, one that he misses.

Of its many stories, “Irish” works best as a study of post-war America, as a man grapples to find his place. Power brings a steady confidence to his work, well-playing Stephen’s inner turmoil. A glimpse at a late’40s political machine shows that not much has changed, and the backroom politics are on display.

The problem is that this serious plot thread completely clashes with the whimsical doings of the leprechaun. It doesn’t help that the script doles out a generous and stereotypical dose of Irish malarkey.

Frankly, it’s more fun to watch Meadows, who is a vivacious presence in this movie. It’s also ironic that in “Miracle on 34th Street,” released just one year earlier, Maureen O’Hara plays a single mom and a career woman who has a supervisory job at Macy’s department store. In “Irish,” there’s a line uttered about Frances that she has a man’s courage and a man’s brain – and it’s considered a liability! It’s just ridiculous, considering that the character of Frances at least has some dimension to her.


Nora, on the other hand, remains sweet throughout – and blandly so. The lovely Baxter (above) conveys that sweetness convincingly, but there’s not much to Nora. In fact, so little happens between Stephen and Nora in Ireland that you wonder why both are so attracted to each other. Meanwhile, Meadows is a marvel, and her character is always interesting. You wonder what Frances will do next rather than Nora, and that’s a real problem.

Kellaway earned an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor for his role, and you have to wonder if 20th Century was pushing for this after Edmund Gwenn’s brilliant work as Santa in “Miracle.” Unfortunately, while Kellaway does his best, there’s not much he can do as the character is nothing more than you would expect.

It’s interesting that director Henry Koster made the Christmas classic “The Bishop’s Wife” the year before, which dealt with an angel. He managed to mix the drama and fantasy together well in that movie, but the material seems to fight him here.

“The Luck of the Irish” should be split into two films. One could be a comedy about luck, whimsy and romance set in Ireland. The other could be a drama about a journalist questioning his role in life while set in NYC. Each could star Power; just divide up the cast. As it stands, the current story is pleasant enough but runs out of luck.

7 comments:

  1. Absolutely perfect review of this movie. It just didn't mesh. It's strange when you have a cast of such wonderful actors, but the story is so deficient that even they can't carry if off. I haven't seen this in years, but I remember what you are talking about. Actors can only do much with the material they are given.

    Happy St. Patrick's Day to you -- have some green beer, and I'll eat my traditional corn beef and cabbage with green mashed potatoes. Sounds strange, but green mashed potatoes look just beautiful with the yellow melting butter!

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  2. I really enjoyed reading your “The Luck of the Irish,” review. It has a wondeful cast.

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Don't forget to wear green. :)

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  3. I think I enjoyed this one more than you did. I liked all the cast, and I enjoyed the whimsical aspects of it. The special effects weren't overdone, which is always a plus in my book.

    I do agree with your assessment that it was likely a response to "Miracle on 34th Street" though. Good observation.

    I also agree with your assessment about the different factions of the movie. Maybe I was just in the right mood when I saw it, but I found the whole concoction quite beguiling. Must be the Irish in me.

    Good choice for a St. Patrick's Day blog.

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  4. It really is a shame that this wasn't a better film with the great cast and a plot that had potential. I always appreciate your honest and well written reviews which weigh on my decision to see a film or not. As fun as this movie could have been and even though I love Power I think I'll past on this one.

    Happy St Patrick's Day!
    Page

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  5. Hi Becky: Thanks for the comments! Green mashed potatoes sounds like fun. I'm afraid I don't have any food coloring in the house, otherwise I'd throw a few drops into the leftover chicken and rice casserole :)

    Hi Dawn: I do agree there's a great cast. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

    Hi Kevin: We agree to disagree :) I actually have been saving this one for today, although I almost forgot! On Tuesday I was actually writing something else up when I realized I had this one done! Yikes.

    Hi Page: Kevin did like the film, so you may enjoy it, particularly if you love Power. I thought he was fine in this one.

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  6. I was beginning to think I was the only one who remembered this little movie. It used to pop up on television each March when I was a kid and my memories are fond ones.

    It is interesting that you compared "The Luck of the Irish" to "Miracle on 34th Street" as the stars - Edmund Gwenn and Cecil Kellaway - were cousins.

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  7. Hi Caftan Woman, Thank you for stopping by! I rarely see this on TV, so I'm glad I caught it. And thanks for the tidbit on Gwenn and Kellaway! I didn't know that.

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