Who are the Molly Maguires? Well, they are part of some little-known American history and Irish history. To keep things short and simple, they were a secret organization of coal miners in coal-abundant locations such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The name came in the 1840s during a tenant protest in Ireland, but the name didn’t stick until the 1860’s. Working conditions were very poor for the miners and worker discrimination was prevalent. Basically this very secret organization formed as a response to these conditions and the lack of reforms. The Molly Maguires often used violence or intimidation tactics mine owners and supervisors. This little-known film, aptly named The Molly Maguires tells the story about this group towards the end, approximately in 1875 when a Pinkerton detective infiltrated the organization. I went to school in a Luzerne County, Pennsylvania where supposedly these organizations existed, so I find it awesome that a movie exists telling a story about a piece of American history that no one knows about.
This is a film that not many people have seen. Whether at the time of release or today. So mark my words when I say this is a truly underrated gem. I really enjoyed the story it told and despite being a Hollywood film, I learned a lot about the subject. The film doesn’t have a large cast, but it features fine work in the lead roles by two magnificent actors: Sean Connery and Richard Harris. The film also possesses strong cinematography work from James Wong Howe. The film is beautifully shot and he somehow makes the rather dreary northeastern Pennsylvania locations seem strikingly beautiful. Also playing an emotional impact on the film is the score by Henry Mancini. Music is important in the film because the opening sequence is fourteen minutes long and we don’t hear any words spoken until the end of those minutes, so music was a substitute for spoken words. There are some very memorable themes in the music and they pack quite an emotional punch.
Martin Ritt directs a film that takes occurs towards the demise of the Molly Maguires. The leader of this secret organization is named Jack Kehoe (Sean Connery), and his intentions are good ones. He and his and of Irish-American miners fight against the oppressive mine owners for reforms but the owners are not very cooperative. They hire a Pinkerton detective named James McParland (Richard Harris) who is assigned to go undercover as a member of the Maguires and infiltrate their secret society, but McParland must hope he truly knows what side he is on.
The film doesn’t feature a big cast despite it’s rather high eleven million dollar budget (very expensive by 1970’s standards). But it does have two huge movie stars in Connery and Harris. Despite this being somewhat of a small film, they deliver amazing performances. Connery is one of the greatest actors ever to live and he brought his A-game here as the violent, charismatic leader of the Maguires. Harris, on the other hand, plays a soft-spoken detective who successfully undermines the organization and he essentially sacrifices his dignity and personality to bring the members of the organization to justice. Connery and Harris have excellent chemistry together. One of my favorite scenes with the two is in one of the final scenes in the prison cell. Just seeing the two square off under different circumstances was just great to watch.
The Molly Maguires is a criminally underseen movie, so you guys should see it whenever possible. It’s a piece about a secret organization that plays a pivotal role in the beginning of labor unions as we know them today. If you think treatment at jobs today are bad, just watch the film to see how bad they were in the 1860’s and 1870’s. I don’t condone the actions of the Molly Maguires, but I understand where they were coming from and why they used violence to help make their lives better. Anyhow, this is a very good movie and an underrated one too. It has fine acting, a great musical score, good direction, and beautiful cinematography. One final fact before I conclude the review is that some of the scenes were filmed in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania-about ten minutes away where I went to school.
My Grade: A