Fresh from having traumatized an entire generation with the “nasty medicine that’s good for you” classic Old Yeller (note to parents: most small children don’t really enjoy seeing a boy having to shoot his dog), Walt Disney and his recently acquired house director Robert Stevenson decided to go lighter with Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959). Though the movie is much prized by Disneyphiles and admirers of 1950s fantasy, I have to admit that by the second or third time I saw leprechauns depicted as magical by speeding up the film, I was hoping for someone to show up with a gun. Heresy? Very likely, but I really think this is a movie that works best if you saw it as a kid (somehow I didn’t), or if you have endless tolerance for quaint blarney. It’s not a bad movie, though its much-praised scary-effects sequences—the banshee and the “death coach”—now look and feel altogether too much like a ride through the Haunted Mansion at Disney World.
In fact, Darby O’Gill is remarkably good at being what it is: the simple story of an old codger, Darby (Albert Sharpe), and his running battle with King Brian (Jimmy O’Dea), the ruler of the leprechauns. Most of the story concerns Brian making Darby look like a mendacious fool by never letting anyone but the old boy see him. The question is less one of quality than whether or not the material appeals to you. It’s a classic case of “if you like this sort of thing, it’s the sort of thing you will like.”
For me, it’s just too precious. Most people seem to disagree. It certainly has the novelty value of seeing a pre-James Bond Sean Connery (he also sings) as the romantic lead. That (not to mention Connery’s prodigious eyebrows) may make it worth a look by itself.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke