Much like Action of the Tiger, Darby O’Gill and the Little People was to be a huge influence on Connery’s future career albeit in a rather indirect way. To the young Scot it must have seemed like an incredibly big deal to be snapped up by Disney and offered a leading role next to an equally aspiring actress after the mediocrity of his recent productions. He could show off his acting skills, sex appeal and even singing voice to a mass market that Disney were surely going to pull in. Unfortunately, Darby O’Gill was not the springboard that Connery had perhaps hoped, his next three films having no significant impact on popular culture; unless of course you are a Tarzan buff (and if that’s the case, you have bigger problems my friend).
But, I’m digressing; Darby O’Gill was influential because of one person, out of millions, that saw the film and, in Connery, saw something special. Her name was Dana Broccoli.
As Gabriel Byrne states in an interview given sometime between late May and early June 2011 for the documentary ‘The Quiet Man: Ireland on Film’: Ireland has “never had great artists, great painters, great sculptors, but we’ve always had great storytelling”. This is what comes across in the film: a great, mythical story about Ireland and all the things we associate with that old country. It’s an old fashioned story that you could imagine a medieval tavern drunk telling to his friends and family around a fire. Good ol’ classic family fun; something right up Walt Disney’s alley.
The film tells the story of Darby O’Gill (Albert Sharpe) who is a caretaker of a big estate in Rathcullen, County Kerry. He lives with his daughter played by Janet Munro and tells all his mates down the pub about his attempts to catch leprechauns and, in particular, the king of the leprechauns (portrayed in miniature, with some very inventive use of split screen, by Brian Connors). Connery appears as Michael McBride, a young buck, pretty much in the film for his Celtic good looks and strong physique, who will be taking over Darby’s duties on the estate he has worked his whole life on.
Michael’s character is perhaps mainly just in the film to be a love interest for Munro’s Katie O’Gill, as their sub-plot proves to be no way near as interesting as the mental skirmishes that betwixt Darby and his leprechaun adversary. In all, Connery and Munro are just there to add young blood to the picture, a background story that links in loosely to Darby’s exploits.
However, as with many Disney films we can see that amidst the traditional story adds a newer more contemporary message which Uncle Walt decided to pop in. Just as Aladdin promoted the notion that its best not to lie, and Snow White taught you to stay away from fruit, Darby O’Gill is filled with enough hidden meanings to overly excite a first year English Literature student. Below are the four main areas tackled amidst the fiddling and singing;
- We should admire Ireland and its ‘oldy worldy’ mystical qualities.
- We should accept old age, and respect the elderly.
- We should be prepared to let go of our children into the big wide world.
- We should appreciate the power of sacrifice.
This last point is not fully dealt with as this is, after all, a Disney film. Luckily for us, the picture is all the better for it. Without the slightly unrealistic happy ending we wouldn’t have the three main characters riding off into the sunset singing their jolly heads off.
This singing is what sticks in the mind when we think of Connery in this film. He doesn’t stand out for his acting (the Irish accent is once again not great and as Christopher Bray points out, he rushes through his lines far too quickly), his monobrow still doesn’t seem to have been sorted and his fist-fighting is as rough as it was in Action of the Tiger (and in that film he was supposed to be drunk). No, the one thing that makes Connery stand out in this picture is his voice and his wonderful rendition of ‘Pretty Irish Girl’. This scene always makes us smile and makes us remember that Connery has a joyful soul deep down; below the intense patriotism.
Perhaps it is this singing, coupled with his lustful embracing of Munro that made Dana Brocolli swoon in the cinema and thus persuade her husband Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli to test him for the role of 007. As with Action of the Tiger, Connery probably only saw this role as experience, a way to just about keep his foot inside the door of Hollywood, but, inadvertently, and quite fortunately, he had now collected two major influences that would shape the whole future of his life. Without really knowing, he had caught the eye of an up and coming director Terence Young and a successful producer’s wife. Connery was on the right track; even if he himself didn’t yet know it.
 One of the best parts of the film comes when Darby plays his fiddle to manage his escape from the Leprechauns. There was some good fiddling.
 C. Bray, Sean Connery: The Measure of a Man, p. 59-60
Please watch our review on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgKlSS0XATk
Witness Connery’s singing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTwmjOySDjA&feature=related