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The Rising of the Moon (1957) is a small, easygoing film that announces its modest ambitions at the outset. From the doorway of an old stone house steps Hollywood star Tyrone Power, dapperly dressed and smiling into the camera. Some friends of his decided to make a little movie in Ireland, he tells us - a rarity in 1957 - and being proud of his Irish roots, he wanted to be part of it. So off they went to the Emerald Isle, with director John Ford at the helm. They returned with an unassuming movie shot entirely on natural locations, so efficiently made that it tells three separate stories in less time than it takes most pictures to tell just one.
The first tale, "The Majesty of the Law," is based on a 1936 story by Frank O'Connor, a well-known Irish author. Power introduces it with a few words about how peaceable the Irish people are - so calm and harmonious that it's surprising they have a police force. This claim is as exaggerated as it sounds, but it seems true enough when we meet the episode's main character: Inspector Michael Dillon (Cyril Cusack), an officer of the law who has a warrant in his pocket and a heavy heart in his breast. The warrant authorizes the arrest of his friend Dan O'Flaherty (Noel Purcell), who refuses to pay a fine for hitting his neighbor Phelim O'Feeney (John Cowley) on the head with a walking stick. Phelim had it coming, Dan insists, and he's standing on principle even though he has enough money to pay and doesn't want to go to jail.
You can't help respecting steely Dan, and by the end of the story Phelim himself is offering to pay the penalty for him. Dan stands firm, however, and the fable comes to an unexpected conclusion. The only notable subplot involves Mickey J. (Jack MacGowran), a moonshiner who smells so strongly of fermented barley that Inspector Dillon would arrest him if he weren't so preoccupied with old Dan's dilemma. "The Majesty of the Law" turns out to be a somewhat ironic title, and the Irish turn out to be less peaceable than Power led us to believe. But the movie doesn't linger on its mild contradictions, preferring to tell the tale quickly so we can race along to the next one. You do have time to admire Ford's impeccable deep-focus visuals, though - when Dan raises his cane to point, it makes an eye-catching diagonal in the purest Ford style - and the acting is high-spirited to a fault.
Power introduces the second story, "A Minute's Wait," by saying that Irish railroads are as ordinary and unexciting as the people who ride them. Maybe so, but the episode that follows - based on a 1914 play by Martin J. McHugh - is less about a railroad than about a train, and less about the train than about a station, and less about the station than about the many things that happen there during what's supposed to be a one-minute stop. The instant the train wheels stop spinning, passengers pile out the doors and into the station pub, where barmaid Pegeen Mallory (Maureen Potter) is ready to serve them the liquid refreshments they crave. The only people who stay on board are Colonel and Mrs. Charles Frobisher (Michael Trubshawe and Anita Sharp Bolster), a stuffy old couple on their way to a wedding.
Other characters include railroad man Paddy Morrisey (Jimmy O'Dea), who's infatuated with Pegeen, and a couple of old chums working out a marriage arrangement for two unsuspecting youngsters who have no idea what's going on. Misunderstandings abound. After many delays the train eventually rolls on, minus the Frobishers - who stepped out for a cup of tea at exactly the wrong moment - but with the addition of a long-haired goat and a pile of prawns heading for a celebration in the city. Like the film's other stories, this one is crammed with over-the-top ethnic stereotypes that played better in 1957 than they do today. Ford's obvious love of Irish life smoothes down the roughest edges, though.
The film gets more serious with its third segment, "1921," revealing a side of modern Irish history quite different from the peacefulness that Power talks about. This episode is drawn from a 1917 play called The Rising of the Moon, written by Lady Gregory, a distinguished dramatist and Irish nationalist; the title comes from a ballad about insurgents who lost a battle to the British during the Irish Rebellion in 1798, but vowed to keep fighting until victory was in their grasp. The film version moves the action to 1921, when the Black and Tan War was raging. This conflict pitted Unionists, determined to keep Ireland in the British Empire, against Republicanists, determined to free the whole country from British rule.
At the beginning of "1921," convicted rebel Sean Curran (Donal Donnelly) is locked in prison and waiting to be hanged. The streets outside are swarming with people who think this is a very bad idea; the authorities may consider Sean a traitor, but many Irish folks regard him as a patriot. Sean's sister, a nun, arrives with another nun and begs to visit him before the execution. When they leave, something seems amiss, since one of the nuns is sporting high-heeled shoes. Sure enough, the nuns are phonies - the "sister" is really an actress from Brooklyn - and Sean has been sprung from jail. (A bogus nun wearing high heels also appears in Alfred Hitchcock's 1938 thriller The Lady Vanishes, perhaps influenced by Lady Gregory's play.) The rest of the story is an amusing account of Sean's escape from the city, unwittingly helped by a policeman who spends more time quibbling with his wife than focusing on his assignment. Donnelly, best known to Americans for John Huston's The Dead (1987) and Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather: Part III (1990), is marvelous as Sean, and this episode has the most striking visuals in the film, with canted camera angles lending tension to almost every shot.
The Rising of the Moon is one of two pictures Ford directed right after The Searchers, his legendary 1956 western, and both were highly personal projects. The Wings of Eagles (1957) starred John Wayne as a real-life Navy pilot and Hollywood screenwriter who had been one of Ford's best friends, while The Rising of the Moon let the director reconnect with his treasured Irish heritage. Ford aficionados will find echoes of his 1935 classic The Informer here, but it's best to approach The Rising of the Moon with moderate expectations. As we heard in Power's welcoming remarks, it's just a little movie made in Ireland, and it delivers nicely on that agreeable promise.
Producer: Michael Killanin
Director: John Ford
Screenplay: Lady Augusta Gregory (story "The Rising of the Moon"), Michael J. McHugh (story "A Minute's Wait"), Frank O'Connor (story "The Majesty of the Law"), Frank S. Nugent
Cinematography: Robert Krasker
Art Direction: Raymond Simm
Music: Eamonn O'Gallagher
Film Editing: Michael Gordon
Cast: Tyrone Power (Himself - Host), Noel Purcell (Dan O'Flaherty, 1st Episode), Cyril Cusack (Inspector Michael Dillon, 1st Episode), Jack MacGowran (Mickey J. - the poitn maker, 1st Episode), Jimmy O'Dea (Paddy Morrisey - porter, 2nd Episode), Tony Quinn (Andrew Rourke - Station Master, 2nd Episode), Paul Farrell (Jim O'Brien, 2nd Episode), Kevin Casey (Fireman McTigue, 2nd Episode), Maureen Potter (Pegeen Mallory - barmaid, 2nd Episode), May Craig (Mrs. Folsey, 2nd Episode).
BW-81m. Closed Captioning.
by David Sterritt