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Director John Ford and playwright Sean O'Casey were never able to strike up an ideal movie collaboration despite their best efforts. Ford filmed the screen adaptation of O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars (1936) with Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Foster and a number of players from Dublin's Abbey Theater, where the playwright got his start. After Ford completed the picture, he quickly moved on to another project. The producers of The Plough and the Stars decided to reshoot scenes, damaging the cohesiveness of O'Casey's story, Ford?s vision and Stanwyck's performance. The outcome was not a welcome one for anyone concerned, and O'Casey was reported to have described the film as "a sword without a blade, a banner without a staff, an arrow without a head."
By the time filming was set to begin on O'Casey's 1956 autobiography, however, he had apparently changed his opinion somewhat, giving his okay to the script of Young Cassidy (1965) shortly before he died. The film covers about a dozen years in O'Casey's (called "John Cassidy" in the film) young life, from 1911, when the Irish were staunchly protesting British rule, to his move to England in the 1920s after his play "The Plough and the Stars" caused riots and lost him many supporters. The rebellious and uncertain atmosphere of the times, with the Citizens Army confronting the British in the streets and intellectuals like O'Casey doing battle with their pens , is captured on location in Dublin by director Jack Cardiff, but the picture has always been billed as "A John Ford Film."
After completing Cheyenne Autumn (1964), the great director jumped at the chance to film O'Casey's story, offering to take the job for a mere $50,000. But only a few weeks into filming, he became ill, and the producers were forced to replace him with Cardiff, a noted cinematographer who had worked successfully with filmmaker Michael Powell on the British classics Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948). Ford's contributions to Young Cassidy total only about 10 minutes of screen time, although those are some of the most tender and fully realized, especially the scenes he shot between Rod Taylor as Cassidy and Julie Christie as his first love. Ford made only one more film, Seven Women (1966) before his death in 1973.
Australian-born Taylor was highly praised for his work in Young Cassidy, which several critics considered his finest role. But the film is also notable for sterling supporting players, not only early screen appearances of future stars Christie and Maggie Smith, but also the performances of several of the most respected veterans of British stage and screen. At this point in their long careers, all of them had been given the title "knight" or "dame" in recognition of their professional achievements. Dame Flora Robson portrayed Cassidy's understanding mother; later in the film, he becomes the protege of the kindly Lady Gregory (Dame Edith Evans) and the famed poet William Butler Yeats (Sir Michael Redgrave). Although all three had long and successful stage careers, they also logged in combined screen time of more than 150 years (Evans, in fact, made her first picture in 1915). Not limited to British productions, their work also included a number of American films, and all three were Oscar nominated: Robson for Saratoga Trunk (1946), Redgrave for Mourning Becomes Electra (1947) and Evans for The Whisperers (1966).
Director: Jack Cardiff, John Ford (uncredited)
Producers: Robert Emmett Ginna, Robert D. Graff, Michael Killanin
Screenplay: John Whiting
Cinematography: Edward Scaife
Art Direction: Michael Stringer III
Music: Sean O'Riada
Cast: Rod Taylor (John Cassidy), Flora Robson (Mrs. Cassidy), Maggie Smith (Nora), Julie Christie (Daisy Battles), Edith Evans (Lady Gregory), Michael Redgrave (W.B. Yeats).
by Rob Nixon