5 Irish Classic Films for St. Patrick’s Day

  By Maureen Lee Lenker

By Maureen Lee Lenker

Top of the morning to you!  It’s time for St. Patrick’s Day once again -- time to be wary of leprechauns, hunt for pots of gold, drink green beer, eat corned beef and cabbage, and wear your green (or orange if you’re Protestant)!  But for movie lovers, it’s also a chance to indulge in some Irish cinema (or at least a film that showcases the beauty and culture of Ireland).  Here’s five classic movies to enjoy with your pint of Guinness while you’re celebrating St. Paddy’s Day and the Emerald Isle.


5. Odd Man Out (1947)

We tend to think of films that recount the intricacies and brutality of the Irish conflict as belonging to the 1980's and 90's, but violence between Ireland and Northern Ireland lasted throughout most of the twentieth century.  The 1947 classic film Odd Man Out from renowned director Carol Reed follows a wounded Irish nationalist leader played by James Mason as he attempts to evade capture following a botched robbery.  The film relies on the shadowy tension of film noir to create an evocative picture of the dangers lurking in Belfast.  Odd Man Out delves into the murky political implications of the Irish Republican Army while utilizing techniques of an American crime film.  The producers of the film used many Irish actors in its supporting cast, recruiting talent from Dublin’s renowned Abbey Theatre and using boys from Belfast’s St. Patrick’s Boys’ Home as extras and street urchins.


4. Going My Way (1944)

Bing Crosby stars as Father Charles O’Malley in this charming Leo McCarey film about a young priest who mentors a group of kids at a financially failing parish.  Crosby’s Father O’Malley provides direction for the kids, while managing to save the church and inspire his austere superior Father Fitzgibbon (portrayed by stalwart Irish character actor Barry Fitzgerald). Though Going My Way is set in the U.S., the presence of Catholicism, a litany of characters with Irish brogues, and Bing Crosby’s performance of “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (An Irish Lullaby)” make it a heartwarming choice for St. Patrick’s Day entertainment.  Crosby’s signature croon on the classic tune (it’s reprised by a boys’ choir at the film’s conclusion) makes this a truly American celebration of all things Irish!


3. The Informer (1935)

The Informer launched the careers of character actor Victor McLaglen and director John Ford, earning them both Oscars.  Set during the 1922 struggle for Irish independence, McLaglen plays Gypo Nolan, an Irish-man who informs on his friend to the British armed forces and finds himself on a path of impending doom.  The film expertly captured issues of Irish nationalism, while probing more universal themes of betrayal and loyalty.  Though not one of his signature Westerns, the film put director John Ford on the map as one of America’s best film-makers.  The Informer laid the groundwork for Ford’s filmography, engaging with themes of masculinity and loyalty.  The film also features actors that would become part of Ford’s ensemble while celebrating and unpacking his Irish heritage.


2. Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)

If you want a St. Patrick’s Day film full of the myths and fairy-tales of Ireland, look no further than the delightful, spritely film... Darby O’Gill and the Little People.  The film is a classic comedic Irish countryside tale of an older man trying to outsmart the leprechauns in his backyard.  Darby O’Gill (Albert Sharpe) enlists the aid of leprechauns and battles Banshees while seeking to make a good match for his daughter.  Walt Disney was inspired to make the film after visiting Ireland in 1948.  Disney was so determined to maintain the film’s magic that he wouldn’t allow any of the actors portraying the “little people” to be credited, wanting to perpetuate the notion that they were real leprechauns.  In reality, the special effects were achieved with a forced perspective camera technique.  Disney originally wanted Barry Fitzgerald for the lead, but declining health prevented Fitzgerald from accepting.  As a bonus for film lovers, a very young Sean Connery appears as the young man Darby intends for his daughter to marry.  Playing a romantic lead, Connery even sings an Irish ballad.  Darby O’Gill and the Little People was the film that brought the Scottish Connery to the attention of producer Albert Broccoli who would later cast him as the first James Bond.


1.  The Quiet Man (1952)

Filmed on location in Western Ireland, The Quiet Man is as Irish as cinema gets.  The film portrays the tale of an American boxer (played by John Wayne), who retires to the Irish town of his birth and must contend with the idiosyncrasies of the Irish town-folk.  The Quiet Man was John Ford’s love letter to his home country.  Ford features his favorite leading lady, Maureen O’Hara, as the fiery lass Mary Kate Danaher.  With its cadre of Irish characters portrayed by a mix of “locals” and Hollywood actors, the film nails the charms and old-fashioned values of Ireland.  The film is a picture-book glimpse of Irish life (or at least of how John Ford chose to imagine it).  The Irish pub life, the vagaries of the Irish train timetable, the villagers’ penchant for gossip, and the interplay between a Catholic Priest and Protestant Reverend are all great material for Ford.  John Ford may be remembered most for his classic “Westerns,” but this film is the truest picture of his soul.  

Notably, it was one of the first Hollywood films to ever feature the use of Gaelic onscreen in a scene where O’Hara speaks in her native tongue to confess to her priest.  The film is beloved for the chemistry between Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne, and its deep bench of character actors, but the real star is the Irish scenery on glorious display throughout.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Maureen Lee Lenker

Classic Film Correspondent

Maureen Lee Lenker is a writer, actress, and freelance journalist. She has written for The Hollywood Reporter, Turner Classic Movies, BitchMedia, LA Weekly, and more.