Not all movies made about the Irish during Hollywood’s Golden Age featured a rainbow, lush green grass on the hillside, a bumbling but friendly city beat cop or green beer.
From war heroes, gritty urban streets and singing and dancing here are some movies with an Irish focus made during that period worth watching.
- 1) “The Informer” (1935) – This is a gritty John Ford film set in 1920s Dublin, which won four Academy Awards. A big-talking Irish rebel desires money so much that he informs on life-long friends. Ford is one of the all-time great directors, but this dark drama differs from many of his other classics and he won the first of his four Oscars for it. The usually loud Victor McLaglen needed to be that way in this role and won Best Actor. He’s better than normal here and even creates a sympathetic character by the end.
- 2) “The Devil’s Party” (1938) – Four Irish hoodlum youths from New York’s Hell’s Kitchen remain friends through life. Two are brothers who become cops, another becomes a priest and Victor McLaglen becomes a wealthy gambling hall owner. The paths of all four cross personally and professionally.
- 3) “The Fighting 69th” (1940) – This is a World War I film about a regiment made up of mainly Irish soldiers from New York. The movie is based on two real-life war heroes, including the famed Father Francis P. Duffy, played by Pat O’Brien, one of his many priestly roles. But the movie is built around an obnoxious and boisterous fictional character, played by James Cagney, who Duffy tries to tame.
- 4) “Little Nelly Kelly” (1940) – This starts as a family squabble because Judy Garland is a young Irish girl who wants to move to America with her new husband then goes into a tragedy. But in the end, the highlight is the musical numbers by Judy. They include A Great Day for the Irish and Singin’ in the Rain.
- 5) “Pot O’Gold” (1941) – James Stewart befriends an Irish family, not knowing they are enemies of his uncle, who he is about to go to work for. Stewart was coming off the best run of movies in his career, including an Oscar-winning performance in The Philadelphia Story the year before. But this movie is not very good, other than some decent music. Stewart even performs. He sings When Johnny Toots His Horn.
- 6) “Going My Way” (1944) – Bing Crosby is a young, progressive-thinking Irish priest who not only tries to help a group of youngsters find direction, but he needs to win over a stuffy aging priest played by Barry Fitzgerald. The film won seven Academy Awards, including best picture. Crosby was never better and won Best Actor. Oddly, Fitzgerald won Best Supporting Actor and was also nominated for Best Actor, the only times that has been done. Bing sings Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral and the Oscar-winning Swinging on a Star.
- 7) “The Green Years” (1946) – An orphaned Irish Catholic boy must travel to Scotland to meet and live with his family and adjust to their way of life. He is aided by great-grandfather Charles Coburn, who is terrific as always, and was nominated for an Oscar. The boy struggles for acceptance from family and friends while yearning to become a doctor. Dean Stockwell, one of the best child stars of the era, is very good as the little boy. Tom Drake plays him as a young adult.
- 8) “Odd Man Out” (1947) – This English-made movie was filmed in Belfast and plays almost as a fast-paced noir, featuring the streets, alleys and buildings of Belfast. James Mason is a wounded Irish underground nationalist trying to evade authorities. The fast-paced action holds the viewer throughout, and Mason played this type extremely well several times.
- 9) “The Story of Seabiscuit” (1949) – This is a fictional story about the real champion horse. The fictional part is Barry Fitzgerald as a horse trainer who moves to America from Ireland with niece Shirley Temple to escape the memory of a family steeplechase tragedy. He becomes the trainer for Seabiscuit. Even horse racing fans will forgive the fiction, however, because the movie intermixes real footage of Seabiscuit, including his 1938 match race with War Admiral.
- 10) “The Quiet Man” (1952) – There are many John Wayne fans who believe this is his best film. But others think the story drags and the Wayne-Maureen O’Hara chemistry isn’t as good here as in other films, although this is their most popular together. Wayne is a retired American boxer who returns to the Irish village where he was born. Stalwarts Victor McLaglen and Barry Fitzgerald are along for the ride. John Ford won his fourth best director Oscar, but the highlight is the beautiful scenery.