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Saturday, February 03, 2018

A Disney High Hope For 1959


Darby O' Gill and The Little People Out To Top Magic Effects Gone Before

Darby O'Gill Star Janet Munro Views Multiplane Magic
Back during 70's bounty of treasures from Tom Osteen's theatre catacomb, we made 2 AM find of trailers in 35mm from varied good ones, happiest of which was a five minute deluxe for Darby O' Gill and The Little People, Disney answer to movie magic aimed at a burgeoning boomer audience. Walt was fondly behind this one, did a TV special wherein he appeared throughout rather than mere introducing, and let marketers put his face on ads in support of Never-Seen-Before Disney-Magic. So what was this other than special effects to challenge Dynamation of Ray Harryhausen creation? Both terms implied a new screen process, Disney's above ad careful to emphasize Darby O' Gill as an "All-Live Screen Miracle" rather than an animated one. For a feature of such ambition (and expense), Darby O' Gill fell before the tiller that was Disney's own Shaggy Dog, done for a fraction as much and looking like the TV episode it was initially planned to be. Walt must have shook his head at plebian taste of his public, though in the end, what matter so long as both pics were his. Note Donald In Mathmagic Land as support, a featurette to find truer berth in schoolrooms of America. Darby O' Gill streams at Amazon and elsewhere in HD, but the ratio is off (full-frame where it should be wide), and what's chance of a proper Blu-Ray where all of first-run audience would be in their sixties or worse now? That's the rub, alas, for much of Disney live action, interest having aged out along with those who remember.

8 Comments:

Blogger lmshah said...


John, that Disney TV show, I CAPTURED THE KING OF THE LEPRECHAUNS, is one of the best examples of Walt Disney's quality abilities as a pitchman for his own product, he fashions a full hour trailer for his new movie that not only sells the product, but gives the audience another full hour of entertainment in the bargain. It has Pat O'Brien telling Irish history, new footage with both Albert Sharpe and Jimmy O'Dea in character interacting with Uncle Walt, but gives away only enough of the actual movie to make one want to buy a ticket. I know of no other in the entertainment biz that ever sold their wares so well. You can see this show on the DVD release of DARBY O'GILL and on one of the metal-box collections of Disney's TV shows.

As for the film trailing boxofficially behind THE SHAGGY DOG, in any event, it has aged way better that black and white comedy. The irony was that Peter Ellenshaw's special effects were not a new process, but a very old one. It really was mostly done with mirrors and perspective, and extremely effective. It is still a charming and atmospheric film, feeling way more like it was shot in Ireland rather than Burbank. And the scene when the Banshee Ghost Coach appears that spooked me as a youngster still looks pretty darn spooky. Grand old character actor Albert Sharpe shines as Darby, and Music Hall comic Jimmy O'Dea is a fine King Brian of the Little People. And you get Sean Connery with his own hair and singing, who'da thought? One of my favorite live-action Disneys, directed capably by the best Director who ever worked at the studio, Robert Stevenson.

RICHARD M ROBERTS

4:56 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I know several guys who make the claim that DARBY is their all-time favorite Disney feature. For whatever reason, I sat in my local STATE THEATRE in 1959 not as entertained. But Connery's singing was interesting. Another of his '59 releases, TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE, IS on my favs list.

7:28 AM  
Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

There was some renewed interest in the film and the DVD's extras explaining how things were accomplished when THE LORD OF THE RINGS films came out. Disney's people really showed the later filmmakers how effective forced perspective could be.

The Wolf, man.

8:36 AM  
Blogger phil smoot said...

I want both Darby O'Gill and Tarzan's Greatest Adventure to come to Blu-ray.

1:41 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Me too, but I don't expect it to happen in this life.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

The DVD has the TV episode (shot in B&W), an incredibly cool piece about the special effects, and also a surprisingly avuncular Sean Connery reminiscing.

I remember enjoying the film, but probably came across it when a little older. By then I'd learned about rear projection and split screen, neither of which explained how they managed the Little People. Here and there I detected a matte shot because, paradoxically, it was too pretty. Even so, I still surprised to eventually find out how much of the landscape in this and other films was pure paint.

On revisiting the film, everything holds up and the only sour note is the big fake hand in one or two shots.

In the 60s Disney did "The Gnomemobile", which discarded most of the in-camera magic in favor of optical effects (Walter Brennan played against a miniature version of himself). It's a much sillier film that must have felt dated when it first came out, the villain being the plaid-suited proprietor of a sideshow and a tycoon being packed off to a "private sanitarium" in a victorian manor. But it did feature too-beautiful matte paintings to enlarge its soundstage forests.

3:51 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

A similar thing happened on PINOCCHIO where an elaborately animated traveling shot failed to impress the critics as much as the equivalent of a post card being moved across a scene.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Tom Ruegger said...

The Disney hour episode aired the weekend before the premiere of "Darby O'Gill" in theaters -- and I vividly recall the banshee coach carrying off Darby into the sky and being freaked out beyond belief. Had to see the movie the next weekend to see if Darby escaped. Recent viewing of the film finds it a little too long and a little too slow.

8:29 PM  

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