As the silver screen ceded power to the small screen, Hollywood movie makers, in their desperation to repeat past successes, made some disastrous attempts at portraying Ireland, writes Tom McParland
Long after their product – at least in Ireland – had passed its sell-by date, Hollywood studios continued with their belief that if it worked before it’ll work again. But Irish cinema-going was fired by habit, star loyalty, a desire to be on top of current cinematic trends and communal conviviality.
In no way could this be construed as being collective approval of the films Hollywood studios offered. There was an increasing Irish awareness that this quid pro quo arrangement was beginning to feel like something for nothing.
It could be evidenced by the ominous whisper: Isn’t this where we came in? Or audiences leaving the cinema early to catch transport home, confident that this week’s movie’s denouement would be as inevitable as last week’s.
A good percentage of audiences abandoned the final twist of Witness for the Prosecution (1957), in favour of catching their last bus, incongruously granting Billy Wilder’s on-screen request that they keep mum about its genuine surprising conclusion. Keeping mum was no problem. Departing patrons were as interested in Wilder’s surprise ending as Wilder was in Irish bus timetables.
Audiences knew a good movie when they saw one, often sitting through it many times. Western Union (1941), The Song of Bernadette (1943), Double Indemnity (1944) and The Quiet Man (1952) still did good business in Irish cinemas well into the late 1950’s. Good movies were unexpected, rather than usual, treats. Fondly remembered, with repeated showings they sometimes had a shelf life of ten or more years.
If Mise Éire (I am Ireland) had enough authority to make history believable, Disney’s Darby O’Gill & the Little People, (both 1959), had enough folklore to make magic seem genuinely unbelievable. But Disney’s final incursion into unmythical Ireland, The Fighting Prince of Donegal (1966) was an artistic and financial blunder.