With a few notable and memorable exceptions, Hollywood’s attempts at Irish movies weren’t alway helped by the inclusion of some native ‘Oirish’ music, writes Tom McParland.

Because of economies of time all movie watching requires pre-knowledge. It’s the reason why we rarely record Kyrgyzstani TV cooking programmes. Movies must deal in types. In Hollywood movies we expect Sitting Bull to say: How! Not how do you do. And – regardless of plot intricacies – we’d never accept John Wayne in polka dots and stilettos.

So in movieland, our type is Oirish. But the thing that made even the worst Irish movie endurable was if it had even a little bit of native music. This piece deals with the old movies that had that Irish magic and the ones that hadn’t.

When the British made Irish movie mistakes there wasn’t much magnanimity granted them in Northern Ireland at least. That’s because Britain’s historic mistakes in Ireland were more egregious than say casting Danny Devito as Son Of Samson or Sylvester Stallone as Professor Higgins in a remade My Fair Lady.

The Luck Of The Irish (1937) as a movie title has been used in four decades: 1920, 1937, 1948 and 2001. As an expression it induces the feeling of a nine-life cat. Its origin, I suspect, was British Music Hall with “Irish” substituting “devil.”

The British Luck Of The Irish and its 1938 companion, Irish And Proud Of It were filmed at Elstree with location work in Northern Ireland. The first is a hoary old story about a butler saving Sir Brian O’Neil after losing his fortune on the Grand National. It was notable only for the starring of London-Irish Kay Walsh, Nancy in David Lean’s 1948 Oliver Twist and the second of his six wives.

The plot is much better tackled in The March Hare about which more later. Irish And Proud Of It competes in awfulness with clichés about poteen, colleens and gangsters. Both were chiefly a vehicle for unlamented Ulster balladeer, Richard Hayward and were part of Elstree’s British quota of movies they had to make. Quota they look and quota they remain.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own