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Some seven or eight years ago, John Ford directed a technicolor opus called The Quiet Man, about a red haired colleen and an ex-boxer come back to the ould sod. Now, as if in atonement for that bit of profitable fakery, Ford has given us The Rising of the Moon, a little trio of flicks full of peat, poteen and artistry.
Ford chose fine material for his atonement: a story by Frank O'Conner, and one-act play by Lady Gregory and Martin McHugh. Then, after giving Hollywood its due by having Tyrone Power read the introductions, he filmed all three on location in Ireland, with actors from Dublin's Abbey Theatre. The result is a light, but eminently convincing movie.
The first of the trio, The Majesty of the Law, based upon a Frank O'Conner story, deals with the conflict between an old man, representing the traditional peasant life, and a sympathetic minion of the law and order of modern Ireland.
Scriptwriter Frank Nugent did the original story an injustice by introducing extraneous characters and de-emphasizing the police inspector, but Majesty still comes across very well. Cyril Cusack gives the best performance in the film as the inspector, and Noel Purcell is almost as good. The rest of the characters are Mr. Nugent's creatures, and are more than a little hammy. But then, Ireland may be a little hammy.
The second part is McHugh's A Minute's Wait. McHugh is less well-known than O'Connor and Lady Gregory, and his play is the slightest of the three. It is a plotless romp around a rural railroad station, and can best be described as fifteen Irish Alec Guinesses, turned loose in front of a camera. Good fun, and a fine contrast to the somber opening of the final piece, 1921.
1921 is adapted from a play about the Black-and-Tan Wars, The Rising of the Moon, whose title was given to the trilogy. Lady Gregory's romance has a curiously mixed tone; she alternates bleakness and comedy, much as O'Casey and Behan were to do later.
This mixture does not succeed on the screen as it might in print. Because the disparate elements remain inconclusive, it is melodrama that emerges most clearly at the end.
The sum of Rising of the Moon is greater than any of the three parts. Each part has its deficiencies, but they are obscured by the artistry of the whole. Many stories and plays by Synge and by the post-revolutionary generation of Irish writers would well be adapted for the screen. One hopes that Ford will attempt another trilogy soon.
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