Darby O'Gill and the Little People

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Darby O'Gill and the Little People
Darby o gill and the little people.jpg
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Produced by Walt Disney
Written by H. T. Kavanagh (stories)
Lawrence Edward Watkin
Starring Albert Sharpe
Janet Munro
Sean Connery
Jimmy O'Dea
Music by Oliver Wallace
Cinematography Winton Hoch
Edited by Stanley Johnson
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release dates
  • June 26, 1959 (1959-06-26)
Running time
93 minutes
Language English
Box office Original release:
$2.6 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[1]
1969 re-release:
$2.3 million (US/ Canada rentals)[2]

Darby O'Gill and the Little People is a 1959 Walt Disney Productions feature film starring Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro, Sean Connery and Jimmy O'Dea, in a tale about a wily Irishman and his battle of wits with leprechauns. The film was directed by Robert Stevenson and its screenplay written by Lawrence Edward Watkin after the books of Herminie Templeton Kavanagh. The film's title is a slight modification of one of the two Kavanagh books, Darby O'Gill and the Good People. This title, and her other book; The Ashes of Old Wishes And Other Darby O'Gill Tales were the original source for this movie.


Darby O'Gill (Albert Sharpe) is the aging caretaker of Lord Fitzpatrick's (Walter Fitzgerald) estate in the small Irish town of Rathcullen, where he lives in the gatehouse with his lovely, almost grown, daughter Katie (Janet Munro). Darby spends most of his time in the town pub, regaling his friends with tales of his attempts to catch the leprechauns, in particular, their king, Brian Connors (Jimmy O'Dea).

After a rocky beginning, Katie and Michael begin to show signs of growing affection for each other. Katie believes Michael is merely seasonal help, as her father could not bring himself to break the news of his retirement (and their imminent move). However, Michael has an arrogant rival in Pony Sugrue (Kieron Moore), the town bully with his eyes on both Katie and Michael's job.

Katie, angered at finding out the truth about her father's retirement from Pony's unpleasantly meddlesome mother (Estelle Winwood), injures herself in a fall on Knocknasheega while trying to catch Cleopatra at night. The banshee appears, heralding Katie's death and sending the cóiste-bodhar, a spectral coach driven by a dullahan, to carry her soul off to the land of the dead. Desperate, Darby elects to use his final wish to go in his daughter's place. King Brian is deeply saddened at Darby's wish, but grants it, but once Darby is on his way to the next world, King Brian reappears in the Death Coach and tricks Darby into making a final fourth wish ("wishing" that his friend could join him in the afterlife). Because he is only allowed three wishes, this negates all the previous wishes and spares Darby's life. Darby is saved and King Brian has (literally) the last laugh in their running battle of wits.

Katie's fever has broken and she and Michael reveal their love for each other. Michael also fights Pony Sugrue at the pub, getting his just revenge for Pony's attempt to get him fired by clubbing him on the head and pouring whiskey all over him to make him appear drunken and incompetent. Michael soundly thrashes Pony and knocks him cold.



The film's development began with a visit to Ireland and the Irish Folklore Commission by Walt Disney and associates in 1947. The Disney company continued to liaise with the Commission and its director, James Delargy, over the coming decade based on Disney's desire to use Irish folklore as the basis of a film but, to Delargy's disappointment, eventually decided to make an adaptation of Irish-American writer Hermione Templeton Kavanagh's 1903 collection of stories 'Darbie O'Gill and the Good People.'[3]

This is the film that first brought Sean Connery to the attention of producer Albert R. Broccoli, who at the time was casting the first James Bond film, Dr. No. Broccoli hired Connery on the recommendation of his wife, Dana Broccoli.

The Death Coach, or cóiste bodhar (pronounced "Coashta-Bower" in the film), acquired its name from a misunderstanding - 'bodhar' being the Irish word for 'deaf' rather than 'death'; the misunderstanding presumably arose an accent which mispronounces "death" as "deaf".

There are actually two versions of the film's soundtrack. Several of the original Irish actors' accents (notably Darby, Widow Sheelah Sugrue, King Brian, and the Leprechauns) were deemed too difficult for American audiences to understand and were consequently overdubbed with easier-to-understand voices, possibly from different voice actors. The original soundtrack also contains some dialogue in Irish, especially from King Brian and his leprechaun subjects, which was subsequently changed in the overdubbed version to English alternatives. Both versions have been used on television and home video releases. The Region 1 (US/Canada) DVD contains the original soundtrack; the initial Region 2 (UK) release used the dubbed version, but was later reprinted with the original track.

Despite its setting, the bulk of the film was shot at Disney's ranch in Burbank, California. Second unit footage from Ireland, combined with matte paintings by Peter Ellenshaw, helped present a seamless picture of late-nineteenth century Ireland.

Many of the scenes combining humans and Leprechauns used forced perspective, with the "Little People" much farther from the camera. This required stopping the camera's lens way down for adequate depth of field, and a consequent increase in lighting to compensate.

The duet "Pretty Irish Girl", apparently sung by Sean Connery and Janet Munro, has been alleged to feature dubbed vocals by Irish singers, Brendan O'Dowda and Ruby Murray.[4] A single of the duet was released in the UK. However, the deeper male vocal and breathy female vocal (which matches Munro’s a capella finish to the song, plainly recorded on set) performing the song in the American version of the film[5] do not match the voices of O'Dowda (a tenor) nor Murray (a trained singer.)[5] Connery does sing the song Pretty Irish Girl (with solo piano accompaniment) on the 1992 compilation The Music of Disney: A Legacy of Song, and in 1959 Top Rank released a single in the UK (catalog number JAR 163) which featured Connery and Munro singing the song.[5]

Walt Disney devoted an episode of his show Disneyland to promoting the film, recruiting actors Sharpe and O'Dea to film special segments on the set with Disney, as well as Irish-American actor Pat O'Brien. The episode, "I Captured the King of the Leprechauns", marked the only known television appearance of both Sharpe and O'Dea.


On the film's initial release, A. H. Weiler of The New York Times praised the cast (save Connery whom he described as "merely tall, dark, and handsome") and thought the film an "overpoweringly charming concoction of standard Gaelic tall stories, fantasy and romance."[6]

Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin in his book The Disney Films, states, "Darby O'Gill and the Little People is not only one of Disney's best films, but is certainly one of the best fantasies ever put on film."[7] Maltin rates the movie so highly that in a later article he included it among a list of lesser known outstanding Disney films.


  1. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  2. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
  3. ^ Tony Tracy, 'When Disney Met Delargy: Darby O'Gill and the Irish Folklore Commission', Béaloideas: Journal of the Irish Folklore Society, Vol. 78, 2010 pp 50-59.
  4. ^ "Gifted Irish tenor linked with Percy French", The Irish Times, 2 March 2002
  5. ^ a b c Duet between Connery and Munro on YouTube
  6. ^ New York Times Review. Retrieved September 23, 2008
  7. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2000). The Disney Films. Disney Editions. p. 416. ISBN 978-0-7868-8527-5. Retrieved 2010-08-17. 

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