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 byRobert Stevenson
Produced byBill Anderson
Walt Disney
Written byH. T. Kavanagh (stories)
Lawrence Edward Watkin
StarringAlbert Sharpe
Janet Munro
Sean Connery
Jimmy O'Dea
Music byOliver Wallace
CinematographyWinton Hoch
Edited byStanley Johnson
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • June 24, 1959 (1959-06-24) (Dublin)[1]
  • June 26, 1959 (1959-06-26) (Los Angeles)[1]
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box officeOriginal release:
$2.6 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[2]
1969 re-release:
$2.3 million (US/ Canada rentals)[3]

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 book and her other book, The Ashes of Old Wishes And Other Darby O'Gill Tales, were the sources 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).

Darby is past his prime as a laborer, so Lord Fitzpatrick decides to retire him on half pay and give him and Katie another cottage to live in, rent-free, and give his job to a young Dubliner named Michael McBride (Sean Connery). Darby begs Michael not to tell Katie that he is being replaced, to which Michael reluctantly agrees. That very night, Darby is captured by the leprechauns while chasing Fitzpatrick's runaway horse Cleopatra (revealed to be a Pooka), on top of the fairy mountain Knocknasheega. Darby learns that King Brian has brought him into the mountain so he could avoid the shameful admission to Katie about losing his job, but this would mean that Darby would not be allowed to return to Rathcullen and must remain with the leprechauns permanently.

However, Darby tricks the leprechauns into embarking on a fox hunt by playing a rousing fiddle tune called "The Fox Chase" for them on a Stradivarius violin, loaned to him by King Brian. The leprechauns leave on horseback through a large crack in the mountainside wall, from which Darby also escapes. Expecting Brian to track him down once realizing he escaped, Darby produces a jug of poitín and tricks the leprechaun into a drinking game to trap him at sunrise (when the leprechaun's powers no longer have any effect). Having captured a leprechaun, Darby receives three wishes. Darby uses his first wish to have Brian remain at his side for two weeks or until he makes his remaining two wishes. Meanwhile, despite a rocky beginning between them, (Katie is under the impression that Michael is merely seasonal help), the two begin to show signs of growing affection. Brian stirs the two more in the direction after tricking Darby into making his second wish, warning Darby that his kin might resort to targeting Katie to get him back. Later, the town bully Pony Sugrue (Kieron Moore), who has his eyes on both Katie and the caretaker job, learns of Michael's position and attempts to get him fired with his meddlesome mother Sheila (Estelle Winwood) revealing the truth to Katie.

A livid Katie, after lashing out at her father and Michael with the intent to leave early, chases Cleopatra to Knocknasheega at nightfall. By the time Darby finds his daughter, Katie is gravely injured with a fever as a hideous banshee appears. Despite Darby getting Katie back to Rathcullen while attempting to drive the apparition away, the banshee summons the cóiste-bodhar to carry Katie's soul off to the land of the dead. Desperate, Darby elects to use his final wish to go in his daughter's place, which a saddened King Brian reluctantly grants. But while accompanying Darby on his way to the next world, King Brian tricks Darby into making a 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 which yanks Darby from the grasp of the Banshee, saving his life.

Katie's fever lifts and she and Michael reveal their love for each other. Michael later confronts Pony at the pub for his attempt to get him fired, knocking him out and making him appear an incompetent drunkard. Finally, Darby and Michael depart arm-in-arm, joining Katie outside in the wagon for a happy ending, with Michael and Katie singing a final duet together of "Pretty Irish Girl."




The film's development began with a visit to Ireland and the Irish Folklore Commission by Walt Disney and associates in 1947.[4] The following year Disney announced he would make a film called Three Wishes about an Irishman who battles with a leprechaun.[5] In July 1950 Disney received a first draft of the script, by Lawrence Watkin. It was called Three Wishes and would involve a combination of animation and live action. However Three Wishes ended up never being made.[6]

Disney returned to Ireland in 1956. In October of that year he announced he would make the leprechaun-themed film The Wishes of Darby O'Gill, based on the 1903 book Darby O'Gill and the Good People. Disney said the script would still be done by Lawrence Watkin, based on the stories and three months of research into Gaelic folklore at Dublin Library, as well as hours talking with the Shanachies, the professional storytellers. Disney hoped that Barry Fitzgerald would play both Darby and the King of the Little People.[7]

In January 1958 Disney left for London with the film's director, Robert Stevenson, to cast the movie[8] By the following month the title of the film had been changed to Darby O'Gill and the Little People and Albert Sharpe and Jimmy O'Dea had been cast in the lead roles originally intended for Fitzgerald. Disney had spotted O'Dea in a pantomime.[9] By March, Sean Connery and Janet Munro had been added to the cast. Connery was borrowed from 20th Century Fox, where he was under contract; Munro signed a five year contract with Disney.[10]


The cast moved to Los Angeles where filming started in May 1958. Although the film was set in Ireland it was shot on the Disney backlot with some location work at Albertson Ranch in San Fernando Valley. Michael O'Herlihy, who worked as dialogue director and technical adviser, called the film "a cartoon with live people. Within a human framework it goes pretty far into fantasy."[11]


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.[12] 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[13] do not match the voices of O'Dowda (a tenor) nor Murray (a trained singer.)[14]

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.[15]



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."[16] Variety called the film "rollicking Gaelic fantasy" with "meticulously painstaking production" and "a gem" of a performance from Albert Sharpe, though Sean Connery was called "artificial" and "the weakest link in Robert Stevenson's otherwise distinguished direction."[17] Charles Stinson of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Being a Disney product, it is as technically perfect a job as can be had: the Technicolor, the camera work, the special effects, the Irish music and all are a rich feast for anyone's eye and ear."[18] The Monthly Film Bulletin called the special effects "brilliantly executed" but found that "all attempts at Irish charm seem pretty synthetic, a notable exception being the playing of Jimmy O'Dea, who makes King Brian the most likeable and beguiling leprechaun yet to appear on the screen."[19]

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."[20] Maltin rates the movie so highly that in a later article he included it among a list of lesser known outstanding Disney films.

The film has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 13 reviews, with an average grade of 6.9 out of 10.[21]


Despite its merits, the film was not nominated for any Academy Awards; however, in 1960, Janet Munro won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year for her performance in the film.[22]

Comic book adaption[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  2. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  3. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Looking at Hollywood". Chicago Daily Tribune. 30 March 1948. p. 19.
  6. ^ "HOLLYWOOD DOSSIER". New York Times. 6 February 1958. p. X7.
  7. ^ "Walt Disney Plans Irish Fantasy Film". Los Angeles Times. 28 October 1957. p. C14.
  8. ^ "M-G-M SIGNS IVES TO BE 'BIG DADDY'". The New York Times. 21 January 1958. p. 34.
  9. ^ "Disney Gets Leprechaun King in Ireland". Chicago Daily Tribune. 26 February 1958. p. b4.
  10. ^ "You'll Love Janet Munro!: Bright-Eyed British Film Beauty Has Everything, Including a Long Term Disney Contract". Chicago Daily Tribune. 13 July 1958. p. f30.
  11. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (12 May 1958). "Disney Courts Little People: Leprechauns Overrun Studio as 'Darby O'Gill' Is Created". Los Angeles Times. p. C9.
  12. ^ "Gifted Irish tenor linked with Percy French", The Irish Times, 2 March 2002
  13. ^ Duet between Connery and Munro on YouTube.
  14. ^ O'Dowda-Murray recording on YouTube.
  15. ^ 45 cat 45 cat collectors catalog listing of record.
  16. ^ New York Times Review. Retrieved September 23, 2008
  17. ^ "Darby O'Gill and the Little People". Variety: 6. April 29, 1959.
  18. ^ Stinson, Charles (June 27, 1959). "'Darby O'Gill' Rich in Irish Atmosphere". Los Angeles Times. p. 11.
  19. ^ "Darby O'Gill and the Little People". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 26 (306): 87. July 1959.
  20. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2000). The Disney Films. Disney Editions. p. 416. ISBN 978-0-7868-8527-5. Retrieved 2010-08-17.
  21. ^ "Darby O'Gill and the Little People". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  22. ^ https://www.goldenglobes.com/film/darby-ogill-and-little-people
  23. ^ "Dell Four Color #1024". Grand Comics Database.
  24. ^ Dell Four Color #1024 at the Comic Book DB

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