One of the most little-known (and, thus, underrated) works in John Ford’s formidable canon is his very personal 1957 indie pic THE RISING OF THE MOON, now on made-to-order DVD-R from the clan at the O’Warner Archive Collection.
A perfect celebration of the perks and foibles of the human condition, particularly if they’re of Irish descent, RISING is a three-story omnibus of Gaelic charm, scripted by one of the director’s favorite scenarists, Frank S. Nugent (with assist from T.E.B. Clarke), and based upon a trio of famed tales of the Emerald Isle.
Ford envisioned this sliver of a movie after completing The Searchers (but with creative seeds sown in his mind as far back as 1952’s The Quiet Man). It would be a vacation of a “job of work” – a modest entry, shot on-location in black-and-white, in standard 1.66:1 widescreen and with no stars.
After The Quiet Man, Ireland was more than eager to welcome their new favorite son back with open arms, and potential backers couldn’t wait to dig into their pockets. “John Wayne?” they asked. “Nope. No stars. Locals, maybe the Abbey Players, no Americans.” It was like the potato famine all over again. When the dust cleared, only Michael Killanin remained (who would work with Ford on two more remote works, Gideon of Scotland Yard and Young Cassidy). To quote Father Ted‘s Father Jack, “Feck all!” And the cameras rolled.
The movie, like The Quiet Man, is a loving valentine to the country of Ford’s ancestors. Only quieter. Personally, RISING is one of my favorite Ford works, and one I trot out to friends whenever I get the chance. Certainly, it gets much play during the month of March, a quintessential St. Paddy’s Day platter. It warms the cockles of me heart to expose a smattering of lads and colleens to the RISING‘s many pleasures, and have them enthusiastically respond with a sincere “I LOVE this movie!” critique (which they unanimously do, I’m proud to say)
The beautifully acted trilogy opens with Frank O’Connor’s The Majesty of the Law, a poignant piece bristling with roguish affection and conviction. The village constable (Cyril Cusack) is out to serve a warrant on a blustery but beloved hermit, Dan O’Flaherty (the great Noel Purcell, forever Pablo Murphy from The Crimson Pirate). O’Flaherety belted a neighbor in a scuffle and has been charged with assault and battery. As passionate as he is honest, Dan is ready to go to jail (once he takes care of some personal affairs: “Would Friday be all right?”). The law doesn’t want to arrest the impoverished resident; in fact, the man’s neighbors offer to pay his five pound fine. But steadfast O’Flaherty refuses. Even the victim, head still in bandages, shows up to pay the fine himself! But old Dan will have none of it. Soon the entire township is at odds, wondering if there can ever be a civil resolution.
My pet of the bunch is the second offering, Michael J. McHugh’s wacky and raucous A Minute’s Wait. It tells of a train arriving at a small village depot, not unlike neighboring Innisfree, and right on schedule – a mere four hours late. And, as the conductor melodically announces they’ll be a short “one minute wait,” the entire car load of passengers rushes the pub for the first of many station libations. It is here we learn of the lady publican’s (Maureen Potter) adoration for the blarney-kissed conductor (Jimmie O’Dea), rhapsodizing about his confrontation with a castle ghost. We witness elder clan members (May Craig, Harold Goldblatt) matchmaking their grown children (Maureen Connell, Godfrey Quigley), the winners of a rugby match converging upon the choo-choo, along with the victors/townsfolk of a Quiet Man-esque display of fisticuffs. Throughout this mélange is a veddy English couple (Anita Sharp-Bolster, Michael Trubshaw), the brunt of a trunkful of insults, verbal and physical (they are forced to share their compartment with a crate of fish, then removed to a lesser space to make room for the town goat). Will these stories wrap to salvable conclusions? More importantly, will the hopelessly late railroad ever chug off into a Fordian sunset? These questions are addressed via a final touch of hilarity involving the befuddled British couple.
The most beautiful of the stories is left for last, Lady Augusta Gregory’s 1921 (expanded to cinematic dimensions from its stage roots). During the “troubles,” a British-occupied hamlet is witness to the arrest of a key agitator (Donal Donnelly), who is to be hanged. Two nuns (Doreen Madden, Maureen Cusack), one actually the sister of the prisoner, request a five minute meeting with the doomed man. But they’re really actresses who dress the hero up in a nunnery frock and spirit him away to a local theater until he can be smuggled out to sea and safety. The apparent thick Irish policeman (Denis O’Dea) assigned to help the English is way smarter than he appears to be, and his nocturnal dockside dinner break with his wife (Eileen Crowe) is, in my humble opinion, one of the best pieces of film Ford ever shot.
As one might expect, American distributors weren’t knocking down doors to acquire THE RISING OF THE MOON. Ford, who was not having a great year (his excellent British thriller, the aforementioned Gideon of Scotland Yard, starring Jack Hawkins, was chopped down to barely over an hour, relegated to the bottom half of a direct-to-the-nabe double-bill, and insult to injury, denied it’s superb Technicolor; Columbia ended up releasing it stateside in black-and-white). Ford’s anger at not being able to sell a project on his name alone (which hadn’t been a problem throughout the 1940s) ate away at him with a vengeance. Worse, John Wayne, the man HE made a star, could get any movie started by just nodding in approval. Ford played his hand the best he could, and took RISING to Warner Bros. for whom he had just scored a sizeable hit with The Searchers. Jack Warner, wasn’t thrilled, and begrudgingly agreed to pick up the movie with one proviso – that a “name” star introduce each story. Ford called Tyrone Power, with whom he had a decent working relationship on the 1955 pic The Long, Gray Line. Ford, in turn, demanded that Power’s name not be well…over-Powering in the ads and trailers. Warner acquiesced, but, being Jack Warner, his word was about as good as a three-dollar bill (the mogul had after all screwed his own kin out of their studio). Ford nearly plotzed when he saw the one-sheet – a duo-tone poster with the bottom half in full-color depicting the characters from the narrative; there, on the right side, was color portrait of Power with his name in large block letters. That said, Power does a good job setting up each fable (it couldn’t have been more than a one-day shoot), but is it just me, or does it look as if the actor is wearing leprechaun ears?
THE RISING OF THE MOON got lukewarm reviews, and did only marginal business (even in Ireland, its performance at the box-office proved to be a disappointing one). The movie quickly evaporated into the mist of obscurity, occasionally surfacing in 1960s late night-TV screenings.
The anamorphic Warner Archive DVD-R is excellent, mastered from the 35MM elements, with stunning monochrome location work, achieved by the great Robert Krasker. The hauntingly gorgeous music that appends the visuals comes via Eamonn O’Gallgher, melded into numerous Irish ballads, accompanied by an Irish harp and including, of course the iconic title tune.
I recommend THE RISING OF THE MOON without reservation (no matter what time of the year). The variance of the stories will give your emotions a thorough workout, from laughter to tears. It’s what first-rate movie-making is all about.
THE RISING OF THE MOON. Black and white. Widescreen [1.66:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]. 2.0 mono audio. Warner Archive Collection/Warner Home Video. CAT # 1000382534. SRP: $21.99.
Available from the Warner Archive Collection: http://www.wbshop.com/warnerarchive or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.