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Australian actor Rod Taylor plays the part of John Cassidy (a name O'Casey sometimes used), Flora Robson plays Cassidy's mother, Maggie Smith is wonderful as Cassidy's girlfriend, Edith Evans plays Lady Gregory of the Abbey Theater in Dublin, and Michael Redgrave is excellent as William Butler Yeats.
What brought this film to my attention was a 6-minute film-clip on Turner Classic Movies (cable) in which Rod Taylor told a few anecdotes about the making of this movie. One was how he developed his Irish accent by spending his first week in a Dublin pub talking with the customers. His best tale was about the filming of the scene immediately following Cassidy's discovery that his beloved mother (Flora Robson) has died. Cassidy goes out to a vacant lot where his mother's favorite tree, a small hawthorne, is blooming and kneels down close to it ... and his shoulders begin to shake as if he were weeping.
According to Taylor, he knelt there with his shoulders trembling for 5, 6, 7 minutes, waiting for John Ford to yell "Cut!" ... but nothing happened. More minutes passed, and finally Taylor turned his head and asked, "Aren't you going to say 'Cut'?"
And director John Ford walked over and gave him a kick and shouted, "You bastard! Y' made me CRY!!"
Of course I just HAD to see this film after hearing this. Yes, this scene is good ... but not as good as I hoped. For one thing, this whole scene where he goes to his mother's favorite tree now lasts only 29 seconds, with the actual kneeling portion being just 5 seconds long (nothing near the ten minutes or so that were filmed). I think it would have been far more effective and moving if John Ford, the director, or his successor Jack Cardiff had made this important scene at least 20 seconds longer ... though 40 seconds longer would probably have been even better.
But there ARE a fair number of excellent other scenes in this film. One involves the evening after the funeral of Cassidy's mother, where people repeatedly scold him for laughing and drinking that night "with her just now in her grave." And he replies (words to this effect), "She's not in that grave! That's only her body. SHE is not there. Wherever she is, she may be looking down and feeling happy and laughing that I'm here and am laughing. SHE is not in that grave." I think this is a great alternative way of looking at death. It reminds me of the movie TEMPLE GRANDIN about the autistic genius woman who has been a great animal rights advocate and has invented much more humane ways for cattle to be slaughtered. When her favorite teacher dies, she looks at his dead body and says, "He's not in there anymore."
Several other great scenes involve Michael Redgrave as Yeats, encouraging Cassidy even though their styles of writing and their subject matters differ considerably ... and in one more excellent scene Redgrave as Yeats storms on to the stage and scolds a rowdy audience who are throwing cabbages at the actors in one of Cassidy's more "earthy" plays, telling them that when they are all long dead, Cassidy will be honored around the world as a great writer.
Of course the actress Maggie Smith is the cast member who is best known to audiences of 2015. Those who love and admire her and her work will be amazed and pleased to watch her performance 50 years ago as Nora, the young woman who loved and was loved by John Cassidy.
In just an hour and 50 minutes, no film can cover with clarity several key years of a genius's life. Quite a few issues are raised that are dropped without development; some of the transitions are quite choppy; motivations in some scenes are very ambiguous ... but still this film is a very good piece of work ... put together by two different directors who undoubtedly had somewhat different visions about the overall project.
If I were giving this film a letter grade, it would be a very strong "B".
The Spanish DVD from Regasa is an anamorphic wide screen (1.78) transfer that lacks sharpness but otherwise is an adequate transfer. The Spanish subtitles are easily removed.