For years now, a number of notable cable television stations and movie revival houses have marked St. Patrick’s Day by playing the John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara classic “The Quiet Man,” among other shamrock-flavored films. It makes sense. The 65-year-old film does still hold up, dramatically – for its charming small town setting and magnificent fist-fight-brawl at the end (if not so much for its eye-popping misogyny and baffling political references). But there have been so many good films made in and about Ireland since 1952 – when the “The Quiet Man” first gave us Wayne dragging O’Hara across the moors – that John Ford’s Irish romance has gradually slipped from its once-glittering pedestal as America’s favorite St. Patrick’s Day movie.
One of the films that is slowly taking its place is 1998’s “Waking Ned Devine.” Local cineastes and Celtophiles will get a chance to see why on Monday, March 13, as the Sebastiani Theatre screens the 1998 gem as part of its Vintage Film series, kicking off St. Patrick’s week with a joyous, entertaining, and slightly dark bang.
In the tiny Irish village of Tullymore (population 52), the crotchety Ned Devine has just won the National lottery, earning him millions. Unfortunately, the shock killed him instantly. When a neighbor finds Ned dead in front of his television, the winning ticket clutched in his cold hand, a plot develops to convince the government that Ned is still alive – at least until the money is paid and split among the residents of Tullymore. Complications ensue, including a nosy lottery official, and a bitter tattletale, and the ending is one of the most satisfying comic conclusions you’re likely to see – on St. Patrick’s Day or any other time.
Written and directed by Kirk Jones, the film was initially envisioned as a 10-minute short. But as Jones began fleshing out the denizens of Tullymore, they more-or-less took over, inspiring him to expand the story, adding a series of delightful twists and turns. Though set in Ireland, it was filmed on the Isle of Man. There may not be any climactic fistfights, but with a well-timed car crash and a flying phone booth, “Waking Ned Devine” matches “The Quiet Man” laugh for laugh, and Irish tune for Irish tune.
Six more alternative films for St. Patrick’s Day
‘Once’ – This charming 2007 Dublin-set musical – which gave us the lovely Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” – tells of two musicians, with complex attachments, who fall in love, sort of, while learning to make music together. It’ll make you want to visit Dublin ASAP.
‘Darby O’Gill & the Little People’ – Crammed with leprechauns, invisible horses, screaming banshees and other icons of Irish mythology, “Darby O’Gill’ serves up in a dazzling, darker-than-usual Disney package.
‘Leprechaun’ – Speaking of leprechauns, this 1993 horror-comedy is hardly for the small ones, as it features a murderous, joke-cracking creature stalking people he believes have stolen his pot of gold. It stars Jennifer Aniston (in her first screen role), and the marvelous Warwick Davis, best known as Willow (in, um, “Willow”) and Professor Flitwick in the Harry Potter films.
‘Secret of Roan Inish’ – Back to the family-friendly stuff, this gorgeous and mysterious 1994 masterpiece (written and directed by Indie king John Sayles) follows an Irish girl who believes her baby brother was stolen by the sea and raised by magical sea creatures.
‘Secret of Kells’ – Some truly remarkable hand-made artistry takes this epic animated adventure, a story of Irish artists who “illuminate” the pages of ancient texts, and transforms it into something beautiful and strange. It’ll restore your faith in reading – and in hand-drawn animation.