Friday, August 07, 2015


In 1587, Prince Hugh of Donegal dies, leaving his son Hugh heir to his title. Since legend has it that "when Hugh succeeds Hugh, Ireland will be free," many clansmen think that young Hugh, also known as Red Hugh for the color of his hair, will be the one to lead an army against the English oppressors. But Hugh thinks their better chance is to get the varied Irish tribes together and go off to England to negotiate, trading their willingness to help the fight Spain for autonomy. However, because he's seen as a subversive threat to the crown, Hugh is captured by the Viceroy's men and held in Dublin Castle. Clan leaders MacSweeney and O'Neill take a treaty to the Viceroy in hopes of freeing Hugh, but the slimy British Captain Leeds, who by now has taken a strong personal disliking to Hugh who humiliated him in a fight in front of his soldiers, refuses to pass the treaty on to the Viceroy and takes O'Neill prisoner as well. While MacSweeney begins to rally his people, Hugh and O'Neill, with help from the Irish prison servant O'Toole, plot an escape, and when Captain Leeds decides to try to take Donegal Castle, a major confrontation is in the making.

I was 10 when this film came out, and though I didn't see it, I did own a comic book of it and it must have made an impression on me, because, though I'd completely forgotten about the movie's existence, when I saw it on the Turner Classic schedule, the cover of the comic book (pictured at right) suddenly appeared in my mind and I was determined to finally see this movie. Yes, it's a 60s Disney live-action picture, the idea of which usually puts me off, but for the most part, this is good swashbuckling fun. Don’t expect a gritty Braveheart-type movie here—it's family friendly (albeit with a few mostly bloodless sword-inflicted deaths) and the sets are colorful and clean. It's closer in tone to the Errol Flynn ROBIN HOOD of the 30s though obviously not in that film's league. The performances are a notch above the usual for Disney. Peter McEnery, whose biggest claim to fame is playing opposite Hayley Mills in Disney’s earlier THE MOON-SPINNERS, is the title character and though he can't come near to filling Errol Flynn's boots, he makes a handsome and charming hero. Susan Hampshire is Kathleen, the requisite leading lady, though she barely makes a mark as intrigue and swordplay rather than romance carry the day here. Tom Adams, who looks like a more handsome Basil Rathbone (pictured to the right of McEnery), plays O'Neill, who begins as a rival of Hugh's for Kathleen's attentions but becomes a loyal right-hand buddy to Hugh. Adams almost always has a slightly snarky, ironic look in his eyes—for a while, I wasn't sure if he was going to be a good guy or a bad guy, and that gave his character an interesting shading. Perhaps best of all is Gordon Jackson, well remembered as the butler Hudson in the original Upstairs, Downstairs series, giving a full-blooded turn as the wicked Captain Leeds. Andrew Kier as MacSweeney is fine, and Maurice Roeves and Donal McCann make the most of their small roles helping Hugh in his escape. The movie is not exactly action-filled, but the final siege of the castle is quite exciting. This really should be on DVD. [TCM]

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