Wednesday, January 06, 2016


In the Irish village of Rathbarney (where, we are told, the main interest is drinking), the beloved 84-year-old squire is injured in a horse jump; on his deathbed, he forgives all debts, gives money to several friends, and leaves his estate to a distant relative (David Niven) who lives in London. When Niven arrives to take on the job of squire, he seems friendly but quickly proves to be a pain in the ass to the villagers by withdrawing the squire's bequests, cancelling the cancelling of the debts, and going after the poachers—who the former squire tolerated by assigning them specific properties on which to poach. The villagers decide to kill the squire and hold a lottery to pick the killer—who turns out to be the village doofus (George Cole). Not having a lot of confidence in him, others group together and, when they discover Niven has a heart condition, decide to try and scare him (literally) to death by dressing up as the castle ghost who, legend has it, appears on O'Leary Night, which is coming up. Still others, unbeknownst to the rest, make their own plans, all of which leads to pandemonium that night.

This little gem is one I'd never heard of but ended up enjoying quite a bit. One problem is the completely nondescript title; the original British title, Happy Ever After, is no better. Apparently it has also been known as Stranger in Town which is a little more specific. It's a fairly dark little comedy with no completely sympathetic character: Niven does a great job at being charming on the surface but a thorough bastard underneath; Barry Fitzgerald (pictured with Niven) does his usual heavily-accented, twinkly-eyed sweet scoundrel; Yvonne DeCarlo is the potential love interest; George Cole makes the village idiot almost charming. But lack of likable characters is not a negative here; it's a bit refreshing to see a comedy from this era that shows everyone to be motivated by their baser instincts, and in places it feels like an Ealing comedy with Alec Guinness, like THE LAVENDER HILL MOB. The movie bogs down a bit in the middle, but the O'Leary Night sequence is pulled off nicely. There's a tavern song, "My Heart Is Irish," which fulfills the demand that every movie about the Irish have some moment in which the characters celebrate their Irishness. A cute little film. [TCM]

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