Tuesday, March 17, 2009

So it's St. Patrick's Day

I have some relatives of Irish descent, and one of them used to subscribe to an Irish-American newspaper that I found rather shocking in its jinning up dislike of the UK, and its constant tales of woe about how the rest of America was supposedly out to get Irish-Americans, the NINA myth. Hollywood's treatment of the Irish is similarly dire, being unbelievably treacly. I remember watching the movie Tear Gas Squad on TCM several months ago, since the title and TCM's one-sentence synopsis both sounded interesting. Unfortunately, it turns out to be Dennis Morgan doing dreadful Irish singing, complete with all the other stereotypes of the "lovable" Irish.

Instead, I'd rather be subversive and think of some movies in which the Irish characters aren't so good. The first example would be the great The Man Who Never Was, in which the Nazis send an Irish spy to infiltrate London to find out whether a dead body is really what it claims to be.

One that I haven't recommended before is I See a Dark Stranger. Deborah Kerr stars as a young Irish woman during World War II who has been infected by her father with a hatred for Britain. She's so contorted by her hate that she wants to go to Britain to engage in terrorism against the UK. So, when she grows up, she goes to Dublin and looks for the IRA terrorist that her father has been raving about ever since she was a child. The IRA terrorist is now a museum curator but, more importantly, an ex-terrorist, having decided that diplomacy is better than terrorism. This is World War II, though, and there are Nazi agents in (neutral) Ireland, one of whom recruits Kerr, and sends her to England. In England, she meets Trevor Howard, a British army lieutenant. You can guess what's going to happen next: the two fall in love, even though he's British and she's working for the Nazis.

The movie is pretty good, having been written and directed by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, the men responsbile for helping Alfred Hitchcock with the screenplay to The Lady Vanishes. The movie is full of twists and turns, even though you have a fairly good idea of how it's going to end. Kerr and Howard are both good, too. And most importantly, it's nice to see a movie taking a different view of the Irish than what Hollywood always gave us. I See a Dark Stranger is also available on DVD.

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