[box cover]

The Molly Maguires

Martin Ritt (Norma Rae) produced and directed this 1970 drama, a rather bleak workers-vs.-management saga of coal miners circa 1876. Richard Harris plays James McKenna, an undercover detective assigned to infiltrate a secret society of Irish-American miners called the Order of the Hibernians, who use guerrilla tactics to fight the exploitive Pennsylvania mine owners. At first shunned by the miners as an outsider, McKenna's eventually brought into the heart of the Order, a super-secret subgroup called "The Molly Maguires." The film looks gorgeous, thanks to Ritt's genius for visual storytelling combined with James Wong Howe's brilliant camerawork, but the story's lacking necessary character detail to inspire a real sense of drama. Even Sean Connery's charismatic turn as the Molly Maguires' leader feels thin and underdeveloped — despite the admittedly excellent play between Connery and Harris, there's no sense of who this man really is, how he came to this place in his life, or why he's so passionate for the cause. Harris' character fares better — he starts out by taking the job for all the wrong reasons (he needs money so, ethics be damned, he'll be a turncoat), and then develops a genuine sympathy for the miners' plight. Samantha Eggar is the requisite love interest, and her scene when she discovers Harris' secret is beautifully rendered. Blacklisted during the McCarthy era, Ritt has made a number of films over the years that champion the little guy going head-to-head with the establishment, from Hud to The Great White Hope and The Front. While not an excellent film, The Molly Maguires does a good job of illustrating the brutal conditions of the coal mines and the aloof, uncaring attitude of the owners. Paramount's bare-bones release offers a slightly good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a scratchy, somewhat dirty source-print. The colors are bright and deeply saturated — despite the specks and scratches, this is still the best this film has looked in a long time, but that might not be saying a lot. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (in restored mono or a new surround mix, with optional English subtitles) has a similar quality — not so terrible that the film is totally unwatchable, but there's noticeable ambient noise that's occasionally distracting, especially during quiet scenes. No extras; keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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