Molly McGuires (1970)




Director:     Martin Ritt.

Starring:     Sean Connery (leader), Richard Harris (James McParlan, informer), Samantha Eggar, Frank Finlay, Art Lund (Frazier), Anthony Costello.

Early labor "terrorists".  The Irish in the minefields of Pennsylvania turn to some of the violent techniques they learned fighting the British occupying their country.  The authorities did their best to wipe the movement out. 




Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Pictures of men working in the coal mining industry.  The men and boys, of course, are filthy from the coal.  Their faces are nearly black.  Down in the mine, the men leave for the day, but a few workers stay behind.  They plants explosives with long fuses.  They lite the fuses and head out.  They get some ways away from the mine opening before a terrific explosion takes place. 

Pennsylvania. 1876, year of the American Centennial and the Custer massacre at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

James McParlan is a newcomer in the coal town.  He enters the local pub to a lot of suspicious stares.  He says he is looking for work.  The men are wary of any strangers because the company uses planted informers to spy on them.  One of the coal miners, Frazier,  picks a fight with McParlan  -- a fight that is ended by the Captain of the local police hitting McParlan over the head with his baton. 

In jail the Captain speaks with McParlan.  He tells him about the Molly McGuires who use bombs and guns to put pressure on the mine owners.  The Mollys are a sub-set of the Ancient Order of Hibernia.  He adds that he knows that the leaders work in this mine.  Yes, McParlan is an agent for the police and the coal mine owners. 

The men are still suspicious of McParlan, especially because of his very clean and uncut hands.  McParlan gets room and board at the home of Mary Raines and her father, who is retired from the coal mines.  The houses are rather bleak and unappealing.  Later, Mary mentions that even the trees in the area are black with coverings with coal dust. 

McParlan works in the mines.  He has a hell of a time getting through the day as the dirty works saps his limited strength.  When payday comes he has earned about ten dollars, but after they deduct for his clothing and even the powder used in the work, his wages are just 24 cents.  He is not too pleased with the result.  McParlan is still not accepted.

The local priests speaks out against violence in the mines.  He reports that a colliery was attacked by a gang of men.  They were Molly McGuires.  He threatens anyone in the Mollys that they risk excommunication. 

James Kehoe confronts McParlan and asks: "Who are you?"  The men try to hurt McParlan by sending a load of coal his way, but Kehoe saves him.  McParlan tells Kehoe that he was in trouble for counterfeiting ("passing the queer").  Additionally,  he hit a man too hard in a fight over a woman and the man died, so he is hiding out in the coal fields. 

The men play a very rough rugby game against the Welsh miners.  A Welshman "Taffy" and the Irishman Tom Dougherty get into a fight over a woman and soon a general brawl breaks out.  The police finally stop the fight and clear the field.  One of the policemen went too far with his baton and McParlan is given the task of giving him a beating.  Informed, the police put a tail on Taffy.  They are hoping to catch Tom in the act of killing Taffy. 

Kehoe, Tom, Frazier and a younger man Frank pay a visit to McParlan at his residence.  They swear him into the Ancient Order of Hibernia, but there is still no mention of the Molly McGuires.  Mary Raines scolds McParlan for being involved with these men, all Mollys.  McParlan convinces her to go the to the city with him (where he communicates with the police Captain).  He gives the Captain the names of the four leaders: Dougherty, McAndrew, Frazier and Kehoe and receives money in exchange.   (The money is to represent the money he receives from his counterfeiting activity.)  Back home, Mary and McParlan kiss, but she adds: "There's no future here for romance."

Two Mollys, Kehoe and Frazier, sneak out of the back of the mine and blow up a coal train.  Later at the pub, Kehoe tells McParlan to stop the counterfeiting.  They have another job to do.  The men in Shenandoah want their new, over-eager superintendent killed.  The Mollys are all set to kill the superintendent when they are ambushed by the police.  They manage to shoot the superintendent and get away.  The men wonder about the possibility of an informer in their midst, but they don't connect it to McParlan.  They later learn that the superintendent is dead. 

The police strike back.  They kill Frazier and his wife in their beds leaving their child an orphan.  When the Mollys try to retaliate, they are ambushed by the police again.  They catch Tom.  He is to be tried for being an accomplice in the killing of the superintendent.  (But in reality Tom was not even present at the murder scene.)

The father of Mary Raines dies.  By the deathbed the priest tells Kehoe, there to pay his respects, that he has an informer in his midst.  Kehoe becomes enraged at the wake that the old man doesn't even have a proper suit to be buried in.  He heads over to the general store, with the towns people behind him, and steals a suit.  He then starts throwing out goods to the towns people.  McParlan gets into the spirit and starts smashing up the store.  Then the two men set fire to the place. 

The Mollys try to blow up the colliery mill, but once again are ambushed by the police.  This time the other three Molly leaders are arrested. They are put on trial for the murder of superintendent John W. Jones.  The first witness called is Detective McParlan.  The men are found guilty and sentenced to hang.  McParlan is appointed to head a new police office in Denver.  He wants to take Mary with him, but she will not go.  She is still the daughter of a coal miner who was abused by the owners. 

McParlan pays a visit to Kehoe in jail.  Kehoe tells him he wants absolution through punishment and starts to throttle him.  McParlan is saved by the guards.  Kehoe asks McParlan if that was sufficient punishment.  But he adds that McParlan will never be really free.  The last scene is of McParlan walking past the scaffold as he walks out  of the prison. 


Pretty good movie.  Sean Connery looks like a guy tough enough to be the leader of the local Molly McGuires.  The movie is pretty fair.  It is sympathetic to the workers (who wouldn't be), but does show the violence of the Molly McGuires.  (I guess today they might be called terrorists.)  It would be awhile before workers got a better shake in the U.S.  (And many of them are still abused.)

Patrick Louis Cooney,  Ph. D. 


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