Parnell (1937)



Director:     John Stahl

Starring:     Clark Gable (Parnell), Myrna Loy (Katie O'Shay), Edna May Oliver (the aunt), Edmund Gwenn (Campbell, Parnell's Secretary), Alan Marshal (Captain William 'Willie' O'Shea), Donald Crisp (Michael Davitt), Billie Burke (Miss Clara Wood, Katie's sister), Donald Meek (Murphy), Montagu Love (William Ewart Gladstone), Byron Russell (Timothy Healy), Brandon Tynan (John Redmond), Phyllis Coghlan (Ellen, Katie's Maid), Neil Fitzgerald (Richard Pigott), George Zucco (Sir Charles Russell)..

The movie wad a big bomb when it came out.  Usually sex sales and this story has an adulterous affair, but the potential was obviously not appropriately exploited.  


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

1880.  Parnell, the "Uncrowned King of Ireland", is visiting the birthplace of his mother in America.  He spend two months in the United States and now is sailing home.  A big crowd sees him off and he shouts:  "Home Rule for Ireland!" and "God save Ireland."

He lands in Queenstown, Ireland. On the carriage ride to his destination he sees a poor family being evicted from their home.  The landlord will not accept any money from Parnell to stop the eviction because he wants the land for grazing purposes.  While at the house, he is confronted with a warrant for his arrest for seditious utterances.  Before he is arrested, he promises the evictees that they will have a cottage.  He is placed in Kilmainham jail.  From jail he runs his work with his assistants just as he would as if her were in his own office. 

Parnell meets the very ambitious Captain William O'Shay who wants his help in being elected to a political office.  No one in the Irish Party likes O'Shay.  Parnell quiets the crowd gathered outside the jail.  O'Shay says he will have his wife invite Parnell to dinner.  In England Katie O'Shay wants a divorce from Mr. O'Shay, but he will not grant her one.  She is mad that now she has to entertain her husband's friends, namely Parnell.  She goes to the House to ask Parnell to dinner. 

In the house Parnell is engineering a one day stoppage of House activity.  Prime Minister Gladstone wants to cut off Parnell, but he keeps talking.  So Gladstone suspends him from sitting in the House for a 24 hour period.  Katie waits for Parnell in his office.  She tells him that she was moved by his speech.  He explains that he deliberately forced Gladstone to suspend him.  Parnell agrees to come to dinner at Elsin.  He then confesses to her that he saw her at the opera and had asked people who she was, but no one knew.  He resolved to find out and to meet her. 

Willie (Mr. O'Shay) stops to see his wife to ask her for 2,000 pounds.  If he doesn't get the money, he won't be able to pay his debts and he threatens that he would then have to live with Katie.  Katie says she'll ask her Aunt to give him the money.  At dinner Parnell has to leave suddenly because his secretary shows him tomorrow's headline: "Is Parnell guilty of murder?"  He asks Katie that when she hears something about him in the morning to please not believe it.  She agrees. 

Parnell is accused of condoning the Phoenix Park murders.  Six years previously Lord Frederick Cavendish, the new chief secretary of Ireland, and Burk, the undersecretary, were viciously murdered in Phoenix Park by Irish assassins.  Parnell responds by saying that the letters and signature are forged.  He asks to have his name cleared and Gladstone sets up a three judge special commission of inquiry to investigate the matter.   If Parnell is guilty it would mean the end of the Irish Party and Home Rule for Ireland. 

Walking with Katie, Parnell tells her than he is in love with her.  In fact, he has been in love with her since he first saw her.  Katie tries to break off the relationship because of its inherent political dangers, but agrees to meet with him one more time.  Back in Ireland a speaker shouts to a crowd calling for 500 fires lighted by 500 Irishmen in London.  Parnell responds by speaking out against violence; it will only bring the soldier here, he says. 

Katie's Aunt is wise to the couple.  She asks Katie where this will lead and she responds: "Only danger and disaster awaits us."  She is expecting Parnell for dinner, but Parnell can't come because he is exhausted from overwork.  So Katie goes to him.  There the doctor tells her that he needs rest because of nervous exhaustion and a heart that's not too good.  Katie brings Parnell to her home to nurse him.  Katie's sister is scandalized and her aunt is worried.  Parnell stays for four months.  Katie asks Willie again for a divorce, but the answer is still no.

At the trial Parnell's lawyer reveals that the source of the incriminating letters was an organization opposed to Parnell.  They were given to a Mr. Henderson who gave them to the publisher Richard Pigott who published them.  It is tough going until Katie shows up with a letter from Mr. Pigott she found while going through Parnell's mail.  It seems that Mr. Pigott had written to Parnell for the express purpose of getting his signature.  The lawyer gets Pigott to say that he had never corresponded with Parnell and then introduces the letter.  Pigott is flustered, asks for a short break and in the hall shoots himself dead.  Parnell is vindicated and there is cheering in the Irish Party. 

There is more good news.  Gladstone has agreed to introduce and support the Home Rule bill.  The reception for the bill is in three weeks time.  It looks like Home Rule will actually become a reality for Ireland.  But then Willies shows up again.  He wants Parnell to give him a spot in his cabinet or he will reveal the affair with Katie.  Parnell refuses and Willie tells him he is making a mistake. 

While just about to leave for the reception, Parnell and Katie are served suits.  Willie is suing for divorce and naming Parnell as a co-respondent.  And worse, the news is already in the newspapers.  Now Parnell can't go to the reception.  He goes to the House and has his secretary give Gladstone a note asking the prime minister for a chance to speak to him.  But Gladstone responds with: "Tell him, No Reply."

The members of the Irish Party are extremely upset and wonder what this will mean for Home Rule.  Parnell argues (somewhat like President Bill Clinton would do much later in time) that his private life is his own.  He says he will present no defense for himself at the divorce proceedings.  Gladstone demands Parnell's resignation.  Irish Party members now asks Parnell to resign.  Parnell says he will if Gladstone promises to still sponsor the Home Rule bill.  Parnell was a god to the Irish and now he has shown that he is only a man. 

John Healy walks out of a meeting with Parnell taking most of the party members with him.  Later Parnell collapses.  He says he is going home to Katie.  Back home he collapses again.  The newspapers carry such headlines as "Parnell Sinking!"  From bed Parnell speaks to his men telling them to think only of Ireland and to make sure that the next leader is a man, not a god.  After the meeting Parnell dies. 


A pretty good movie covering the affair of Parnell and Katie O'Shay that cost Ireland Home Rule.  Clark Gable and Myrna Loy gave very good performances.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Failure of Home Rule Under Charles Stuart Parnell

1870  --  prominent Irish lawyer and MP, Isaac Butt, founds Home Government Association.

1873  -- Home Government Assoc. replaced by Home Rule League.

1875 --  Charles Stuart Parnell elected to parliament; his mother an American, was very anti-British; her son adopted this attitude.

1877 --  Parnell becomes leader of the new Home Rule Party.

1877,1878 --  potato crop failures.

1878 --  Michael Davitt on lecture tour in America; he and Devoy propose "new departure" for Fenian movement.

1879-82 Land Wars; Michael Davitt from America arrives; helps fight the Land War; harnesses peasant discontent into Land League.

1880 --  Parnell addresses U.S. House of Representatives on situation in Ireland (2 Feb).

1880  --   Gladstone again PM (23 Apr).

1880  --  boycotting of Capt. Charles C. Boycott, of Lough Mask House, Co. Mayo (25 Sep - 26 Nov).

1880  --  trial of Parnell and others for conspiracy begins (28 Dec).

1881 --  Parnell is arrested under the coercion acts; put in Kilmainham jail; a wave of violent disorder swept the country

1882 --  Parnell and others released from jail (2 May)

1882 --  Parnell held the balance of power in parliament; he could keep either party out of office

1882 --  Land League superseded by Irish National League (17 Oct)

1884 --  dynamite campaign in G.B; Thomas James Clarke and 3 others sentenced to life imprisonment (June)

1885 --  Gladstone's conversion to home rule announced prematurely by his son (17 Dec).

1886 --  British MP Gladstone sponsors first Home Rule Bill, but is defeated by Parliament.

1886  --  Rioting in Belfast (4-10 June).

1889 --  Parnell has an affair with Mrs. Katherine O'Shea, English wife of an Irish Home Rule MP; now revealed.

1890 --  Parnell will not resign.

1891 --   married Mrs. O'Shea; spoke in rain, got sick, and died.

1893 --  Gladstone introduces a second Home Rule bill: defeated; Gladstone fails to give Ireland Home Rule.


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)