Friday, January 9, 2015

#1,607. Young Cassidy (1965)

Directed By: Jack Cardiff, John Ford

Starring: Rod Taylor, Julie Christie, Maggie Smith

Tag line: "He's a brawling, sprawling giant - on the make for fame and fortune and then some!"

Trivia: Director John Ford fell ill during production and was replaced by Jack Cardiff

I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of Rod Taylor, the ruggedly handsome star of such ‘60s classics as George Pal’s The Time Machine and Hitchcock’s The Birds. Seeing as he was my mother’s favorite actor, I was familiar with Mr. Taylor’s work from an early age, and over the years I’ve seen a good many of his films. In his honor, I decided to check out Young Cassidy, a 1965 drama inspired by the life and times of Irish playwright Sean O’Casey, whose gift of fiery speech ensured him a place in Ireland’s turbulent history.

Like many young Irishmen, day laborer Johnny Cassidy (Taylor) dreams of the day his country will be free from British rule. Crammed into a small house that he shares with his mother (Flora Robson), as well as his sister Ella (Sian Phillips) and her five children, Johnny spends his nights writing pamphlets for the rebel movement, and signs on to serve in the fledgling Irish Republican Army. He has a number of women in his life, including Daisy Battles (Julie Christie), but it isn’t until he meets Nora (Maggie Smith), a book store proprietor, that he finally falls in love. Following the ill-fated Irish uprising of 1916, Johnny lays down his gun and instead picks up a pen, intent on becoming a playwright. Impressed with his work, famed writer W.B. Yeats (Michael Redgrave) and Lady Gregory (Edith Evans), a patron of the arts, stage several of Johnny’s plays, including the controversial The Plough and the Stars, which so angers the audience that they begin to riot in the theater. As a result of all the attention, Cassidy is suddenly in demand, with offers pouring in from playhouses across Europe and in America. But will the shy Nora be able to share the spotlight with him, or is Johnny destined to face the world alone?

Taylor gives a bravado performance as Johnny Cassidy, convincing as both the determined soldier and the struggling writer, and is well supported by an all-star cast (Redgrave is especially good as the pompous but loyal Yeats, who stands by Cassidy even when things get ugly). I was also impressed with the film’s various set pieces, which perfectly conveyed the poverty and hardship its characters faced on an almost daily basis (some scenes were shot on-location in Ireland’s County Wicklow). Where Young Cassidy falters is in its storytelling. From start to finish, the movie feels rushed, as if the filmmakers were trying to squeeze as much as they could into two hours. As a result, several key moments aren’t given the attention they deserve (the Easter Uprising, easily one of the most important events in Ireland’s struggle for freedom, receives about 3 minutes of screen time). There are scenes that stand out, like the peaceful protest that devolves into a violent riot, but in the end, Young Cassidy would have benefited from either an hour added to its run time or a more focused approach to its main subject’s story.

While Young Cassidy may not be the strongest movie in Rod Taylor’s filmography, he himself delivers a solid performance, which, in the end, made it as good a picture as any to pay tribute to this fine actor. Though, to be honest, I haven’t seen a Rod Taylor film yet where he didn’t give his all.

God speed, Mr. Taylor… and thank you.

No comments: