The Molly Maguires (1970) – Imprint Films Limited EditionOverview -
Just 20 years before the United Mine Workers of America union was formed in 1890, a secret society of Irish immigrants and Irish-American coal miners fought against exploitative labor and payroll practices in Pennsylvania. They were The Molly Maguires and Martin Ritt’s 1970 drama depicts the crushing downfall of their movement orchestrated by Pinkerton agents. The subdued-yet-fierce nature of the film is presented beautifully in HD with a new Blu-ray release from Imprint Films that comes Recommended!
THE MOLLY MAGUIRES WERE A HARD, SAVAGE GANG OF REBELS. AND THE INFORMER HAD TO BE TOUGHER THAN THEM ALL.
A secret society of militant coal miners battled their exploitation by the mine owners with violence and intimidation. This gripping, true story follows a detective on undercover assignment for the owners, fighting his own conscience, while attempting to gain the trust of the tough and suspicious leader of the Mollies.
Directed by Martin Ritt, starring Richard Harris & Sean Connery. Based on the 1964 book Lament for the Molly Maguires by Arthur H. Lewis.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
When we talk about blacklisted filmmakers during the Red Scare, Martin Ritt rarely comes up for some reason. Ritt, no stranger to films that tackle social issues with projects like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Edge of the City, turned to cinema after he was blacklisted from the television industry. What he found there was an opportunity to give voice to his experiences through the narrative form, and he continued to study the corruption of the individual with multiple films. Of those efforts, The Molly Maguires sticks out as the most underseen and underrated; a delicate drama that toes the line between pure Hollywood romanticism and the kind of serious issue dramas that John Ford was making about the Irish. The result is a potboiler that frequently breaks into full-blown character drama and is aided by great performances by both Richard Harris and Sean Connery.
The Molly Maguires concerns itself with the final days of the secret society when Pinkerton agent James McParland (Richard Harris) is sent to infiltrate the Mollies and bring them to justice. Naturally, his growing friendship with the leader of the Mollies, Jack Kehoe (Sean Connery), forces McParland to pick a side. But when he witnesses for himself the kind of abuse and exploitation suffered by Irish coal miners from greedy, capitalist mining managers, his search for true justice becomes blurred.
Ritt was always criticized for having a bit of a cold removal from his characters, although he was responsible for one of the most emotionally complex modern westerns with the Paul Newman-starring Hud. Even with that consideration, the leftist filmmaker teamed with frequent collaborator (and fellow blacklisted person) Walter Bernstein to treat subjects like deception and performance with a grace that feels weirdly out of step with Hollywood productions of that era. This is the first time Connery’s talents beyond playing James Bond were exposed, playing a ticking time bomb under Ritt’s careful, considerate direction. Even though the film opens explosively with a nearly 10-minute tracking shot that throws the audience right into the moral muck of mining companies, it’s a masterful assessment of an environment and the people who toil away within it, emphasizing the silent fight boiling just beneath the surface.
Throughout the film, the audience is treated to the fluid, sturdy and expansive cinematography of James Wong Howe and the breathless production design needed to pull off such a location-focused story. Richard Harris’ usually powerful presence is taken down a peg as a character that must change himself constantly to suit the situation, and the famous actor takes it all in stride. Connery, who barely even speaks for the first 40 minutes, is all internal anger waiting to blow at the right time. His character supplies the suspense the story lacks, as the main narrative is more concerned with the laborious torture that mining workers experience and the desperation that comes from it.
Of all the big Hollywood studio autobiographical dramas, The Molly Maguires reveals a lot more complexity than originally assayed upon its original release and offers the kind of anti-sensationalism that you so rarely see from similar films. I’m hoping with time -- and the abundance of similar social issues we’re currently dealing with – that people turn to this work as being a great example of a uniquely American problem that still reverberates to this day.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Grab your pickaxe and some dynamite, as The Molly Maguires gets to work with a one-disc (BD50) Blu-ray release that comes housed in a thick and clear case, with a limited-edition slipcover offering unique artwork over it. The Blu-ray disc boots up to a standard menu screen with a clip from Henry Mancini’s score for the film playing on a loop. Options to play the film, explore special features and set up audio and video.
NOTE: Our reviewer wasn't able to source images from the disc and we couldn't locate decent open-public images to substitute. The embedded trailer above is a solid indication of the video quality for this release.
From what I can tell, this is the exact same HD transfer that Paramount used on their 2019 Blu-ray release of the film, although that edition came with a BD-R rather than a pressed disc like the Imprint release has here. The transfer is generally pleasing, with rich film grain and those Panavision-lensed widescreen compositions showcasing just the right level of clarity and softness. But on the other hand, there’s quite a bit of damage that creeps its way into the transfer, like clear marks on the print not being removed or corrected and even some frame instability in certain scenes. In the opening sequence, I did notice multiple layers of grain (probably caused by an optical filter), though the encode handles it well and doesn’t mar any details. Even with all of that said, this is the best the film has ever looked at home and unless there’s a proper restoration, it will remain that way.
The Molly Maguires arrives on Blu-ray with two audio options: a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track and a restored mono track. Both tracks have their positives, but I give the slight edge to the 5.1 track for opening up the soundscape in the surround channels and still keeping dialogue as a front-focused priority. Henry Mancini’s sweeping score gets elevated in the surround channels and key scenes offer some added dimension to explosions and dialogue. The 5.1 surround track isn’t incredibly showy and honors the film’s normally subtle soundscape.
While special features are a bit spare on this release, Imprint has added two new audio commentaries and a phone interview with actor Anthony Zerbe that gives some great context to the film. Zerbe describes his relationship with Martin Ritt as being wonderful, and noted that the filmmaker had the unique ability to wring subtlety out of Richard Harris. It’s a breezy interview with not a ton of detail, but Zerbe fondly recounts many of his acting experiences. I also highly recommend listening to Howard S. Berger’s audio commentary, as it’s chock full of historical anecdotes and information about Ritt that only embolden the film’s power and impact.
- Audio commentary by film historian Howard S. Berger
- Audio commentary by author/producer and film historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer
- A Complicated Film – Anthony Zerbe on The Molly Maguires (HD 17:22)
- Theatrical trailer (SD 2:48)
- Optional English subtitles
The Molly Maguires is exactly the dramatic, character-driven potboiler that we rarely see made today. And with expressive cinematography by James Wong Howe and the sturdy direction of Martin Ritt, it’s wild to think the film was so coldly received upon original release. Imprint Films bestows their Blu-ray release with a decent HD transfer of the film and a few special features to dig into. This release comes Recommended!
Complete Your Collection Screwheads! - Where to Find Sam Raimi Films on Blu-ray or 4K UHDBy:
Time To Get Your Fuzzy Pink Elephant - HDD's 4K UHD & Blu-ray Shopping Guide Feb 18, 2024By:
The Criterion Collection Dates & Details May 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and Blu-ray ReleasesBy:
Turbine Celebrates 50 Years of Flesh Gordon With 4 New Fully Engorged Blu-Ray MediabooksBy: