On January 28, 1970, Martin Ritt’s The Molly Maguires hit the big screens. It told the story of the renegade Irish mineworkers who took on mining and railroad companies in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal fields in the 1870s. The movie brought some serious star power to tell the dramatic story – Sean Connery starred as Molly Maguire leader John “Black Jack” Kehoe and Richard Harris played the morally ambiguous Pinkerton detective James McParland, alias James McKenna.
The film was shot in Eckley, Pennsylvania, in the small patch town that was laid out by a mining company in the 1850s. Its buildings, many of which remain standing today, provided a period correct backdrop for the film with minimal changes made to their exteriors.
The film was a failure at the box office, failing to live up to expectations. It received a frosty reception from critics as well.
In honor of the 50th anniversary, I rewatched the film and here are some of my thoughts:
The opening song in the score is a serious earworm; still can’t get it out of my head
Eckley perfectly fits the bill in showing what a mine patch town looked in the mid-to-late 19th century
The exterior scenes in the film perfectly reflect how dirty, dingy, and loud a Coal Region patch town could be in the 19th century
The film takes far too much source material from the notoriously odious trials of the accused Molly Maguires and from Allan Pinkerton’s massively fictionalized account of the debacle
Sean Connery is a legend
My biggest takeaway is that this story needs to return to popular media, preferably in the form of a television show. In a form longer than a 124 minute film, the complexity and nuance of this story could really show through. There is a reason this story isn’t simple – it includes many of the same themes that are recurring today, especially corporate power and greed versus workers’ rights. A Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime would be the perfect venue for a gritty period drama touching on immigration, xenophobia, the working class, and corporate power in Pennsylvania’s violence ridden anthracite coal fields of the 1870s.
What are your thoughts about The Molly Maguires? When did you first see the film? Did you like it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments down below!