Darby Versus Evil: A Reexamination of DARBY O' GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE

Revisiting Darby O’Gill and the Little People, a Disney horror film from 1959, it’s easy to lose focus.  Ostensibly a movie about the goings-on in a quaint Irish village, there’s a lot happening on the surface.  Young lass Katie is stuck at home, cooking various stews and yearning for a man. Her dad Darby is a leprechaun enthusiast worried about losing his cushy job telling mush-mouthed stories at the local pub.  The sinewy Widow Sheelah lurks on the fringes of the action like a tea-scrounging corpse. Sean Connery shows up and does sexy face stuff with his lips. But this is all merely window dressing. All the jig-dancing leprechauns and random Sean Connery songs in the world can’t hide the vein of darkness that runs beneath the movie’s Technicolor veneer. The true dark heart of Darby O’Gill and the Little People lies in the ages-old conflict between man and leprechaun.

Darby loves to regale the town drunks with the story of the time he briefly cornered Brian of Knocknasheega, the chubby ginger king of all leprechauns, and demanded his requisite three wishes.  After initially agreeing, King Brian found a way to renege out of the deal and pirouette away, leaving a wishless Darby holding his dick. Years later, after discovering the fairy kingdom of the leprechauns following a tumble down a well, Darby gets another face-to-face with the leprechaun king.  What follows is an escalating game of sadistic revenge that makes I Saw the Devil look like a bowl of Lucky Charms.

When Darby initially stumbles onto the fairy kingdom, the audience is subjected to a staggering display of leprechaun-on-human violence, but screenwriter Lawrence Watkin is able to reign in the cruelty before the film truly veers into torture porn territory. Darby retaliates with fiddle hypnosis and the burlap-sack kidnapping of King Brian, taking his sweet Stockholm time as he plans his redo wishes.  Before long, their sticky web of retribution ensnares both family and friends, threatening to leave scars of irreparable emotional damage. With King Brian intending to let all the evil spirits of the world run around unchecked, a haunting encounter from a wailing banshee is as inevitable as the end of the rainbow.

Before the Leprechaun franchise polluted Irish lore with space travel and rapping, Darby O’ Gill and the Little People divulged the true horrors behind the legend of the little people: crazy fast hillbilly dancing, horse possession, and a disturbing lack of female leprechauns. Even its subtext—touching on themes like alcoholism, manipulative friendships, and the acceptance of death—leans toward the morose. Turns out life isn’t always magically delicious, even in the fairy kingdom of the leprechauns.