The Molly Maguires

Released 1970




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Movie Summary

Martin Ritt

Directed by Martin Ritt, The Molly Maguires (1970) tells the true story of how a secret society of Irish coal miners in the Pennsylvania coalfields of a hundred years previously were brought to book. James McParlan, a Pinkerton detective, goes undercover in a remote mining community to inflitrate the "Molly Maguires", the ruthless perpetrators of outrages against the mine owners. The Mollies have already killed two earlier agents.The miners are mostly Irish like McParlan, and he quickly gains the trust of their leader, Jack Kehoe, who is suspected of being the leader of the Mollies. McParlan soon learns that the impoverished miners have legitimate grievances and wretched working conditions, and that their attempts to lodge protests in the conventional way have been ignored. The detective is torn between his personal affection for his miner friends and his job, and tragedy (for him as well as others) ensues. A tough, radical movie exploring a little-known piece of American history.


Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (3)

    • The film is at least a little more sympathetic to the Molly Maguires than was the original non-fiction book by Arthur Lewis on which it is based. The Pinkerton agent McParlan is shown as a provocateur who drives Kehoe to cold-blooded murder, and the cruelty and greed of the mine owners are both extensively illustrated. This probably is due to the well-known leftist sympathies of both writer Walter Bernstein and director Martin Ritt, who also co-produced the film. Both men were blacklisted in the McCarthy era.

    • This was one of five films put into production by Paramount at roughly the same time which between them cost the studio in excess of $80,000,000 - an amazing sum at the end of the 60s, equivalent to almost a billion dollars today. The Molly Maguires was, at around $11,000,000, the least expensive film of the five, although it was four times the cost of the average Hollywood film of that time. The other films were Catch-22, Darling Lili, Paint Your Wagon and On A Clear Day, You Can See Forever. All five were substantial money-losers.

    • A very different take on the events of this true story can be found, in a fictionalised form, in the last of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels, The Valley Of Fear.

  • QUOTES (2)

  • NOTES (1)

    • The film was mostly made on location, and in an isolated and inhospitable region; power lines for telephones had to be put in by the film company, and a 19th century mining community was created in great detail by set designer Tambi Larsen. The film ended up costing around $11,000,000 - a million going just to secure the services of star Sean Connery - and this outlay was not recovered at the box-office.


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Historical, Biography