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Vittorio De Sica,
Peppino De Filippo
It's kind of scary to realize that I remember seeing this movie back when it was released in 1945-6. I was 8 years old at the time and coming from an Irish-American family who lionized Irish American heroes, it made quite an impression on me as a kid. The tragedy of John L. Sullivan's life, his struggle with alcohol and the loss of his celebrity was lost on me at that young age and all I recalled after having seen the film were the great stories and myths that accompany such a legend that I had heard from my family. Reading the face-plate review, which I found quite insightful, permitted me an added perspective based on the background and the performance of McClure, an Irisher too, in the title role. I must agree, given my aging memory of having seen the film in the theater upon its release and having encountered it on various late shows. The reviewer compares McClure's performance to that of Flynn in the tale of Gentleman Jim Corbett, another Irisher from Aussieland playing the part of an Irisher beating John L., the icon of Irish Americanism at the turn of the 20th century. However, I would add this footnote to an otherwise excellent review, that the theme of this film must be considered in the context of the time that the Irish were emerging from a period of social discrimination that had endured from the previous century. It is easy to forget how a group of immigrants were held in contempt because of their religion-- many were Roman Catholic-- their speech and their seeming bawdy lifestyles. Being from a Catholic family from Northern Ireland, encountering the records of signs declaring "Irish need not apply," had special meaning to me. We had encountered this in the land of our birth. Therefore, the social message of such films had special import to me and my family.
Nowadays, many Americans of the Heinz 57 variety love to parade their bit of "Irish," often by wearing green, eating corn beef and cabbage, listening to Irish pub music on St. Paddy's day, and that is fine. However, these practices, which I find rather admirable, if somewhat naive, are rarely considered in the context that wearing of green was a protest against the imposition of the English against the Catholic church going back to the time of Elizabeth I; the English imported corned beef and the pub songs were often songs of protest. The large concentration of Irish immigrants in Boston and New York yielded many folk heroes to the children of the diaspora, Corbett, Sullivan, Fitzgerald and Braddock were but a few. It's also noteworthy that this film was produced by Bing Crosby, another Irish American icon and I'm certain the message was not lost on him.
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