Baby boomers who may not remember the plot particulars of Walt Disney's Darby O'Gill and the Little People nonetheless retain fond memories of Disney's publicity campaign, which included an episode of the producer's weekly TV series, wherein the actor playing leprechaun king Brian (Jimmy O'Dea) was passed off as a genuine little person.
One look at Darby O'Gill itself and one is willing to believe Disney's subterfuge. The story, based on the writings of H.T. Kavanagh, involves one Darby O'Gill (Albert Sharpe) an Irish tall-tale spinner who works as a caretaker.
On the night that he is replaced by a younger man (Sean Connery), Darby heads home to tell his daughter Katie (Janet Munro) that he has lost his job. En route, he stumbles into the underground leprechaun kingdom, thanks to the intervention of King Brian, who wants to save Darby the shame of telling his daughter about his job.
Advised that he will never be able to leave the land of the leprechauns, Darby escapes, and Brian follows. Because he stays above ground until dawn, Brian loses his powers and becomes the property of Darby, who won't let the leprechaun go until he grants three wishes.
Brian tricks Darby out of the first two wishes, but is honor-bound to grant the third: that Darby's daughter Katie be wed to the handsome new caretaker. Before this can happen, Katie is seriously injured. As she lies comatose, the Death Coach descends from the sky to gather her to the heavens.
Darby rapidly alters his third wish and begs that he be taken in Katie's place. Brian saves Darby's life by tricking him into making a fourth wish, which immediately cancels the first three. The young caretaker wins Katie on his own merits, and Darby has a whole new slew of stories with which to regale the villagers.
The principal drawing card of Darby O'Gill and the Little People is its special effects, the most famous of which finds a life-sized Darby O'Gill fiddling away as hundreds of tiny leprechauns dance about him.
Even in this era of computerized F/X, few films have been able to duplicate the sublimely convincing visual magic -- and the effortless charm -- of this 1959 Disney effort.