YOUNG CASSIDY, largely ignored and quickly forgotten when it came out in 1965, is ripe for rediscovery. Rod Taylor does his very best work here, putting everything he had into the title role, based on a decade (1911-20 thereabouts) in the young life of fiery Irish writer and socialist Sean O’Casey, whose plays about the working man’s life and conditions scandalized “decent people” enough to start riots during Abbey Theater performances.
John Ford started the movie, but withdrew after a few weeks due to illness–a combination of exhaustion from working on Cheyenne Autumn, severe strep throat and trying to match his 70 year old stamina against Taylor’s 35 in marathon drinking bouts at Dublin pubs. Jack Cardiff took over, and delivered with his own sharp style seasoned with a Fordian flavor (critics, knowing so much more than everyone else, gave Ford all the credit–maybe a shade shy of apt, since less than five minutes of his work stayed in the final film…).
Cardiff, legendary as a cinematographer, turned to Ted Scaife (Khartoum) to handle the camera while he concentrated on the episodic, empathetic script and strong cast—Maggie Smith (34, in reprise pairing with Taylor, after The V.I.P.’s), Edith Evans (great), Michael Redgrave, Flora Robson, Jack MacGowran, Sian Phillips (married at the time to Peter O’Toole) and briefly, a knock-out 23 year old Julie Christie, in her breakout year—winning an Oscar for Darling, and a lifetime of devotion for Doctor Zhivago.
There are many finely observed moments, including a superbly staged mob scene near the start. But it’s Taylor’s movie—he’s in nearly nearly every scene and dominates them without hogging. With the artistic family tree behind it this must’ve seemed to Taylor like this would be The Big One. That slipped out of grasp with the indifferent response from critics who pegged him as merely ‘rugged’, and from moviegoers too enamored with James Bond to care about a rebellious poetic soul from a murky European past. Ironically, Ford’s first pick for the role was Sean Connery, but he was committed to Goldfinger, while Doctor Zhivago, about a conscience-troubled writer from a messed-up alien land became one of the biggest hits of all time.
There are some structural problems with the screenplay and a few editorial thuds, maybe budget-inspired —Christie just disappears, and the ending is raggedly abrupt— that keep the 110 minute movie from reaching 4-star level.
Taylor’s biggest hit was The Birds, action fans honor Dark Of The Sun and a generation’s sentimental favorite remains The Time Machine. It’s long past time to give him an ovation for Cassidy, where, to quote from Diane Tomasik’s affectionate and informative ‘The Complete Rod Taylor Site http://www.rodtaylorsite.com/youngcassidy.shtml “Taylor covers an incredible range of emotion–anger, grief, love, pride. He’s alternately drunken, literary, sexy, fearsome and foolish.” The several scenes that cover his reactions to his mothers death and its aftermath could not be done with more honesty by any of his more lauded peers. Crusty old Ford nails it in a note Taylor was proud of: “Your performance could have gotten tears from a rock.” Cheers, Rod, the pints on me.