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Young Cassidy (1965)

Rod Taylor plays Johnny Cassidy in this movie based upon the autobiographical writings of Irish author Sean O'Casey. (Cassidy is the name O'Casey gives himself in his third-person writing.)

Taylor considers this to be one of the most important films of his career, and many consider it to be his finest performance. For example, a 1965 review in Variety magazine said:

Young Cassidy ... is notable principally for the top-rate performance of Rod Taylor in title role. ... Taylor delivers a fine, strongly-etched characterization, believable both in his romantic scenes and as the writer who comes up the hard way.


Before O'Casey died in 1964, he approved the script and bestowed his blessing on the choice of Taylor, who "combines both the ruggedness and tenderness that went into Ireland's greatest poet-playwright," Life magazine noted in its Feb. 12, 1965, issue.

However, other actors had been considered. The producers wanted Richard Harris or Peter O'Toole. The initial director of the film, John Ford, wanted Sean Connery. But Ford wound up casting Rod Taylor and hit it off immediately with the rugged Australian.

Taylor, in fact, said he had "the impertinence" to talk Ford out of making the movie one of his black-and-white art films. In "Print the Legend," a biography of Ford by Scott Eyman, Taylor is quoted as telling the director:

I said, "You're going to shoot this in black and white, in Ireland, where the colors are magnificent? You're out of your mind. You have to shoot it in color."

Filming began -- in color -- but Ford didn't last long as the director. Already in frail condition, Ford's health failed quickly. Part of the reason, Eyman noted, was that Ford was "getting drunk, heading out for the pubs of Dublin every night in a vain attempt to keep up with the energy and drinking capacity of Rod Taylor, nearly 35 years younger."

On the set, Ford gave Taylor little actual direction because, as Eyman wrote, "Taylor was one of the authentic, two-fisted types that [Ford] liked." Taylor relates an example:

He'd say, "You know what the fuck you do in this situation. You love this girl. I don't have to tell you anything. Let's see a little bit of you."

After about three weeks of filming, Ford left the picture, and Jack Cardiff was summoned to finish. It was a difficult task -- matching another director's style and intent. The best indication of success is that both men's names are on the final release: A John Ford Film -- Directed by Jack Cardiff.

Of all the compliments Rod received for "Young Cassidy," the one he cherishes the most is a note from John Ford, saying: "Your performance could have gotten tears from a rock."

Cardiff thought well of Taylor, too, as he wrote in his memoir, "Magic Hour":

Rod Taylor and I became good friends on "Young Cassidy" and I directed two more films with him: "The Liquidator" and "The Mercenaries."

In his book, Cardiff also described getting the call to take over "Young Cassidy" after director John Ford had fallen ill:

I was urgently summoned to Ireland to take over the film -- a daunting task, not having even read the script, nor met the glittering cast, which included Rod Taylor, Julie Christie, Edith Evans, Michael Redgrave, Maggie Smith and Flora Robson. It turned out to be a most creatively satisfactory experience. It was a joy to work with such a fine cast and a great script. 


"Young Cassidy" is the story of a working-class rebel who rises to literary greatness. The movie unfolds episodically as it spans a dozen years in the early 1900s.

Some scenes are astonishingly violent, some heart-rending and sweet. Throughout, Taylor covers an incredible range of emotion -- anger, grief, love, pride. He's alternately drunken, literary, sexy, fearsome and foolish.

At the opening of the film, Cassidy is a manual laborer, digging ditches to support his mother (Flora Robson) and sister (Sian Phillips). Cassidy also is active with the Irish revolutionary movement against the occupying British. He uses his writing skills on leaflets to rouse Dublin workers.

Cassidy also finds time for romance, notably with street wench Daisy Battles (Julie Christie), followed by the more serious bookstore merchant, Nora (Maggie Smith).

Taylor says that Ford adored Christie: "He was like Hitchcock with Tippi Hedren -- 'Give her more scenes, she's wonderful.' " But just as in "The VIPs," it's the scenes with Maggie Smith that are most magical. I think I will never tire of watching Cassidy croon to Nora upon the riverbank.

But Nora's timid nature can't keep pace with Cassidy's continued rise in literary circles. He's encouraged by such Irish literary giants as W.B. Yeats (Michael Redgrave) and Lady Gregory (Edith Evans). He gets a play accepted at the Abbey Theatre, "The Shadow of a Gunman." The next, "The Plough and the Stars," causes a near-riot at the theater and prompts a fight with a longtime friend and protector.

The night finally ends with heart-rending good-bye to Nora. Infused with emotion and loudly pledging their love, the two nevertheless pull farther apart and Nora flees. Cassidy then sets out for England, alone, to achieve fame and fortune.


When the critics weighed in on "Young Cassidy," they reserved their praise for the original director: "There are some very good things in this movie, obviously the work of John Ford. But the second and "real" director, Jack Cardiff, measured it out -- only four and a half minutes of the total two-hour film were directed by Ford.

Two Ford scenes were the fight in the pub and scene following the funeral of Cassidy's mother. Author Scott Eyman described the latter in his biography of John Ford, "Print the Legend":

Taylor crept up to a hawthorn tree ... sank to his knees and started to sob. The shot went on and on, and Taylor began to grow uncomfortable. Finally, through his tears, he said, "Jesus Christ ... cut."

Ford rose out of his chair, walked over to Taylor and kicked him in the shins. "You son of a bitch Aussie," he said. "You made me cry. That's a wrap!

The rest, presumably, was shot by Cardiff. In his autobiography, "Magic Hour," Cardiff wrote about being dismayed that critics attributed some of his best work to "the master, John Ford."

I was proud of a sequence I directed of a rioting crowd in the Dublin streets. It took three days to shoot with several cameras and I cut the scenes in very short sections -- sometimes just a few frames -- to underline the panic and horror.

I supposed I should have been flattered that my work should be considered to be the work of the master, but in fact I was indignant. ...  I wrote blistering letters to the critics, but it never does any good.


In his 1972 book, "The Unkindest Cuts," author Doug McClelland, chronicles scenes left on the cutting room floor. Here's what he had to say about "Young Cassidy": 

Dame Flora Robson had her role as the poverty-stricken mother of the young Sean O'Casey ... slightly snipped. In this brawling, sentimental look at Irish life at the time of the Trouble, Miss Robson died half-way through and was seen in the bed only when her son (Rod Taylor) discovered her there, dead. There is a still showing her sitting up in bed, hardly ready for a jig but very much able to enjoy a kiss on the forehead from her doting son, a scene cut from the release print.

Here's that still photo to which McClelland refers and included in his book:



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Rod sings to Maggie Smith
(.wmv file)

Rod sings to Maggie
on YouTube


IMDb // Wikipedia

Sean O'Casey: The Spirit of Ireland promotional film

TCM page

CinemaRetro review

DVDTalk review

More images in the Gallery


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Sean O'Casey: The Spirit of Ireland promotional short on YouTube



"Young Cassidy" is based on the life of Irish playwright Sean O’Casey. He started life as John Casey (born 1880), but he has used many names. When he started learning Irish, he used Sean O'Cathasaigh, then turned that into Sean O'Casey as he began to do more writing. However, in the first volume of his autobiography (1939), he called himself Johnny Cassidy.



Rod Taylor took part in a panel discussion that capped a daylong retrospective on the career of John Ford. The May 6, 2001, event was hosted by the Directors Guild of America (DGA) at the guild's theater complex in Los Angeles.

A fan who attended the event said that Taylor and actress Maureen O'Hara told wonderful stories about John Ford and their interaction with the great director. The panel was moderated by Scott Eyman, author of "Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford." Other panel members included actors Anna Lee, Darryl Hickman and Gloria Stuart as well as Dan Ford, John Ford's grandson.

After the panel discussion, Rod signed autographs in the lobby of the auditorium. "He was very pleasant and joked around very much like the old-time movie stars," an attendee reported, emphasizing repeatedly, "He was very nice to his fans."

DGA Magazine had an article (PDF) about the John Ford event in its Summer 2001 issue.