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The March Hare (1956): Restoration, Please!

The March Hare (George More O’Farrell, 1956)

[note: review originally published 28Nov2008]

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Ascot, where dreams are made…and lost.

And so, thanks to a wonderful Cleveland TV station called The Cat (channel 35, for you Clevelanders), I find myself reviewing the second movie in three weeks that has, as of my writing this, less than ten votes on IMDB [ed. note: the other is Tom Doades’ 1972 sci-fi extravaloser Six Hundred Sixty-Six, which hasn’t made it out of the vault yet]. One IMDB reviewer laments that the movie never got a home video market release, and asks why; given the print I just saw, I’m guessing it’s because the film stock is far too degraded for remastering. Much of the color has been washed out, and it seems as if certain pieces had to be discarded altogether (judging by the conversation, at least thirty seconds of the first big love scene between Peggy Cummins and Terence Morgan has disappeared; I’m guessing it’s more like a few minutes. There’s also at least one more scene where the cutting is far too abrupt, and doesn’t fit with the editing in the rest of the film.) I agree with that reviewer that it’s criminal that this movie wasn’t saved, and I hope someone discovers a more complete master somewhere.

The March Hare is a gently amusing tale of Sir Charles Hare, a broke Irish baron (Morgan) who made and lost his fortune trying to crack the races at Ascot. (For some background reading on the Irish obsession with Ascot, I highly recommend Bill Barich’s A Fine Place to Daydream.) His aunt and uncle, sorry to see his estate broken up, purchase one of his promising colts, intending to surprise him with it when it’s of racing age, and turn it over to Lazy Mangan (Cyril Cusack), an affable drunk who introduces the colt (whose name provides the movie’s title) to the Queen of the Fairies, and secures a magic word which makes the horse tractable. Meanwhile, Hare’s estate has been bought by McGuire (McDonald Park), a wealthy American looking to get into the horse breeding business. As Hare is moving the last of his belongings out, he runs into McGuire’s beautiful daughter Pat (Cummins), who, thinking he’s one of the farmhands who’s now jobless, hires him as her personal groom. So Mangan’s got the colt, Pat’s got Hare, and everyone wants to get to the English Derby.

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The single screenshot of the movie I could find online gives you an idea of the current picture quality.

Looking at it half a century later through eyes that have been conditioned with years of political correctness training, the drunk-Irishman stereotype does play a little old, but Mangan is such a great character that it’s easy to look past this. Pat and Hare’s comedy-of-errors romance feels a bit forced sometimes (though, again, that could be because pieces of this print are obviously missing), but it’s as deeply felt as one would expect from a genre film based on a genre novel (T. H. Bird’s now-obscure Gamblers Sometimes Win, which I am now trying to track down). Paul Vincent Carroll’s script is wry and quick, and all the principals act well enough to make it work. I just wish I could have seen it in its full glory; as it stands, the quality is on a par with the Lone Star westerns that haven’t been restored yet. This is a fun little movie; no deathless classic, mind you, but an enjoyable piece of filmmaking. ***

Trailer? One can only wish.

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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