Count this one among the most-requested DVDs to come from the Warner Archive. Young Cassidy is based on Irish poet Sean O'Casey's multi-volume autobiography. (O'Casey often used the pseudonym "John "O'Casey" in in these works that chronicle his life in Ireland.) The film was started by director John Ford but when the elderly director fell ill, Jack Cardiff took over. The production bears plenty of hallmarks of a Ford production, but under Cardiff's direction the it has an appropriately harder edge and less sentimentality than it probably would have had if Ford had completed the film. Rod Taylor gives another fine performance as the titular character, a charismatic, roughshod young man who resents being born into poverty under the heel of the British government with scant opportunity for upward mobility. Although Cassidy can drink and brawl with the best of them, he is an intellectual at heart. The movie traces his uphill battle to pursue a career as a playwright while digging ditches to feed his poverty-stricken family. He ultimately completes his first play and finds two influential mentors: W.B. Yeats (a wonderful performance by Michael Redgrave) and Lady Gregory (an equally marvelous Edith Evans), both of whom back him against all odds and get his controversial works produced on the stage. The story follows Cassidy as he dallies with a number of women of easy virtue (including a brief but memorable Julie Christie as a sexually liberated girl who beds him with nary a notion of a guilty conscience.) Ultimately, he falls for Nora (Maggie Smith), a rather dowdy intellectual who both inspires Cassidy's creative instincts even as she fears the inevitable fame he gains.
The film proceeds in the kind of leisurely manner that is almost unheard of today, thus allowing rich characterizations to be presented to the viewer. Cardiff displays a deft ability to wring sentiment from the story without becoming too maudlin. Ted Scaife provides the excellent cinematography (the film was shot on location in Ireland and interiors were filmed at MGM Studios in the UK). Sean O'Riada's musical score is suitably atmospheric and the screenplay by John Whiting (and approved by Sean O'Casey) provides plenty of pathos as well as humor. The performances are uniformly excellent, but it is the underrated Rod Taylor who dominates every scene. This native Australian could master any accent, though ironically he rarely played an Aussie.
Young Cassidy is an intelligent, thoroughly engrossing dramatic experience on every level.
The Warner Archive DVD also includes the original trailer.