THE MOLLY MAGUIRES (1970)

Scene Analysis
Characters of Politics

[1]     The last scene in the movie portrays what James McParlan is documented as saying at the end of Lament For the Molly Maguires (313).  In the book (said to be the basis for the movie by Willard Mifflin), we find McParlan claiming that after one attempt on his life failed due to the assassin’s drunken state, he went into Jack Kehoe’s “House of the Hibernians” Inn and had one last dialogue with the man, facing him as a known informer.

[2]     The documentation states that Jack Kehoe treated him curtly, but without any violent reaction, telling him that he should have done the job of McParlan’s murder himself.  Given the chance, in his own home, Kehoe supposedly denied himself the pleasure.  Given the obvious failure in Lament to produce the correct name for the man responsible for the hand print on the cell wall in Mauch Chunk Prison and the discrepancies involved in any man’s trumped-up word, especially a man with such an ego as McParlan, the story he gives is also filtered through a trusted friend.  This meeting is historically negligible, to say the very least.

[3]     Still, within the scene itself, we are shown the reasoning behind both sides of these men’s political / social philosophies.  Here for your perusal, as also found in the key passage section of this site, is the conversation which takes place in Jack’s prison cell (1:58:55).

McParlan:  Hello, Jack.

Kehoe:  Come in.

McParlan:  I wasn’t quite sure of your reception.

Kehoe:  You’re a relief from the cockroaches.

McParlan:  You got everything you need?

Kehoe:  I could use some powder.

McParlan:  I’ve sworn off since I’ve left the Mollies.

Kehoe:  Have a seat.

McParlan:  You still thinking you can do it with powder?

Kehoe:  Is that what you’re here to ask?

McParlan:  No, just curious. I mean, do you think you really could of won?  Well, then, why?

Kehoe:  You know why as much as me.  You worked down there.  Could you see yourself not lifting a finger?

McParlan:  I wouldn’t stay down there.  I’d get out.

Kehoe:  And where would you find it any different?  There’s them on top and them below.  Push up, push down.  Who’s got more push, that’s all that counts.

McParlan:  They always had more.

Kehoe:  Well, we had a bit.  Not enough.  But a bit.  Enough to push the bastards a little. And you helped us.  You pushed a little yourself.

McParlan:  Just part of the job.

Kehoe:  And going back for Frazier?  You did that on your own, I think.

McParlan:  Oh, don’t be so sure.  It got me in better with you.

Kehoe:  And you enjoyed bashing that policeman?

McParlan:  Oh, hah, hah, I must admit.

Kehoe:  And the fire at the store.  I don’t think you’re working only for them.

McParlan:  Ah, it did make a lovely blaze.

Kehoe:  You were a man then.

McParlan:  Why didn’t you stop, Jack?  I tried to get you to stop.

Kehoe:  Well, they had to nab us sooner or later.  I do have one regret, now.  They’re shipping another shipment of coal this week and I had plans for that one.  On a bridge.  I’d ave blown the bridge and the train, at once.  It would’ve been a sight.

McParlan:  I’d’ve tipped em off.

Kehoe:  That’s true.  Well, I don’t regret it so much then.

McParlan:  You made your sound, Jack. You’ve got no regrets there. You used your powder.

Kehoe:  Aye. But you didn’t come here to chat, Jamie.  Nor to ask questions or to say farewell.

McParlan:  Well, just leave it that I came then.

Kehoe:  No, you came for absolution.

McParlan:  Ah, you’re not a priest, Jack.

Kehoe:  You want to be freed from what you’ve done.

McParlan:  I’m not that soft.

Kehoe:  Oh, you don’t want forgivin. You can get that from a woman. Punishment. That’s what you want.  You think punishment can set you free.  And that’s why you’ve come.  Looking for punishment.  Well, maybe it’s my Christian heart, but I could never stand the sight of a man carrying a cross.

Kehoe: (having been beaten down after attacking McParlan)  Are you free now?  Have I set you free for a grand new life?

McParlan:  I’m obliged to you.

Kehoe:  You’ll never be free.  There’s no punishment this side of hell can free you from what you did.

McParlan:  See you in hell.

Finis

[4]     Within this dialogue, we are given witness to two separate voices -- one of a social conflict theorist and one dedicated to the ideology of America as a “meritocracy,” a social design set up to cater to one’s talents.

[5]     McParlan states, “I wouldn’t stay down there.  I’d get out.”  Clearly the audience can see his faith in social mobility and the American dream.  McParlan is set up in the film much the way he was in actual life, with the exception that he was five-foot-five, a short man.

[6]     Kehoe follows this with “And where would you find it any different?  There’s them on top and them below.  Push up, push down.  Who’s got more push, that’s all that counts.”  Enter the social conflict theorist who can ascribe injustice to any capital / labor relation.  Kehoe is, perhaps, a product of his times, acquiring the paradigm he has through actual experience.  This facet of his historical character is open to further discussion, as he has been shrouded by legend, left obscured without much of a documented voice.

[7]     What follows is a documentation of the crimes and heroism McParlan committed under the service of the Mollies.  History has retarded McParlan’s actual criminal activity while working undercover by the many voices that shine out of these times.  McParlan, himself a filtered voice in Lament, claims to have attempted to warn, protect, pass the word, and stop every violent act he had ever heard being planned in the Shenandoah body of the Mollies.

[8]     Kehoe’s voice is accurate insofar as the documentation in The Life and Execution of Jack Kehoe.  In this pamphlet, Kehoe is interviewed in his jail cell.  He speaks of McParlan as a man, in the context of manhood, disintegrating the definition when held up to McParlan’s traits.  “You were a man then.”  This line is obviously a direct result of this or other documentation of how Kehoe judged his peers and enemies, in terms of honor and nobility.   He was known as the “King of the Molly Maguires.”

[9]     The violent engagement and incredible depth of dialogue is historically inaccurate.  It never happened.  Still, in context of the film, it brought a great amount of closure to the relationship the two shared.  They were set up as psychological twins throughout the whole film.  McParlan, more reasonable and adaptable.   Kehoe, more fiery and stuck in his ways.  They remained emotionally parallel, for they were both stand-up actors, with powerful positions in their peer group.  The reasons behind this melodramatic brotherhood is simple enough.  It produces a “buddy film” with treachery and deceit.  They were as thick as thieves and then mortal enemies.  The falling-out begs the question of redemption and forgiveness in the age-old legend of Cain and Abel.

[10]     We are witness in this scene to a dual set of engagements by the characters.  The first half, we have already peered into and unraveled into clarity well enough.  The second half -- about redemption and forgiveness -- is much more complex, necessitating a closer look into the construct of the Irish Catholic ethno-religious paradigm.  Given an understanding of this perception, one might be given more depth in understanding this scene’s emotional significance.  I can not elaborate farther on this facet of the analysis except to say that absolution and forgiveness is found in the church and, as Kehoe claims, in the woman.  But forgiveness, we see, is not what McParlan came for.  McParlan came for freedom from his own emotional guilt through punishment.  The wisdom of Kehoe in seeing this shows the filmmaker’s respect and attribution to Kehoe as opposed to McParlan.

[11]     Freedom, the great American ideal, almost as great as the ideal of empowered individualism.  Freedom is an anachronism.  We are born on a certain level and work with what we get.  Kehoe knows this, but somehow he allows McParlan his little myth, only degrading it with a sarcastic, “Are you free now?  Are you free for a grand new life?”  Perhaps Kehoe must negotiate McParlan’s myth with some tact for he, himself, has so many of his own (i.e. the social conflict theory that there is competition in every capital / labor relation).

[12]     The need for forgiveness is the motivation for McParlan’s visit.  “Just leave it that I came then” is a cop-out to his true desire for Kehoe to perform some sacrament of punishment.  Walter Bernstein has written the script to show that much as truth.  McParlan’s statement “I’m not that soft” comes out too soft for him to be believable, and “I’m abliged to you” shows his final self-realization of his own psyche.

[13]     What intrigues me is the switching of reason to Kehoe’s character.  It is truly brilliant -- a swapping of traits but still expressed through the two very differing individual designs.  It shows Kehoe to have more of an understanding of emotions -- reasoning them, analyzing them -- while McParlan only reasons with his own honor, nobility, and moral code.

[14]     Kehoe has no need for absolution.  His only regret is that he can not perform more of the crimes he is going to hang for.  He is a man living and dying by his word and his sound.  That McParlan needs punishment is interesting because Kehoe lacks all shame for his crimes, again portraying what a man is, steadfast and unchanging in self.  That much is painted perfectly clear and is historically accurate with the exception of McParlan needing to be punished.  Actually, McParlan was an egoist who trumped up his own role, testifying with such grace, command of memory, and shamelessness that history makes him sound all of the double-crosser he was in the movie, only without his indecision as to which side he was on and certainly without the last scene.  The movie changes this aspect of McParlan, making him appear more split in his dedications, more emotionally attached to the men he sent to the gallows.  The only reason I can come up with as to why the filmmaker would draw McParlan with a split dedication is that it would help to bring any anti-Molly sentiment in the audience over to the other side.

Works Cited

Lewis. Arthur H.  Lament for the Molly Maguires.  New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1964.

The Life and Execution of Jack Kehoe, King of the Molly Maguires, Together with a Full Account of the Crimes and Executions of the Other Principles in the Terrible Organization.  Philadelphia: Barclay and Company, 1878.

Mifflin, Wilfred.   “The Molly Maguires." Films in Review March 1970, 182.
 

Copyright (c) 1999 by Peter A. Weisman, Undergraduate at Lehigh University.

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