Directed by Martin Ritt, with great leads and a solid supporting cast. Based on the real-life, Irish immigrants who were an extension of Ireland’s secret-society ‘Molly Maguires’, this extension being present in Pennsylvania’s coal-mining towns of the 1870s. Pro-union and anti-exploitation in orientation, the group partook in violent, ‘eye for an eye’ reprisals, kidnappings, and mine sabotage, for which 20 of them were ultimately hanged, which this film is a fictionalization of.
Sean Connery & Richard Harris are at the height of their powers here, with Harris playing Pinkerton detective, and Irish native, James McParland, who goes to great lengths (both in terms of personal risk and in willingly partaking in some of the Maguires’ violent acts) in order to infiltrate the group and gain their trust.
James Wong Howe’s gritty and grimy cinematography conveys the misery of Coal Region life, where children begin their lives working in unimaginably harsh and dangerous conditions, at disturbingly young ages. Surprisingly, the film is a poignant allegory for today, where the idealistic promises of neoliberalism are quickly morphing into a neo-feudalism, with new incarnations of the exploitative ‘factory towns’ of old.