Come Back to Erin

Director: SIdney Olcott

Sadly, only one reel of this three-reel film survives; recently discovered at the Museum of Modern Art. According to a contemporary synopsis, the story was another transatlantic emigrant tale, centering on a female character named Peggy O’Malley (Gene Gauntier), who leaves rural Ireland in search of a better life in America. Like those earlier films, it is a cautionary tale that follows her progress as an immigrant in New York where she gets into trouble with the law (accused of stealing a necklace) before being ‘saved’ by her Irish fiancé (Jack J. Clark). They marry and return to her father (Sidney Olcott) in Ireland. Come Back to Erin is an interesting gender reversal of the first Kalem film The Lad from Old Ireland, with the men now left at home waiting, but shares with it an anxiety about leaving the homeland for the corrupting forces of modernity and America that clearly spoke to audiences of the period. More than in the earlier films, the characters are contextualised in the real, everyday life of rural Ireland. Particularly striking in this regard are the scenes set in the Killarney cattle market and the blacksmith’s forge and the scenes of emigrant ships in Queenstown (now Cobh).

Notes by Tony Tracy. 

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