Ma O’Hara (Mary Gordon) is the proud mother of three sons, equally proud of them all though one is less accomplished than the others. Mike (Frank McHugh) is a fireman, Pat (Pat O’Brien) is a policeman… and Danny (James Cagney) has big dreams of being a fight promoter, but hasn’t seen much success.
Pat hopes to marry Lucille Jackson (Olivia de Havilland), the daughter of his police captain. He worries that when he leaves home after the wedding, his brothers and Ma will struggle to make ends meet, so he wants Danny to give up his boxing dreams and join the police force.
Danny, however, thinks he may finally make his dreams come true with the help of Carbarn Hammerschlog (Allen Jenkins). Things become even more complicated between the brothers when Danny and Carbarn meet Lucille by accident, and Danny quickly takes a liking to her.
Lloyd Bacon directs 1935’s The Irish in Us. The film was written for the screen by Earl Baldwin from a story by Frank Orsatti.
To today’s audience, the O’Hara family will seem very old-fashioned with, three grown men living with their mother until they marry. The relationship between mother and sons, however, is wonderful to watch, adding a sweet touch of sentimentality to the film. Mary Gordon’s performance in the motherly role is great, portraying Ma as a very loving but take-no-nonsense woman.
Adding to the family dynamic, Cagney’s drifty dreamer of a character is a distinct contrast to his much more responsible on-screen brothers, leading to the film’s light conflicts. There isn’t a whole lot to the plot of this film, nor is there much tension, but the cast pulls off the character dynamics with ease, making a nice ensemble that is fun to watch.
Add in some comedy from TMP favorite Allen Jenkins and you’ve got a winning bunch of players. I especially enjoyed the Cagney/Jenkins friendship and the Cagney/de Havilland romantic chemistry.
James Cagney was an established star by 1935, but the same could not yet be said for the great Olivia de Havilland, who appears in one of her earliest roles here. She looks so young, and that’s because she was! Olivia was not yet 20 years of age when The Irish in Us was released. The same year, both Cagney and de Havilland appeared in the Max Reinhardt/William Dieterle adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Six years later, Olivia’s career having taken off, the two would share the screen again in The Strawberry Blonde.
Livvie was too often pigon-holed into simple “girlfriend”/girl-next-door roles, and she was obviously capable of more complex characters. However, she’s incredibly charming here, and since the role appears so early in her filmography, I think it’s a good one for her.
Blending romance, family drama, and boxing, The Irish in Us is 100% enjoyable. The plot and conflicts may be quite thin and light, but there’s still enough going on to keep the viewer interested, and most of all the film is worth viewing for its delightful cast.