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MOVIE REVIEW : Lilt of Irish Laughter Animates ‘Hear My Song’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Was ever there such an irresistible bit of blarney as “Hear My Song” (at the Music Hall)? Such an unalloyed joy is this Anglo-Irish comedy that it recalls the great Ealing classics of the ‘50s; one’s only fear is that this four-star gem might get overlooked in the avalanche of blockbuster year-end releases.

Micky O’Neil (Adrian Dunbar) is a skinny, brash young Irishman who runs Heartly’s, a lovely old Deco nightclub catering to Liverpool’s Irish. His constant problem is lining up talent that he can afford yet will attract a crowd. He hits bottom when he books Franc Cinatra, who has to be the world’s worst Ol’ Blue Eyes impersonator.

To save his skin he promises to deliver a certain Mr. X, which the community is given to understand is really the legendary Josef Locke, a beloved tenor in “tax exile” in Ireland for three decades. The portly Mr. X (William Hootkins) wows them, but he doesn’t fool the elegant Cathleen Ryan (Shirley Anne Field), whom he met--and charmed--when he crowned her Miss Dairy Wholesomeness of 1958. He doesn’t fool for long the local police chief (David McCallum, an amusingly humorless spoilsport). Micky has come up with another impostor, but this time he not only loses Heartly’s but also his girl Nancy (Tara Fitzgerald), daughter of the widowed Cathleen.

All this is but prologue to the heart of the matter, which finds Micky returning to Ireland determined to track down the real Locke and then somehow persuade him to risk arrest with a Liverpool appearance, the only way Micky believes he can win back the fair Nancy. When he teams up with his old pal Fintan (James Nesbitt), a struggling theatrical agent (and amateur clock repairman) they’re off on a series of adventures as droll and hilarious as those in “Withnail and I.” (One involves a cow and what has to be the world’s deepest well.)

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Feature debuting writer-director Peter Chelsom, who collaborated on the script with Dunbar, has a warmth and wit that could cheer up just about anybody. Chelsom’s great gift, along with boundless but perceptive affection for his people, is his innate sense of just how long to string the audience along with a joke or a gag, and then deliver an uproarious payoff.

There really is a Josef Locke, who actually did have tax difficulties with Britain but in fact settled them back in the ‘60s. In the film he’s played by Ned Beatty, ever a wonderful character actor who here gets to emerge as a romantic leading man, a sly, wise charmer who has fun playing cat and mouse with Micky yet amid laughter accomplishes the serious task of getting the irrepressible wheeler-dealer to level with him, and more important, himself.

The world into which “Hear My Song” (rated R for language, some sex) takes us is that of gorgeous rugged landscapes dotted with handsome old manor houses, ancient ruins and also of glorious old pubs with burnished mahogany and brass, stained glass and engraved mirror--not to mention just about the most enchanting, airy old ruin of a theater, complete with painted cherubs, you could ever hope to see. Then there are all those marvelous Irish faces; it’s enough to remind you of John Ford’s classic “The Quiet Man.” Come to think of it, Ford would have loved “Hear My Song.”

‘Hear My Song’

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Ned Beatty:Josef Locke

Adrian Dunbar:Micky O’Neill

Shirley Anne Field:Cathleen Doyle

Tara Fitzgerald:Nancy Doyle

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A Miramax release of a Film Four International, British Screen and Windmill Lane Productions presentation of a Limelight production. Director Peter Chelsom. Producer Alison Owen. Executive producers Simon Fields, Russ Russell, John Paul Chappie. Screenplay by Chelsom and Adrian Dunbar, from a story by Chelsom. Cinematographer Sue Gibson. Editor Martin Walsh. Costumes Lindy Hemming. Music John Altman. Production design Caroline Hanania. Art director Katharine Naylor. Sound Peter Lindsay. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for language, scene of sensuality).


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