The Molly Maguires

Which side are you on? The law-and-order-era audiences for Martin Ritt’s 1970 period drama may have wanted to be told which side to take, but this story of violent underground resistance in a mostly Irish 1870s Pennsylvania mining town presents a tough choice: a) an undercover detective (Richard Harris) hired by company police to pose as a coal-pusher and infiltrate the titular rebel miners; or b) said group’s remorseless leader (Sean Connery, virtually silent for the first 40 minutes). There’s also c) other exhausted, underpaid miners, but their grey lives, livened by booze and murderball, are grim to contemplate, thanks to cameraman James Wong Howe’s stark rendering of coal-dusted landscapes and faces. Ritt and screenwriter Walter Bernstein, blacklistees both, imbue their slow-burning tale of trust and betrayal with a hard purity of purpose—a big-budget militant film that doesn’t end by flinching (or star Sally Field).