I will preface this blog post with a plea – IF YOU HAVE A COPY OF THIS MOVIE ON VIDEO OR DVD PLEASE LET ME KNOW!.
This 100th telecast of the Hallmark TV movie special, which aired on NBC in November of 1972, is one of my all time favorite Stephen Boyd performances for several reasons. But unfortunately it is very hard to track down. You would think an intrepid Boyd fan or Hallmark movie collector would have taped this on TV back in 1972, and may have a copy lurking for sale somewhere??? Luckily it is preserved and you can view it in two locations- one being the Paley Center for Media in New York City, or at the UCLA media center in Los Angeles.
What makes this such a great part for Stephen is it truly epitomizes his love for the ‘character’ role. He also gets to speak in his full Ulster accent throughout the movie, and it is also based on the location of the Aran Islands in Ireland. The movie itself was filmed on Phillip Island off the coast Australia, probably in early 1972. It pairs him with some other excellent actors including Cyril Cusack (who also shared a scene with Stephen early on in “The Man Who Never Was”) and the inimitable Colleen Dewhurst. It was based on a brief novel by Leonard Wibberley.
“He always felt that he would never have hands like his father- strong, tough, purposeful hands that didn’t flinch from the shock of the ocean water or weary with toil of oars or scythe or spade. Sometimes at night he prayed to Saint Brendan to ask God to give him big hands and big shoulders so he could be a man.”
Stephen plays the father, Cormac Joyce, who is the apple of his son’s eye. A storm is brewing off the coast, and as the islanders flee for the mainland, Cormac is determined to stay. When he injures his hand while trying to pull his curragh ashore, his son decides to stay with his father to protect their home from the storm. The wife also stays and the weather the huge waves of the Atlantic storm together. Stephen seems to relish this role as the rough Irish fisherman. It’s great to see him playing a father on-screen – something he rarely ever did. Cormac is both tender and stern with his young son, played by the 15 year old Dominic Guard. Boyd’s chemistry with Colleen Dewhurst is also incredible. They have a couple of intense quarrels, and when Cormac is injured, Dewhurst’s worry is palpable as she mends his hand. The filmmakers were also keen enough to let Stephen sing a quiet Irish folk tune throughout the movie – “The Star of the County Down.” The way Stephen sings this melancholy tune is haunting.
Stephen himself said in 1974 interview that “The Hands of Cormac Joyce” was “the favorite performance and favorite show I’ve ever done.”