Brian Friel’s drama “Philadelphia, Here I Come!” was created with a rather fey novelty: the central character, a young Irishman preparing to leave for a new life in America, was to be played by two actors. One actor voiced the public persona of the character, an outwardly gregarious and charming bloke named Gar, while the other actor essayed the character’s private persona, who nursed unhealed emotional wounds and feared the unknown awaiting him across the Atlantic. This is a highly theatrical device which may have worked wonders on the stage, but in the 1974 film version (which Friel adapted from his play), the device comes across as synthetic and dull.
Even if Gar existed as a single entity rather than a double act, “Philadelphia, Here I Come!” would still be something of a chore. This is the type of film where the gift of gab has infected nearly everyone who comes on camera. Some of the talk is admittedly wry and amusing, but after a while it becomes so excessive that it appears everyone was (to steal a line about Hubert Humphrey) vaccinated with phonograph needles. The sheer verbosity of the production weighs down the very simple plot, and at 95 minutes this is the single longest and most sour goodbye ever put on film thanks to an endless inventory of self-pity, seething frustrations and unresolved emotional pains all voiced in flowery theatricality.
“Philadelphia, Here I Come!” was originally presented in cinemas as part of the American Film Theatre series. It was actually not produced by the American Film Theatre, but was an independent Irish production that was brought over to pad the series. Unlike its young protagonist, this is one product of Ireland which should have stayed at home.