Barry Lyndon (1976)




Director:    Stanley Kubrick.

Starring:     Ryan O'Neal (Barry Lyndon / Redmond Barry),  Marisa Berenson (Lady Lyndon),  Patrick Magee (The Chevalier),  Hardy Krger (Captain Potzdorf),  Steven Berkoff (Lord Ludd),  Gay Hamilton (Nora Brady),  Marie Kean (Barry's Mother),  Diana Krner (German Girl),  Murray Melvin (Reverend Runt),  Frank Middlemass (Sir Charles Lyndon),  Andr Morell (Lord Wendover),  Arthur O'Sullivan (Captain Feeny, the Highwayman),  Godfrey Quigley (Captain Grogan),  Leonard Rossiter (Captain Quin),  Philip Stone (Graham).

Country: British film

Oscars: Photography (John Alcott), Music (Leonard Rosenman), Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Costume Design.  

Set at the time of the Seven Years' War. Ryan O'Neal plays Barry Lyndon, an Irish rogue and con-man who cannot handle success when he cons his way into it.  



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 


Part I.  By What Means Redmond Barry Acquired the Style and Title of Barry Lyndon. 

Redmond's father, a lawyer, was killed in a duel.  His mother refused alls proposals of re-marriage.  Redmond loses in a game of cards to his cousin, Nora Brady.  She has him turn around.  Nora takes off the ribbon around her neck and places it between her breasts.  She then steps in front of Redmond and tells him that he may search her body for the ribbon wherever he wants.  He says he cannot find it, so she gives him a hint.  She places his hand on her left breast.  Now Redmond finds the ribbon.  Nora slowly kisses him. 

In the United Kingdom there was a fear of a French invasion.  So some of the nobles raised their own regiments for the cause.  Brady Town sent the Kilwangen Regiment.  John Quin was the Captain.  After parading on a big open field, dancing begins.  John Quin dances with Nora.  Redmond is jealous.  He starts to walk her home and asks if she really had to dance with Captain Quin five times?  She says that Redmond is a mere boy and penniless at that.   This upsets Redmond and he leaves her.

Nora continues her affair with the Captain.  Redmond comes to see Nora, while she speaks lovingly to Quin.  In private Redmond asks her how could she do this to him?  Quin notices the attachment and says he is breaking it off with Nora for she already seems involved with another man.  Her brothers, who would be favored by a match of Nora and Quin, scold Redmond for meddling.  Nora chases after Quin and makes up with him. 

Redmond comes to a meal being served at his uncle's place and just stares at Nora with hostility.  He takes a seat.  The engagement of Nora and Quin is announced at the dinner.  The father asks why did Redmond not stand for the toast.  Redmond stands and throws the drink in Quin's face.  He tells Quin that he is ready to give him "satisfaction" any time. Captain Jack Grogan walks Redmond home scolding him for possibly denying his uncle's family 1,500 pounds annually.  But Redmond says he will fight to the death anyone who wants the hand of Nora Brady.  He asks Jack to arrange a duel and he does so. 

Redmond kills Quinn in the duel with pistols.  Now Redmond has to leave to stay out of the hands of the police.  He says goodbye to his mother and heads for Dublin.  Redmond was born to be a wanderer so he was not unhappy to leave.  He stops at a tavern just to get a drink of water.  Two highway men see him and decide to set a trap for him.  The highwaymen catch Redmond.  The older man says he's Captain Feeney and he's with his son Seamus. They take his money and his horse. 

Redmond has to walk five miles to the next town.  There Gale's Regiment of Foot, commanded by Lt. Gen. Charles Gale, is recruiting new soldiers.  Redmond joins up.  He has a run in with a big bully, Mr. Toole.  A fight is arranged between the two of them.  Redmond proves too quick for the man and wins the match easily.   New troops come in and Redmond sees Captain Grogan with them.  When he talks with Grogan, the Captain tells him to sit and write his mother a letter to tell her what has become of him.  Redmond says he will. 

Redmond learns something else.  Nora has married John Quinn.  The duel was rigged by the men and the bullet in Redmond's gun was replaced with tow (that is, the coarse fibers of hemp, flax, and other materials before spinning).   

It was the time of the Seven Years' War and England and Prussia were fighting France, Sweden, Russia and Austria.  Redmond takes part in a skirmish with a French unit.  The French get off the first shot and down goes quite a few men in the ranks of the British.  But the British keep marching forward.  They take a second volley, a third.  Captain Grogan is hit and goes down.  Redmond picks him up and carries him to a place of safety.   Grogan asks Redmond to kiss him for they will never meet again.  Redmond does so and the Captain dies.  The young man cries over his friend. 

Barry wants out of the service to which he owes six more years.  Then an "accident" occurred that took him out of the army.  He sees a homosexual couple talking to each other while bathing in the river.  Redmond hears that one of the officers is headed to Bremen with important dispatches to Prince Henry.   While the men talk, Redmond takes a horse, the uniform and the dispatches and rides to the lines of the Prussians. 

He wants to go to Holland and on from there to home.  He meets a young pretty  woman on the road.  Redmond asks if she could feed him and she agrees.  Her husband is away at war.  She asks Redmond to stay with her for a few days and he agrees.  She is very sad to see him leave.  They say they love each other. 

Frederick of Prussia had exhausted the males of his kingdom and look everywhere for more.  Redmond runs into a Prussian officer, Captain Potzdorf.  The Captain tells Redmond that the way to Bremen is behind him, not in front.  He then asks Redmond for his identity papers.  He checks them over and finds nothing amiss.  He invites Redmond to a meal.  The Captain asks him to whom he is carrying the dispatches?  Redmond says Gen. Williamson.  Potzdorf has Redmond arrested.  Williamson has been dead ten months.  He tells Redmond to join the Prussian forces or go to jail.  Redmond says he volunteers. 

The Prussian army was very much harsher than the English army with lots of physical punishment.  And the Prussian army was manned by many men of ill repute.  Soon Redmond was schooled in the arts of all kinds of misconduct.  During the Battle of Audorf, an enemy cannon knocks a beam down and it falls directly on Captain Potzdorf, trapping him.  Redmond frees the Captain and carries him out of the burning building.   Redmond is honored for his saving Captain Potzdorf.   The Colonel congratulates Redmond but says he has been a bad influence on the men and is sure he will come to no good. 

The Captain will help Redmond move up the social ladder if the does an assignment for him.  There is a man who calls himself the Chevalier de Balibari, who is a libertine in the service of the Queen of Austria.  They think he is an Irish fellow and is a spy.  He wants Redmond to find out if he really is a spy.     

Redmond, as the Hungarian Lazlo Zilagy, meets the Chevalier.  He becomes very emotional and suddenly confesses to the Chevalier that he is an Irishman abducted into the Prussian army.  He has been sent as a spy.  Redmond cries.  The Chevalier is touched by Redmond being Irish and being honest with him.  He employs Redmond as a double agent.  Redmond gives reports to the Prussian Captain, but of things that are not of much military use. 

Redmond works as a valet for the Chevalier.  He helps his employer cheat at cards.  The Prince of Tubingen has close ties with Frederick the Great and doesn't like losing at cards.  He tells the Chevalier that he believes he has cheated him.  The Prince may at some time pay him and adds that he will give him "satisfaction" if he so wishes. 

Captain Potzdorf plans to kidnap the Chevalier the next time he goes for his morning ride. Redmond replaces the Chevalier.  He goes with the two Prussian officers and is escorted into Saxony and freedom.  The Chevalier is already in Saxony.  Together with the Chevalier, Redmond begins his life as a gambler.  They are welcomed into the very best of society.  By cheating they are able to make a lot of money.  They would play on credit, but Redmond and his skill at fencing was the bill collector so to speak. 

Redmond now is determined to marry a rich woman.  He decides to try for the beautiful and wealthy Countess of Lyndon.  Her husband is an old man who was Minister to George III.  Her young son is the Viscount Bullingdon, who is very attached to his mother.  At the game, Redmond keeps staring at the Countess.  She keeps looking at Redmond.  She goes out for a breath of air and Redmond comes out to talk with her.  Very slowly he takes her hands and kisses her.   Within six hours the Countess is in love. 

Her husband says that Redmond wants to step into his shoes.  He says he will live to see Mr. Barry hang.  Redmond excuses himself.  The husband is so angry that he soon has a heart attack.  Not long afterward he passes away. 


Part II.  Containing an Account of the Misfortunes and Disasters Which Befell Barry Lyndon. 

In 1773 Barry marries Countess Lyndon and he becomes Barry Lyndon.  The Chevalier is there, as well as his Irish mother.  Once he has the Countess, he doesn't pay her much attention.  Her son detests Barry, seeing him as only a common opportunist, who doesn't really love his mother. 

The couple have a baby son:  Bryan Patrick Lyndon.    But Barry is soon enough frequenting brothels and having a high old time.  Also soon enough, he and his wife lead separate existences.  One day the Countess sees her husband kissing the nanny.  Her son and their reverend/tutor also see this.  Later Barry apologizes to his wife.  They kiss. 

Young Master Bullingdon gets very sassy with his step-father and his mother for insulting the memory of his father and Barry gives him a whipping.  As the young man grows into manhood, his hatred for his step-father greatly increases. 

Barry is very devoted to his son Bryan.  Now he stays home more.  Barry's mother, however, is worried for her son.  She wonders what will happy to him and her grandson if anything should happen to the Countess.  He does not have a penny of his own and can only do business through his wife.  If his wife died, the stepson would get everything and Barry nothing.  She urges him to obtain a title so he will have some security.  She wants him to become Lord Lyndon. 

Barry goes to see Barrister and former Government Minister Lord Hallam.  The former minister sends Barry to a man named Gustavus Adolfus, Lord Wendover.  The man assures him that with an estate and 30,000 pounds a year income, he should have a peerage.  Barry really works hard at getting a peerage.  He spends lots and lots of money on expensive parties and paintings and even gives out expensive bribes in his drive for the top. 

Barry gets to meet King George III.  The King hears that Mr. Lyndon has raised a unit of soldiers to be send to fight the American rebellion.  George III cavalierly tells him to raise another regiment and go with them to fight in America. 

Soon Barry starts to become overwhelmed with all the bills.  He was excellent at gaining his fortune but no good at keeping it. 

The two half-brothers get into a dispute and Bullingdon spanks his young brother.  Barry comes in and sees this and administers a whipping to Bullingdon.  When it is over Bullingdon tells him that if he ever lays a hand on him again, he will kill him. 

During a musical performance, Bullingdon and his brother come in and deliberately disturb the performance.  He then insults Mr. Redmond Barry.  Bullingdon then insults his mother and her husband.  He lists the sins of his step-father.  Bullingdon says he will leave the house and never return as long as her husband is there. 

Barry really beats the tar out of his stepson.  It takes  ten men to pull him off the lad.  This tips society against Barry and he is treated now with coldness and resentment.  To make things worse he is deep in debt.  Barry devotes himself to his son.  The boy asks his father for a horse and Barry buys him one for his birthday.  Against strict orders, Bryan goes to the stables to see his horse before his birthday.  Barry goes to the stable only to find his son badly hurt.  He was riding the horse and the horse threw him off.   Barry sends for the doctor.  After two days the boy dies. 

Barry's grief is inconsolable.  He starts drinking heavily.  Everyone deserts him but his mother.  Mother even takes over the handling of all the details of running the estate.  She tells Reverend Runt that he is no longer needed.  She blames him for the present poor state of mind of Mrs. Lyndon.  The Reverend replies that she and her son have almost ruined a fine family.  The Countess is distraught.  She tries to poison herself, but only makes herself very ill. 

Bullingdon comes home.  He blames himself for letting the Barrys ruin his mother and squander the family fortune.  He goes to see Barry who is in a stupor.  Bullingdon demands satisfaction.  They will duel with pistols.  Bullingdon will fire first, but he mishandles the pistol and it goes off.  He cannot have another shot.  Barry prepares to fire.  Bullingdon is so nervous that he throws up.  Barry shoots his pistol at the ground.  Bullingdon says he has not received satisfaction and now prepares to fire again.  This time Bullingdon hits Barry and he goes down.  He is very happy. 

The wound is merely a leg wound, but it so bad that it has to be amputated below the knee. Now Bullingdon throws Mrs. Barry out of the house.  She goes to see her son.  Bullingdon offers Barry a sum of 500 guineas per year for life, if he will leave England.   Barry is also in danger of going to jail if he stays in England because of his many unpaid debts.  He returns to Ireland with his mother.  He travels to the continent again and resumes his life as a gambler, but with no success.  He never sees his wife again. 


Spoiler Warning.  Very good movie, but a sad one.  It's a story of a relatively poor Irish lad set adrift to make his own fortune or to tie himself to someone else's fortune.  He is pretty much a con man and he has to be in this age dominated by the various nobilities and aristocracies, because there are few avenues of social mobility open to such poor fellows as Redmond Barry.  The nobilities have all their rules and customs that Redmond is smart enough to master quickly.  He manipulates the system with his con man like ways and maneuvers himself into a position by flattering and using the nobles.  He becomes rich, but the money is not his but that of his Countess wife.  He needs to get a title if he and his son are to be safe and secure.  But Barry cannot become a nobleman except by lavish expenditures and bribes for he was not born into nobility.  By bribing and spending his way upwards, he gets very close to the top and his goal of peerage, but alas it is kept out of his reach.  He gets to meet the King, but he seems indifferent to Mr. Barry Lyndon, who is not an aristocrat. 

Spending so much money on wining and dining these fat-cat aristocrats, actually sends Barry into debt.  He doesn't have enough money to bribe all those aristocrats.  Then his son dies and his life goes in a downward spiral that he can't stop.  His stepson returns and in a duel wounds him in the leg causing Barry too loose his left leg below the knee.  The stepson then gets rid of him by giving him an annual annuity to get out of and stay out of England.  Barry has no choice but to accept his fate.  He is never heard of again, except for the talk about his unsuccessfully trying his hand at gambling again on the continent.    

Ah, the wonderful world of the concentration of power, status, wealth and prestige in the hands of a few nobles, while others starve to death.  And poor Redmond Barry was just confidant enough to con this corrupt system to move to near to the top of the social ladder.  But he just didn't quit have enough money to make it and he comes tumbling down.  When he runs out of money, he runs out of aristocratic friends who all abandon him very quickly.  They had a convenient excuse for their dismissal of their one time friend.  They say he was terribly cruel to his stepson.  But really, the system itself was corrupt.  In modern democracies, this system has often been weakened, but in many countries there are still very strong vestiges of the inequalities created by the existence of the nobility. 



Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:

17561763 --  the Seven Years' War pitted Great Britain, Prussia, and Hanover against France, Austria, Russia, Sweden, Saxony, Spain, and Portugal.  It can be seen as a continuation of the War of Austrian succession (1740-1748), in which King Frederick of Prussia gained the rich province of Silesia.  Maria Theresa of Austria signed the peace in order to rebuild her armies.

1754  --  the run up to the war began in the future USA.  The Governor of Virginia sent the future first American president George Washington into the Ohio River Valley to ask the French to leave the area.

1756 (May 15)  --  Great Britain declared war on France. Frederick II of Prussia decided to strike first with a blow against Saxony. 

1757  (spring)  --   Frederick marched on Prague; the Prussians besieged the city following the bloody Battle of Prague.  Frederick had to lift the siege after his defeat at the Battle of Kolin. 

1757 (November)  --  Frederick defeated the French at the Battle of Rossbach.

1757 (December)  --  Frederick defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Leuthern. 

1758  -- Frederick invades Austria. 

1758 (August)  --  at the Battle of Zorndorf in Prussia, a Prussian army of 35,000 men under Frederick II fought to a standstill a Russian army of 43,000 commanded by Count Fermor. The Russians retired from the field. 

1759  --  at the Battle of Kay, or Paltzig, Russian Count Saltykov commanding a force of 70,000 defeated 26,000 Prussian troops commanded by General von Wedel. 

1759 (August)  --  only 3,000 of the Prussian army returned to Berlin following the Battle of Kurensdort (in Poland) with a Russian and Austrian force. Many of the Prussian soldiers were scattered.

1762  --  Queen Elizabeth of Russia died and her successor, Peter III, offered peace.

1763  --  the Treaty of Paris ended hostilities between the British and French, ending the French threat to English North America. 

1763  --  the Treaty of Hubertusburg returned the European country boundaries to their pre-war states.



Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)