THE QUIET MAN

Directed by John Ford. USA. 1952.


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I have always felt a strange mystical connection to Ireland that I've never quite been able to explain and have often dreamed about Connemara, a place I have never visited. Even when I was a boy, my favourite songs were not those on the Hit Parade but ballads such as Danny Boy (okay, it's not Irish), and the more obscure Eileen, Tumble Down Shack in Athlone, and Rose of Arranmore. Given that connection, it is odd that I never saw John Ford's The Quiet Man until this week, perhaps because I thought John Wayne was a wooden and unconvincing actor and did not think that the film would bring me any closer to the Ireland of my dreams. 

Based on Frank Nugent's adaptation of Maurice Walsh's Saturday Evening Post 1933 short story Green Rushes, The Quiet Man was produced by Republic Pictures, not a major studio at the time but the only one willing to take a chance on a film about the Irish. They were well rewarded with a film that won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography as well as four other nominations. Wayne plays Sean Thornton, a boxer from Pittsburgh who gave up the ring after he accidentally killed a man in a fight. The ex-prize fighter returns to Innisfree to buy the Irish cottage in which he was born and sets his eyes on Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O'Hara), a redhead with an infamous temper. 

Mary Kate's older brother, 'Red' Will Danaher (Victor McLagen), a town bully refuses to consent to his sister's marriage and it is left to alcoholic Matchmaker Michaleen Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald) and the local pastor Father Lonergan (Ward Bond) to trick Danaher into changing his mind. When brother Will realizes he's been tricked, however, he refuses to pay the dowry that includes family treasures, furniture, and 350 gold coins and Mary Kate refuses to consummate the marriage. This leads to an inevitable confrontation with Thornton and a barroom brawl that clocks in at nine minutes. 

Though partly filmed in Ireland with scenery that is verdant and beautiful, The Quiet Man has an artificial quality to it that all the Barry Fitzgerald colloquialisms do not change. Though it was a personal favourite of Ford and is all in good fun, it is an overly romanticized film complete with Hollywood stars, quaint Irish brogues, horses and carts, and balladeers ready to burst into song at every tavern. The brogues, however, are not the only quaint items in the film. There is also the macho attitude that makes it imperative that a man has to physically confront a bully regardless of the odds. 

It also brings the audience to applause as they watch a man drag and kick his wife five miles by her hair, then receive a stick by a villager with which to "beat yer lovely wife with". I realize the scene is played for laughs and maybe Mary Kate deserved such treatment for her materialistic obsessions, but it still resonates poorly with this twenty-first century viewer. I think those with a strong feeling for Ireland would be better off avoiding the blarney of The Quiet Man and reading James Joyce, Dylan Thomas, or simply listening to the exquisite Danny Boy, a song that never fails to bring tears to my eyes. 

GRADE: B 

Howard Schumann
 
 
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