Quiet Man, The (1952)

“I’m Sean Thornton and I was born in that little cottage. I’m home, and home I’m going to stay.”

Quiet Man Poster

Synopsis:
An Irish-American ex-boxer (John Wayne) returning to his birth town falls in love with a beautiful, red-headed lass named Mary Kate (Maureen O’Hara) — but their happiness is foiled when Mary Kate’s bullish brother Will (Victor McLaglen) refuses to relinquish her dowry, Mary Kate refuses to consummate their marriage without it, and Sean (Wayne) refuses to confront Will.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
After noting that John Ford visited his parents’ birthplace of County Galway in Ireland to “make this classic”, Peary writes that “the rolling countryside is so green, the village of Innisfree is so quaint, and the people whom [Ford’s] stock company portrays are so charmingly eccentric that we understand his love for his native land”. In his more extensive review of the film for Cult Movies 3 (where he refers to The Quiet Man as “the cult movie of the American Irish who are nostalgic for their homeland”), he goes into detail about the film’s production history — including the many years it took Ford to get his dream project off the ground, and the fact that it was truly a “family affair”, with siblings and children of not only Ford but Wayne, O’Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, and McLaglen involved (!). Peary describes the movie as “leisurely paced, lovely-to-look-at, [and] spiritedly acted”, but wonders if Ford and DP Winton C. Hoch were “trying to capture the look of a fairy tale or one of Ford’s daydreams about Ireland”; he further argues that — just like in Ford’s westerns, which are filled with stereotypical stock characters — this film represents Ford’s vision of a “romanticized, ideal Ireland”, rather than a more “authentic” Ireland. [That latter vision — driven by Irish filmmakers themselves — would come right around the time Peary’s book was published, with movies such as Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot (1987) and Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game (1992).]

In his GFTFF, Peary analyzes the film’s sexual politics, noting that Mary Kate’s refusal to “consummate [her] marriage if she doesn’t have the dowry” makes her like a “modern woman”, given that she “doesn’t want to enter a relationship unless it’s on equal terms”. He writes how refreshing it is that, despite their obvious challenges, Mary Kate and Sean ultimately both view each other with maturity, love, and respect. Mary Kate “decides to have sex with Sean although he has not come through for her”, given that she “senses that he has reasons for not challenging her brother, although she herself may not understand them”. Similarly, Sean “challenges Will for Mary Kate’s sake”, conceding “that her reasons for wanting the dowry are not trivial, although he doesn’t understand them”. Peary goes on to note that “there’s so much Irish humor in this film and so many quirky characters that one tends to overlook that just below the surface there is much seriousness, hurt, and guilt; both Sean and Mary Kate are tormented in real ways and we feel for them”.

Finally, Peary points out that while “Ford was never known for ‘love scenes’… the silent passage in which Sean and O’Hara hold hands, race for shelter from the sudden rain, and then stop, clutch (he drapes his sweater over her), and kiss as the rain soaks through their clothing is incredibly sexy”; I agree. Wayne and O’Hara are both in top form here, and are indeed — as Peary notes — “one of the screen’s most romantic couples”. In Alternate Oscars, Peary names Wayne Best Actor of the Year for The Quiet Man, and provides a detailed analysis of why this performance was one of Wayne’s best and “most relaxed”. He notes that Sean “is Wayne’s gentlest character”, that he’s “formidable” but without McLaglen’s “need to be a bully or braggart”. As Peary writes, “He has such confidence in his masculinity that he is polite, emotional, sentimental, and sweet enough to plant roses”, never “hid[ing] his love from Mary Kate, [and] never assum[ing] a paternal or authoritarian stance with her”. Indeed, it’s easy to see why O’Hara would fall in love with him — though naturally, she’s equally appealing, for her own reasons. This romantic couple is one we truly enjoy watching on screen.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Maureen O’Hara as feisty Mary Kate Danaher (nominated as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
    Quiet Man OHara
  • John Wayne as Sean Thornton (voted Best Actor of the Year in Alternate Oscars)
    Quiet Man Wayne
  • Barry Fitzgerald as Michaleen Oge Flynn
    Quiet Man Fitzgerald
  • Plenty of romantic tension between Wayne and O’Hara
    Quiet Man Romance
  • Excellent use of authentic Irish countryside
    Quiet Man Landscape
  • Oscar-winning cinematography by Winton C. Hoch
    Quiet Man Cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as one of Ford’s finest films. Nominated as one of the Best Films of the Year in Alternate Oscars.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

3 Responses to “Quiet Man, The (1952)”

  1. I would like to recommend a 2010 documentary from Ireland called “Dreaming the Quiet Man”. It delves quite a bit into the social and mythical history that informed Ford’s vision.

  2. Thank you, Caftanwoman! I hadn’t heard of this documentary but will certainly seek it out. It doesn’t seem to be available on Netflix yet…

  3. A once-must, at least, for its place in cinema history, the wonderfully memorable ensemble acting – and as one of Ford’s best films.

    Before last night, it had been decades since I’d seen this. It’s a perfectly respectable classic and there are many things I admire about it: it obviously stands out in Ford’s body of work as something set apart; it’s a film that’s very easy to love because it’s so engaging; as a love story, it’s quite unique and it’s intriguing watching how the two main characters will finally break through to each other in solid fashion. Even if it’s not among my favorite films, or one I would feel drawn to return to from time to time (obviously), it’s still a very admirable piece of work.

    As well…even though Wayne has no overwhelming appeal for me, he turns in a refreshingly different kind of performance – mainly noticeable because this isn’t a western or a war film. And having recently rewatched O’Hara in ‘How Green Was My Valley’ – where she is considerably subdued – it’s kind of a joy to see her rather amusing version of a bad-tempered woman. …Fitzgerald is especially good in this. I like when he tosses in some of his throw-away deliveries (i.e., when he disdainfully acknowledges: “America. …Prohibition.”; practically shuddering at the thought).

    For me, one of the film’s best moments comes late: when we are suddenly shown the episode in Wayne’s past that he has tried to keep from people. And there’s no denying that the sudden trysting in the rain between Wayne and O’Hara (a logical follow-up to the passionate first kiss earlier on – in the eye of the wind!) offers a kind of unbridled sex not really found elsewhere in a Ford film.

    By the way…the Blu-ray edition of this film is stunning! Absolutely stunning! Sharp, crisp, COLORful – very much emphasizing the fact that the film is very deserving of its Oscar win for cinematography. (The DVD also contains an informative extra about the ‘Making of…’.)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.